Why Is Age So Important in Human Mating? Evolved Age Preferences and Their Influences on Multiple Mating Behaviors

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Abstract

Evolutionary theorizing suggests that chronological age, because it is so strongly linked with key reproductive qualities like fertility, should be an exceptionally consequential variable in mate selection. We review voluminous evidence for mate preferences for age and the substantial and varied behavioral sequelae of those preferences. These include (a) in actual marriage decisions, men choose younger wives, and women choose older husbands, on average in all of the dozens of cultures studied; (b) in personal advertisements, men and women seek partners consistent with their expressed age preferences; (c) chronological age determines number of “hits” received in online dating services; (d) the age of potential bride influences the amount of money spent on premarriage customs; (e) men’s mate retention effort, including commitment manipulation, resource provisioning, and intrasexual threats, is significantly predicted by the wife’s age; and (f) chronological age is an important sex-linked cause of divorce. The far-reaching ramifications of age also extend to (g) tactics of intrasexual competition, (h) predictors of mate value discrepancies, (i) victims of sex crimes, and (j) prostitution patterns. Finally, chronological age predicts (k) probability of remarriage, and (l) the age gap between grooms and brides upon remarriage. We synthesize evidence from diverse methods, across different cultures, and over time spans of centuries. Massive converging evidence provides a powerful, yet complex, understanding of the evolutionary importance of age in multiple mating outcomes over the human life span.

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