The Case For An Older Woman

February 16th, 2010 by Christian Rudder

"Women older than me keep messaging me. Sorry, but that is not going to happen."—recent feedback from a male user

The above comment is typical. As it is, men between 22 and 30—nearly two-thirds of the male dating pool—focus almost exclusively on women younger than themselves. I'll be investigating this phenomenon today, with gusto and charts. Ultimately, I'll argue that they would be well-served to expand their search upwards, to women in their thirties and forties.

Because it has been a successful way to introduce previous posts, I wanted to put real faces on this demographic before I delve into a bunch of numbers. Pictured below are some single users in their mid-thirties or early forties, taken from the first couple pages of my own local match search. Nothing I'll talk about today pertains necessarily to any one of them, but I wanted to put forward some people to go with the statistical discussion.

The Back Story
Dating Preferences & Age

It's no secret that dating changes radically as you get older. As you can see below, the number of online daters peaks at 24, drops sharply at around 30, and then gradually tapers off, as the remaining singletons either find mates or withdraw themselves from contention:

The bar chart here shows how the woman to man ratio changes over time. As you can see, it's basically flat. In a better world, this would imply that older people don't necessarily have a harder time finding decent mates than younger ones, as the composition of the dating pool holds relatively steady from age to age. Put another way: a 45 year-old woman shouldn't in theory have a harder time finding a date than a 20 year-old, because the female-to-male ratios at those ages are equal (roughly 11:9).

Of course, we all know that 45 year-olds do have a much harder time, because the male fixation on youth distorts the dating pool. Look at how men have set their age preferences on OkCupid:

As you can see, a man, as he gets older, searches for relatively younger and younger women. Meanwhile his upper acceptable limit hovers only a token amount above his own age. a man, as he gets older, searches for relatively younger and younger womenThe median 31 year-old guy, for example, sets his allowable match age range from 22 to 35—nine years younger, but only four years older, than himself. This skewed mindset worsens with age; the median 42 year-old will accept a woman up to fifteen years younger, but no more than three years older.

A man's bias toward younger women becomes even more evident when we overlay his stated preferences with his actual messaging habits.

This next graph is what's called a heat map. It shows messaging concentrations by age; for each vertical age bracket, the greenest areas have the most messages, the reddest have the fewest, and the yellow have the average.

As you can see, men tend to focus on the youngest women in their already skewed preference pool, and, what's more, they spend athe median 30 year-old man spends as much time messaging teenage girls as he does women his own age significant amount of energy pursuing women even younger than their stated minimum. No matter what he's telling himself on his setting page, a 30 year-old man spends as much time messaging 18 and 19 year-olds as he does women his own age. On the other hand, women only a few years older are largely neglected.

So you can see how differently women think about dating and age, here are the corresponding charts for them:

Except in their early to mid-twenties, when they apparently want nothing to do with younger guys (i.e. guys who are still in school?), women show an admirable openness to both reasonably younger and reasonably older men. Notice also how a woman's actual messaging activity, shown in the heat map below, is roughly centered on her own age (as illustrated by the dotted "age parity" line).

This second chart also contains something very peculiar that we didn't see at all in men. Notice the vertical stripes at ages 20 and 29. These color discontinuities indicate dramatic changes in a woman's dating mentality: when a women turns 20 she decides it's okay to message significantly older men (i.e. the upper reaches of the chart suddenly become less red). At 29, a woman becomes even more open to older men and, in addition, stops writing the youngest ones. The typical 28 year-old women sends a small but significant number of messages to men too young to drink. The typical 29 year-old sends practically none.

In any event, here's what happens when we synthesize all the above data. By tallying the number of people interested in each age group and gender, we can get a dynamic picture of the dating pools. I've made a little javascript widget to illustrate what's going on.

The Shape Of The Dating Pool

a by-age distribution of men who would date an 18 year-old woman

men seeking women women seeking men

I was tempted to title this The Tides Of Longing. Move the slider to the right, toward middle age, and you can watch the pool of dating possibilities gather, crest, then drain away. Metaphors aside, we can evaluate the potential matches for a given age/gender by summing the area under the curve (AP Calculus, ftw!) I made these calculations in the chart below, and we can see that women have more pursuers than men until age 26, but thereafter a man can expect many more potential dates than a woman of the same age. At the graph's outer edge, at age 48, men are nearly twice as sought-after as women. Here's the data:

A woman's desirability peaks at 21, which, ironically enough is the age that men just begin their "prime," i.e. become more desirable than average. Following that dotted line out, statistically speaking, a woman's desirability
peaks at 21
you can see that a woman of 31 is already "past her prime," while a man doesn't become so until 36. As we mentioned above, after age 26, a man has more potential matches than his female counterparts, which is a drastic reversal of the proportion in young adulthood, when women are much more sought-after. Because men's dating preferences skew so young, and women's are age-equitable, men peak later, and have a longer plateau of desirability, than women.

So that's the lay of the land, and now I'd like to say why I think it could be different. In the next three sections of this post, I will show that an older woman's attitudes, both about sex and life, are just as good if not better than her younger counterparts', and hopefully I'll convince more guys to venture north of their current age-limits:

Exhibit A

Articles touting a woman's mid-thirties "sexual peak" have stalked the pages of Cosmo since time immemorial, but these articles typically cite clinical testosterone/estrogen/progesterone studies and attempt to make the leap to "sexual peak" from there—if they bother to cite any data at all. I, on the other hand, can make my claim by looking at a woman's stated preferences:

Ideally, how often would you have sex?
age of the population

This is a nationwide "age progression" of American women, a normalized heat map similar to the ones you saw above, but with an added geographical component. By moving the slider you can watch how attitudes become more sex-positive as the population gets older.

This older-women-are-more-sexual pattern repeats across almost every proposition. Here are a few more data sets just as sparklines (computed, like the map above, for our sample set of 100,000 women). Again, these are just a handful of examples; whether we ask about bondage or kissing, women are the most sexual in their thirties.

Researching this post, I also came upon an interesting complementary pair of graphs illustrating sexual dominance preferences. Younger men want to be dominated. Older women are generally interested in doing just that.

In addition their lack of physical inhibitions, older women have much healthier attitudes in two other areas of sexual concern: STD testing and contraception.

Is contraception morally wrong?
age of the population
How often do you get tested for STDs?
age of the population
These maps lead directly into my next topic:
Exhibit B

There are two operative stereotypes of older single women: the sad-sack (à la Bridget Jones) and the "cougar" (à la Samantha from Sex In The City) and both, like all stereotypes, are reductionist and stupid and I've tried to avoid them. I hesitated beginning my case for older women with something about their sexuality, like I did in Exhibit A, because that territory borders right on cougar country. But the evidence there was too compelling to ignore.

On the other hand, I found no basis whatsoever for Ms. Zellweger's version of the thirty-something single woman. The data indicate that they are in fact way better adjusted than their younger counterparts. For example:

It might be hard to eyeball, because the bottom graph isn't steeply sloped, but women in their thirties are 4.0% more likely to be happy than their younger counterparts. As anyone who's been in a relationship with someone who lacks them can attest, self-sufficiency and confidence are awesome qualities in a match.

The graph below shows a similar trend, until a poignant drop at the end.

Either something very sad happens to a woman at 40, or something incredibly awesome happens at 39. Hard to tell. And I also want to say, guys, that just because a woman is older, she's not necessarily on the fast-track to marriage:

Exhibit C

The final thing I want to address is looks, because I think that is guys' most fundamental worry about dating someone older. There's no doubt that younger people are are more physically attractive—indeed in many ways beauty and youth are inextricable. That's why most of the models you see in magazines are teenagers, and turn-back-the-clock surgeries like face-lifts are so popular. There's no getting around this fact, and I don't want to hide it:

But, combing through the data, I intuitively felt like this graph didn't tell the whole story. So I dug deeper, and found something interesting. If you separate out the absolute best-looking women, almost all of whom are very young, and also remove the people you won't realistically want to date (the worst-looking women), you find that everyone else's attractiveness doesn't change much with age:

In other words, given that nobody is drop-dead gorgeous or drop-dead hideous, your average 25 year-old is roughly as good-looking as your average 35 year-old. for the vast majority of men, dating the absolute hottest girls isn't realisticYes, throwing out the prettiest of the pretty young things is a clumsy handicap to put on an age-by-age comparison. But at the same time, for the vast majority of men, the best-looking women are simply out of reach, so it's actually accurate to exclude them as possibilities. In fact, unrealistic male expectations inspired this article, so we want to do everything we can to correct for them.

Many of you are probably scoffing at the idea that many 35 year-olds are as attractive as many 25 year-olds, but there are social factors at work that you might not consider as you go through life making judgments. Most importantly: nationwide, thirtysomethings are much more likely to be married and therefore much more likely to have stopped optimizing their attractiveness. So the typical 35 year-old woman you see out in the world isn't representative of the single 35 year-olds who are still dating and looking good.

Anyhow, that just about concludes my case. Ultimately, you be the judge. Here are single women in their mid-twenties and women in their mid-thirties, all in the 70th percentile of attractiveness, side by side. The older women are on the left, in case you can't tell.

Of course, you could also do your own search and see for yourself. Thanks for reading.

721 Responses to “The Case For An Older Woman”

  1. cestglenn says:

    JJ – that is an honest to goodness shame. The 30s and onward are excellent ages for women. You’re welcome to look me up on here – I’m mature but neither dumpy nor a bore.

  2. Alis says:

    I am a 49 year old
    I would like to find someone contemporary with me,
    here in Cupid, I have many friends from 22 to 32 years old
    some want a serious relationship with me, but for my age if it is a problem, they are very young, I think a lot about what people think …. : (

  3. cestglenn says:

    Leslie1947 – I agree. Older women are excellent. Look me up!

  4. cenzie says:

    I’m a healthy, vibrant, cute, sexy 56 y.o woman who was dating a 40 y.o. man for a year and 1/2. It’s apparent he still desires me – physicall and intellectually – but as he said “I can’t get past the age difference.” I found him on Cupid before we broke up and his age range is 27-46 – 13 years younger but only 6 years older. And this is a man who does not want children! How incredibly shallow. . .

  5. Lola says:

    People are much younger much longer and plenty of early 30 year olds are still like teenagers these days, “older” to me would atleast be around 65, and I find that quite fit, still. I don’t think I’d date anyone under, say, 29, although there are always exceptions,

  6. Lola says:

    “For the women who are trying to convince themselves they look better in their 30s, 40s, or even their 50s than they did in their 20s, no, you don’t. The exceptions are women who have lost a bunch of weight, gotten plastic surgery, or who now spend a lot more time and/or do a better job of dolling themselves up when they go out (better presentation).

    For the rest of the women reading this, the delusion has to stop. Those wrinkles, sagging boobs, less supple skin, etc. actually puts a huge dent in your overall attractiveness. Accept it and move on.”

    Ridiculous. Some look better, some don’t, its an individual matter. And some look better, naturally.

  7. Trust_worthy says:

    Interesting data but few surprises.

    One thing I would like to add to the discussion is chemical change of genders at age. Generally speaking as men age their testosterone level decreases and estrogen levels increase. Likewise, women aging gain testosterone and lose estrogen. Obviously this is not a total gender reversal, just a movement one direction or the other in their character. Therefore men get more passive and women more aggressive with chemical changes as they age. Taking that into account, young women and older men are both in their highest estrogen levels in their lifetime. So in that regard they are more similar in attitude than those the same age. Couple that chemical similarity with youthful beauty and young women are hard for an older gent to dismiss.

    In regard to older women, as a gent ages and becomes less aggressive an older woman who is more aggressive can be a put off. I myself think of youthful aggressive behaviour and enjoy that I have grown out of it. Whereas with an older aggressive woman I feel that she should be past all that aggressive behaviour as well. But in reality they are just growing into it. Also, with that higher aggressive attitude and comfort in self the older ladies tend to get much more selective, as men were during their youth.

    So all in all, I do feel for the older ladies who get put on a shelf and no longer dated. But on the other hand, ladies get the attention of EVERY man on the planet in their youth, whether they want it or not. So you then get a balance of all or nothing.

    As a man I have no problem with that since many women, even posting here, make reference to “using their beauty” to gain things. So apparently using beauty is something to use by women, most often times used inappropriately, while women have it. So I’ll just say, they shouldn’t get bitter when that manipulation is out of reach. Every woman had her day. But I realize it must really suck to have such an easy go of it and then lose that power.

    As a man I’ve found that as I age I can date ladies of any age. From those above my age to those to much younger ages. I honestly believe that my late 30’s early 40’s are the most attractive I’ve been to the ladies of all ages, having nothing to do with actual attractiveness. I’m pretty much the same, only aged a bit. But my wallet is deeper (though I don’t show that off) and I’m more established and settled.

    So I’ll just say this: My dating options weren’t bad when I was young, but not spectacular. Now the world is my oyster. So as a man I started off as so so and I’m now going strong. Women on the other hand start extremely strong and then it gets so so or non existant. Hate it or not, that’s just the way it works and I doubt it will change. So hopefully older ladies who have had their run have many fine memories to keep them warm at night.

    For what it’s worth….

  8. Lola says:

    “Nadine says:
    so old women are unattractive and infertile, on the other hand they’re desperate and grateful. Pay your money and make your choice.”

    Most women are menopausal in their early 50s (some even have their periods into their 60s), plenty look hot and are not desperate and grateful. You sound rather, infantile ?

  9. daveo says:

    I don’t get this at all. I got over younger girls when I graduated high school. (It helped that, once in college, the cougrrs started coming after me…) I think the simplest reason most guys go after young’uns is: easy pickings. They’re more naive and less of a challenge. But that’s what makes them less attractive to me.

  10. Guskjpg says:

    Salutations à tous,

    Premièrement, offrez-moi l’occasion de vous montrer mon appréciation pour toutes les excellentes infos que j’ai trouvées sur cet cool forum de discussions .

    Je ne suis pas certaine d’être au meilleur section mais je n’en ai pas trouvé de meilleure .

    J’habite à Calabogie, canada . J’ai 45 années et j’éduque 5 très gentils enfants qui sont tous âgés entre 8 et 14 ans (1 est adoptée ). J’aime particulièrement beaucoup les animaux de compagnie et je fais de mon mieux de leur présenter les articles qui leur rendent la vie plus à l’aise .

    Merci à l’avance pour toutes les très pertinentes délibérations dans le futur et je vous remercie surtout de votre compassion pour mon français moins que parfait: ma langue maternelle est le portuguais et je tempte de m’enseigner mais c’est très compliqué !

    A bientôt


  11. intellexxual says:

    I don’t get this at all. I got enough of crazy teenage girls in high school. Soon as I graduated, I started dating up (except for the occasional set-up by friends or family) and I never looked back. I guess it helped that, once in college, the cougrrrs started hunting me down …

    I think the simplest reason a lot of older guys go after young’uns is: most guys are lazy and young girls are easy pickings. They’re long on hormones and short on common sense. It’s stealing candy from a baby, basically. But that’s what makes it less attractive to me.

    So, the ones you’ve rated as in the middle, are the most attractive to me. The one’s you’ve rated near the top I would rate “probably jailbait.” They remind me of my high-school aged niece.

  12. Jacob says:

    You’re overlooking something critical here. At the beginning of your article you state that 22-30-year-old males almost exclusively look for younger women. I’m a 22-year-old male. I would happily date older women, the thing is, as your data clearly shows, they have no interest in dating me. You do state in your article that men in there younger twenties are often overlooked, but your data shows that women, even in their thirties are just as age-biased in their dating as men are (only in the opposite direction).

    You point out that a median 31 year old man will only date four years older than him, but nine years younger. According to your data a median 31 year old woman will only date three years younger and eight years older. I think it’s pretty clear that the women in your sample are just as age biased, if not more than the men. And they are also more picky about age in general.

    If we look at the age group you mentioned above (22-30), the eldest age at which the median woman will date any male in his 20s, even up to the age 29, is only three years older. Only at age 30 do women up to 6 years older suddenly gain interest in males. In fact until ages 28 and 29, the eldest age at which the median woman will date a male is only TWO YEAR older.

    Okay, now lets look at how much older males in that age range are willing to date.

    A median 22-year-old male will date women up to age 26. A median 28-year-old male will date women up to age 34. Six years older. At age 30 a median male will date up to 35. Only finally at age 30 do we see men who are unwilling to date women at an age where the median woman would date them.

    Really if you are looking at it, males in the 22-29-year-old age are significantly more willing to date older women than older women are willing to date them. In actuality your Zone of Greatness should be labeled the Zone of Totally Awesome Older Women Who Have Absolutely Zero interest in you.

    Really what you should be putting out is an article on how 25-35-year-old women should be looking for younger men–not the other way around.

  13. ChinaWhite says:

    I love the range of insights and opinions people have left; quite the sample!

    Here’s my two cents, or 2 jiao, as we say in Shanghai.

    On being an “older woman”:

    I’m 31 and I feel sexier and more attractive than I’ve felt since I was a teenager.
    I’m stylish and sophisticated; I understand men much better than in the past (you men have your learning curves, too lol), so there’s less conflict in intimacy, I get what a man needs and am better at giving it.

    I’m WAY hornier and more comfortable with myself sexually and I orgasm much easier than I’ve ever done before. I’m more relaxed and so I can just chill and have fun without stressing about every little detail of a relationship.

    A dude that doesn’t see and want this just isn’t that interesting, at least to me. My current guy is two years older than me, admittedly he’s not exactly the male Adonis that I jump at most instinctively, but he’s really a gem of warmth and wisdom. I took a risk and told my instincts to take the back seat for once, and it’s been great and the sex is fantastic.

    Women: I’m a white woman in my 30s living the last 4 years in Asia. If ever there was a place where old men chase young women they don’t actually respect, it’s here, and the young girls are happy to play if the dude’ll spend money on them. Career daters looking for a rich husband ASAP.

    Hell, most of my guy friends spend half their time singing the praises of young, uneducated Chinese women (they steer clear of intelligent, sophisticated local women, interestingly), and the other half complaining about every minute detail of why they and their girlfriends don’t see eye to eye. These are NOT men you want to date, they don’t know how to be a friend AND a lover, and they don’t want an equal partner.

    The young girls here put up with a lot of crap in relationships with these men. I wish them luck. The girls are far more interesting than their boyfriends. Forget such silly men.

    Take pride in yourself, find a young lover for no strings attached bedroom time, and invest yourself in something you love to do. Have fun and enjoy life, date (and reject) many men, and when one comes along that gets it and wants it, show him the time of his life and let him adore you. HE’S the keeper, not the ones who are looking for something else. Don’t waste your time: dating a guy that’s not crazy about you is the fastest way to short change yourself.

    Good luck, daters!

  14. loggerlover4u says:

    There’ a big age gap here. I’m in my 80’s ( eighties) and am having a wonderful time with women in their 70’s. Our life styles are set, none of us want to live together constantly, but we all enjoy the richness of each others special interests – then return to our own activities. , and by good diet, exercise, a consuming purpose in life, and a vacuum pump for intercourse after long lascivious caressing and oral sex, we agree that this is, right now- our golden age.
    Polyamory is a wonderful state of being; no dependence, total support when needed, and this loggerlover4u is still one happy camper. Strange that your stats stop on the cusp of nirvana.

  15. Trotterhorse says:

    I am now 56 years old, but in my youth I was always attracted to women older than myself. It was the best experience of my life. It however ruined my marriage, I could not relate to women my age. Our interest did not coincide with each other!

  16. VioletBlue says:

    I wouldn’t say I look better now than i did when I was in my early 20’s, but at 50 I look great for my age, and have no problem getting dates with younger men. Most are in their early 40’s to maybe 1 or 2 years older.. I don’t really like to date older men, we don’t have the same interests, lol. I have more energy than women 10 years younger and the older guys just can’t keep up!

  17. EelKat says:

    A few weeks ago I was in the store, buying a bag of chips. The cashier says to me: “Isn’t it a school day? Where’s your mother? Why aren’t you in school?” I look at her thinking, you got to be kidding me! I tell her my age, she accuses me of lying and says she can’t sell anything to minors on a school day! She demands to see my idea. I give it to her and she calls it fake and calls the manager.

    The manager looks at me and looks at her and than says: “She’s been shopping here since the 1970s, I think she’s older than me.”

    The girl looks at my birthdate on my ID and says: “But…but…look at her! She looks like she’s 14! You’re telling me she’s 20 years older than me? How is that possible?”

    I tell her: I have never drank, smoked, done drugs, or worn make up. I am homeless, so I’m outdoors all the time getting lots of fresh air and exercise, and having no place to take a bath, I bath in the ocean, using the beach sand as an exfoliating mineral rub, as I have no soap. That’s the secret to my “eternal youth”.

    I am never short of men 10, 15, 20 years younger than me, talking to me BECAUSE THEY THINK I’m a teenager – they shy away after asking my age.

  18. Thandie says:

    Men age and die faster than woman. Hence women have more energy at same or similar ages.
    My ex was 9 years younger than me.
    Most men I have met and continue meeting prefer older woman in their late 30’s and forties.
    My mom is 7 years older than my dad. My sister engaged to someone 6 years her junior.
    My brother both times married older than him.

  19. James says:

    The article is really interesting but here’s my summary (for the guys out there who are sick of being told not to be normal i.e. find a nice pretty girl and fall in love rather than have kinky sex with disease ridden cougars) if you can’t read between the lines:

    1) Men prefer younger girls (with good reason – they are better looking and will remain so for longer, are less likely to have been around, have longer to go before kids) even more so than they pretend to (for fear of being labelled as creepy by feminists).
    2) Girls prefer older guys (more cash – why else?) especially when they are most desirable (not mentioned in article but you can see in the graph).

    1) Older single women like casual sex, threesomes and tying you down. Oh, but not just with you but all the other guys they’re dating. Maybe that’s because they’re older and more adventurous or maybe they’re single because they’re into that rather than relationships…
    2) At least they test themselves for diseases more – because they need to.

    No one believes that older women are as attractive except deluded older women and hen-pecked husbands. You should point out that the graphs are for ratings of photographs with age taken into account.

    PS I don’t hate single older women I hate the lies that people are told that lead to single older women.

  20. comefindme44 says:

    Older Ladies watch out for younger men!!!!!!!! Yes they can turn your head make you feel wonderful, but most of them are only after your money. That’s what happened to me. A scam he went to Africa, but while there needed money to get his travel papers back. Was there to help the children who needed medial help and supposedly didn’t have all the money to pay for needed surgeries and asked me to send him the money that he needed in 4 days so he could pay for it and get his papers back, and fly home to me. Sure opened my eyes wide. Like my daughter said when I told her about it ” Mom good thing you weren’t born under a rock ” So Ladies Beware. By the way I DID NOT SEND HIM MONEY.

  21. Kevin says:

    Id love to quote jacob but his post is a bit long. So ill say after reviewing his comment i Totally Agree! This post would have better served the purpose of getting older women to look at us younger guys, im 22 and i tend to flirt with girls 24-28 on average but if i thought any of those hot 30+ year olds were interested id definitely expand my horizons.

    Geminikevin7 (california)