A new study provides evidence that men’s preferences for the age of their partner are influenced by whether or not they want to have children, or already have them. Men who want or do not have children prefer younger women, while women’s age preferences are not as strongly associated with having or wanting children. These findings align with evolutionary theories about mate selection, which suggest that men and women prioritize different qualities in a partner based on their differing contributions to offspring.
The research has been published in the journal Evolutionary Behavioral Sciences.
“As a lecturer in evolutionary psychology, I talk about the differences in mate preferences that women and men tend to display,” said study author Robin S. S. Kramer, a senior lecturer at the University of Lincoln.
“One example is preferred partner age: men tend to find women in their early to mid-20s the most attractive, while women are attracted to men who are a little older than themselves. The explanation for these preferences has always been couched in terms of reproduction, and so it occurred to me that we might find a change in preferences if people did not want, or already had, children.”
To investigate whether having or wanting children predicted the importance of age as dating criterion, Kramer and his co-author, Alex L. Jones, analyzed two large datasets of profile information obtained through a collaboration with eharmony UK. The researchers examined response from 605,743 single, heterosexual users who were between 20 and 50 years old. The eharmony users reported the number of children they had, whether they wished to have (more) children, and the importance of age as a matching criterion.
The importance of age when finding a match was rated lower by users who already had children. This effect was more prominent in younger users but decreased as user age increased.
The researchers also found evidence that having or wanting children predicted the preferred minimum and maximum age of those who users were willing to date, particularly among men.
“Already having children, or not wanting children, predicted partner age preferences for men but did not appear to influence women’s preferences. Men without children (or those who wanted children) rated age as more important a consideration than those with children (or those who did not want children), and also selected a preferred age range that incorporated younger women,” Kramer told PsyPost.
“In contrast, women’s preferences showed little association with having or wanting children. Put simply, men’s preferred partner age was lower when they did not already have children (which tended to go hand-in-hand with wanting children).”
The findings are in line with evolutionary theories of mate selection, which hold that men and women tend to have different patterns of attraction because they invest different types of resources into their offspring.
Women invest more of their own physical resources, such as during pregnancy and breastfeeding. Men, on the other hand, provide more indirect resources such as food and security. As a result, men value women’s health and reproductive potential, while women value men’s ability to provide resources. This leads to men and women having different ideal ages for their partners.
But the study, like all research, includes some caveats.
“We were unable to look at the (potentially) separate influences of wanting children versus having children because there was a substantial overlap between these two factors,” Kramer explained. “People who wanted children tended not to have any. It would be interesting to see whether, with the right sample, one of these factors played a larger role than the other.
“It is also worth noting that our findings came from a (large) sample of online daters, provided by a website where users tend to be interested in forming serious, long-term relationships. While it is likely that such preferences apply to daters more generally (given how many people now meet online), it may be that those looking for short-term relationships are not influenced to the same extent by wanting or having children in terms of partner age preferences.”
“With the growing popularity of online dating sites, it is clear that these represent relatively untapped resources when it comes to investigating real-world preferences and behaviors in large samples of people,” Kramer added. “Of course, it can be difficult to gain access to these datasets (we were fortunate to collaborate with a popular UK dating site in this instance) but it is definitely worth attempting to do so because people’s decisions when actually dating (online) may be very different from the responses they provide during ‘in lab’ investigations.”
The study was titled: “Wanting or Having Children Predicts Age Preferences in Online Dating“.