George Clooney and Amal Clooney are one example. Michael Douglas and Catherine Zeta-Jones are another. And, yes, even President Trump and the First Lady are another one. The May-December romance—that is a relationship between a younger woman and an older man—is as common in Hollywood as it is in your hometown. So what gives? Why are younger women not only attracted to older men, but are also more likely to date them?
It turns out the reasons have less to do with romance and more to do with good ol’ evolution.
Older Men Provide Security
According to Psychology Today, “the older man represents socially valued attributes that lead his younger partner to want to bond with him.” With age, most men acquire greater power in their career, thus possess more wealth and security. Whether it’s a home, more money, or other luxuries. This VIP status is extremely attractive to a younger woman.
As zoologist Stephen Proulx put it to the Observer: “If males can display ostentatiously at that age then they really have to have something going for them.” And with a number of younger men seemingly stuck in arrested development—not to mention with barely an IKEA pull-out couch to their name—the security of an older man may make a woman feel more taken care of.
But before we label these women gold-diggers, it’s important to note a question that was raised in a study done by St. Mary’s University’s (Halifax) Sara Skentelbery and Darren Fowler on whether young women looking for the security in an older man may have lacked that security from their fathers growing up. While their findings didn’t suggest this was actually a huge reasoning behind May-December hook-ups, it’s something to consider nonetheless.
Then, of course, there’s the whole evolution thing. Back in our evolutionary past, men generally kicked the bucket in their twenties and thirties. If a man lived well into his sixties—well, he hit the genetic lottery and thus was deemed highly desirable. Proulx theorizes that it’s both a man’s longevity and his bank account that makes him attractive to a younger woman. The fact that he’s lived a long time and accrued wealth is like hitting two birds with one stone.
A twenty-something Bieber might have the luxury cars and wealth now, but is he able to sustain and maintain it like Clooney? The former says fling while the latter says life partner.
Older Men Look… Familiar
Turns out the Elektra complex might have some validity behind why a younger woman chooses an older man for a partner.
“The majority of researchers do believe that the preference for older man can be linked to our fathers,” Professor Madeleine Fugere, author of The Social Psychology of Attraction and Romantic Relationships, told Grazia.
“Women are statistically more likely to marry men who resemble their fathers in hair color and eye color, and women with older parents may be more likely to marry older men.”
While it’s definitely a little creepy to think that we choose our mates based on our parents, Fugere insists our selection is all happening unconsciously. Though both sexes do it, it seems, according to Fugere, to be more “advantageous” for younger women because, you know, the money and the longevity genes that the older man has.
Interesting still, according to a 2010 study by Scottish psychologists, while younger, more financially independent women were attracted to older men, the men still had to be handsome no matter how much money they had. So if your dad is a silver fox then… Well, don’t be surprised if you go after another one.
Older Men Embody the “Male Gaze”
Another theory is brought up by Kerri Sackville in the Sydney Morning Herald. Sackville suggest that because women are raised with internalizing the “male gaze”—a masculine, heterosexual perspective that presents and represents women as sexual objects for the pleasure of the male viewer—then “we see ourselves reflected in our partner’s eyes. If our partner sees us as young and hot, we see ourselves as young and hot. If he sees us as aging and undesirable, we internalize that, too,” she writes. “A man is only as young as the woman he feels, but a woman is only as young as a man sees her to be.”
So if a woman believes her value decreases as she ages, she might be attracted to the older man who will see her as perpetually younger and, thus, more attractive.
The bottom line: relationship fulfillment depends on a number of unique factors that sometimes science just can’t explain. Perhaps there’s a genetic, psychological reason why you’re more drawn to a George Clooney than a Chris Pratt, or maybe you’re just a perfect fit—science be damned.