While fairly normal throughout most of history, relationship and attraction age gaps are a controversial topic these days (sometimes ruled out as bad, being a victim of the mythical “Half Your Age Plus Seven Rule“).
In some cases, society is fairly accepting, like when hot and established older celebrities like John Stamos or Harrison Ford date women ten to twenty years younger (or even more).
In other instances, society’s reaction may be hostility, like when a fat old guy gets caught checking out a college girl, or when a “dirty old man” hits on a girl old enough to be his daughter (or even granddaughter).
If we look at the science of “daddy issues” and age gaps, it’s pretty obvious that men are highly attracted to younger women. OK Cupid’s data show the average age men of all ages (18-60+) prefer is 21.
However, that’s not to say the men on that site end up actually dating women that young; reality dictates they date women close to their own age. So, despite male attraction preferences, and occasional stories of elite older guys (like celebrities and CEOs) dating much younger women, age-gap relationships are pretty rare.
So, it’s clear that society has mixed views on age gap relationships, especially when the women is much younger. Usually, at some point in any debate or discussion on the matter, someone throws out the classic nugget of wisdom, “well, the girl obviously has ‘daddy issues.'”
It sounds logical right? A woman who likes an older man obviously must have a bad relationship with her father, even maybe having been abandoned by him.
But, let’s see what science has to say on the matter of these so-called “daddy issues.”
A new study suggests women who date much older men have no “daddy issues,” and have the same type of attachment that women in similar-age relationships have.
The authors conclude clearly:
The common belief that the women who choose much older partners because of having “daddy issues” was unfounded in this study
The researchers of the study actually predicted that younger women in age gap relationships wouldn’t have daddy issues, because as they mention,
…it is evolutionary beneficial for women to seek older mates, and that there will be no significant difference in attachment styles between women in age-gap versus similar-age relationships.
What they mean is that women evolved to find men with status and resources attractive, and throughout most of human history it was older men who had these.
And, the authors also affirmed what other studies have found about age-gap relationships:
Our results paired with the findings from Lehmiller & Agnew (2007, 2008) make it more apparent that individuals in [age gap relationships] are healthier and happier than what the general public assumes them to be.
So, why is there hostility toward age gap relationships in the first place? I believe that the whole “daddy issues” put down is usually a way for jealous people negatively impacted by age-gap relationships to shame those in them.
Men tend to get jealous because they don’t like other men dating pretty young women when they aren’t. So, it creates feelings of jealously, although these same guys would likely jump at the chance to date younger.
I want to briefly address why I’m not discussing “mommy issues” here. After all, what about older women and younger men? Well, despite media hype, one recent large, cross-cultural study showed that, outside of the Hollywood imagination, the concept of “cougars” is largely a myth, and that women still prefer dating older men, and men younger women.
So, we can stop assuming the relationship a younger woman had with her dad was troubled simply because she likes older guys, many who may be more mature, stable, and successful than any guys her own age.