The allure of older women

Hugh Wilson
Thursday, August 4, 2011
It's often said that women are attracted to an older man. A more recent phenomenon seems to be men falling for the allure of an older woman. We reveal why men are attracted to older women — cougars.

According to science, men shouldn't really be attracted to older women. Evolution has primed men to fancy the most healthy, fertile women. For 'healthy and fertile', science would have you read 'young'. Evolutionary biologists are adamant: men want to date women the same age or younger than themselves.

The cougar phenomenon
We've all heard about the phenomenon of the cougar — an older woman who deliberately sets out to date younger men. We all know about celebrity cougars like Demi Moore and her relationship with Ashton Kutcher. We've all heard of toy boys.

And statistics show that this is not just a media invention. The BBC has reported that 25 percent of older women in the UK are married to younger men. In America, 30 percent of older women date men who are younger than themselves. So it's certainly happening. We're not questioning the motives, either. The only question that interests us — from a man's point of view — is why?

Older women look younger these days
First of all, none of this disproves the theory that we are genetically hardwired to fancy young women. There may be a growing number of older-woman-younger-man relationships, but the inverse is still far more common. Men do tend to want young women, and young women do appreciate the experience and resources older men can offer.

But as far as our evolutionary instincts are concerned, it has become far more difficult to spot an older woman. Healthy eating and all those zumba classes, as well as sophisticated beauty regimes and botox, mean older women look suspiciously like younger ones, certainly to our subconscious scanners.

Older women can behave younger

They're also more likely to behave like younger women, which can confuse any right-thinking man. "These women are alive, vibrant, want to dance, love current music, technology, exercise and eat healthier," says psychologist Dr Fayr Barkley, an expert on cougar relationships. "They want a younger man who can keep up with them." In a nutshell, many older women look great and are full of vim, so what's not to fancy?

There's also the possibility that some younger men are playing out the psychosexual imprinting that happened years earlier. That sounds complex, but it simply means that a much-loved babysitter, nursery teacher or family friend may have planted a seed that blossoms today as a penchant for older women.

Biology isn't everything

Experts also suggest that, though biology is important, it isn't everything. We can override our hardwiring if the goal is important enough. And to a growing number of young men, a sophisticated and sexy older woman is so attractive a proposition that it puts callow youth and shallow beauty in the shade. To some very young men, the attraction might simply be based on an adolescent Mrs Robinson fantasy that hasn't gone away. Mrs Robinson is Dustin Hoffman's older seductress in the film The Graduate.

"The younger men fall into one of two categories," says Barkley. "The first is what I have termed 'The Myth of Stifler's Mom' after the movie American Pie. These are younger men who think the mature woman exists to somehow fulfil their adolescent male sexual fantasies."

And that, she says, is unlikely to happen. Contrary to popular opinion, older women want far more from their younger boyfriends than energetic sex. And apparently, they have plenty of choice. "There are far more younger men looking for older women than there are older women who are available to date younger men. So the women can afford to be very selective," says Barkley.

What men want
So if the hordes of cougar-loving young men aren't just out to satisfy basic sexual curiosity, what do they want from relationships with older women? Well, sex is, of course, important. An older woman might not be a Mrs Robinson type, but she may well be experienced, experimental and unembarrassed, which can be huge turn-ons in themselves.

It might also be true, says Barkley, that some young men find women of their own age, and perhaps the 20-something dating scene altogether, shallow and manipulative, with too much game-playing and not enough sincerity. They turn to older women to get out of a cycle of bad dates. And what they turn to, she says, is "the depth, maturity and spirit of the older woman". In her research, Barkley has interviewed thousands of men who say they're attracted to older women for just these reasons.

But what does depth and maturity bring? It brings a measure of financial independence, for a start. An older woman won't expect you to pay for every date. Older women also have a lot of experiences to relate, and plenty to talk about. They're interesting and even inspirational. Many younger men also report that older women are more emotionally stable and less likely to jump ship at the first hint of trouble. They know what they want, and realise that you sometimes have to work to get it.

All of which makes for a pretty alluring package. It's true that some men have always been attracted to the maturity, intelligence and sheer classiness of older women, and it seems that more and more of us are coming round to the idea that youth (for all its in-your-face benefits) isn't everything. Maybe Ashton Kutcher is on to something...

Getty ImagesThe 'trophy wife' might be a myth, study finds Image: GettyYou love your spouse because of DNA: study ThinkstockHappiest couples spoon at night: study ThinkstockHusband's health more important to happy marriages: study