Cultural norms in choice of mate

post by TraderJoe · 2012-07-10T08:18:25.478Z · score: -14 (28 votes) · LW · GW · Legacy · 78 comments

Why don’t men go for younger women? That’s not quite accurate, because they do, but we seem to have a cultural norm against girls who have recently exited puberty, even though they are highly fertile. Some time in the last few hundred years, we reached a cultural norm that as a man gets older, it’s increasingly less appropriate for him to be with a sixteen year old. That’s not long enough to override thousands of years of evolution, so what could have contributed to it?

The best solution I’ve heard started by looking at who benefits from this norm [older women] and wondering whether they could have contributed to it. After all, the strength of this norm has been increased in the last sixty years or so, which coincides with the period in which women’s power has increased.

One alternative I heard recently is that it doesn’t make sense biologically to go for women who are recently post-pubescent, as they don’t make the best mothers. Instead, a slightly older woman [mid-twenties] makes sense to be the best mother. This is perfectly plausible.

Another, less plausible, suggestion I’ve heard is that it’s to do with mental capacity. I find this unconvincing because we have few objections to a high-status man dating a beautiful but low-intellect woman.

Thoughts?

78 comments

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comment by MileyCyrus · 2012-07-10T12:30:14.475Z · score: 23 (25 votes) · LW · GW

These kinds of posts are better when the OP has brought some research to the table.

comment by OphilaDros · 2012-07-10T13:05:01.475Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Upvoted for saying what I was trying to say with far fewer words. :)

comment by TraderJoe · 2012-07-10T12:43:33.886Z · score: -7 (17 votes) · LW · GW

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comment by [deleted] · 2012-07-10T12:59:03.576Z · score: 21 (43 votes) · LW · GW

This article is written entirely from a male perspective. As a 17 year old girl I find inflammatory the way the female view point is completely absent. I think you will find that the vast majority of young women my age, myself included, are not attracted to "older" men. I also don't understand why you keep referring to "evolution". In no way would it be biologically advantageous for someone my age to procraete with an old man. You seem to forget that although men may generally remain fertile for longer than women, male fertility still declines with age. This is evident in the fact that their are increased health risks for offspring of older fathers as well as older mothers. The desirability of older men to young women only makes sense within a culture where stature and power are desirable attributes, and are more commonly held by older males. In a purely biological sense, it would make sense for young women to have children with young men who are most fertile and capable of handling the physical demands of raising a child. As the treatment of the sexes becomes more equal women have morer power and autonomy. They no longer need to rely on male counterparts to determine their position in society. Relationships are increasingly built on companionship, respect, and shared interests which are more commonly found in similar age partnerships.

comment by [deleted] · 2012-07-11T00:31:07.708Z · score: 3 (11 votes) · LW · GW

I think you will find that the vast majority of young women my age, myself included, are not attracted to "older" men.

That sounds like generalizing from one example to me. The fact that only in a small minority (my guesstimate would be at around 15%) of heterosexual long-term relationships is the woman older than the man (at least where I am) suggests otherwise.

comment by OphilaDros · 2012-07-11T03:42:59.704Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I think all of us commenting have different age ranges in our heads for 'older men' and 'younger women'. Anyhow the OP as far as I understand talks about very young women - 'girls who have recently exited puberty', and the discussion in the comments talking about 'power' and 'stature' seems to suggest men who are already fairly well established in their careers - at least the early thirties?

That's anywhere from a 15-20 year age gap. Not a whole lot more common than older woman-younger men pairings.

comment by [deleted] · 2012-07-11T08:04:12.752Z · score: -1 (11 votes) · LW · GW

I am speaking from my experiences with girls my age. At no point did I claim that the majority of heterosexual long-term relationships are made up of older women and younger men.

comment by TraderJoe · 2012-07-10T16:30:21.886Z · score: 2 (6 votes) · LW · GW

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comment by Rubix · 2012-07-10T22:13:51.103Z · score: 4 (6 votes) · LW · GW

It seems weird to expect that men are sexually attracted to traits that are desirable from a evolutionary point of view, but that women aren't. Being attracted to older men is a fetish, not the norm, in our society, so there's probably a more optimal group for young women to be attracted to. In a way I buy the "looking at the group which benefits most" solution, but paying attention to young women, not older ones - most young women are either with hot boys their age, or have strong opposition to sex before marriage/love/whatever at all, so they're mostly not available to older men.

Furthermore, I suspect that a more relevant question is of how birth control has changed the concept of sexual fitness. If a man's trying to reproduce, he's got a vastly better shot with a woman his age, regardless of whether a younger woman's willing to have sex with him - what few sixteen-year-olds who are willing to be mothers in the modern day are much less prepared for the task than their nineteenth-century counterparts, because that's not a thing we teach young women, because the default action in a woman's life is to be in school until she's twenty-two or twenty-four.

TL;DR birth control makes it feasible for women to not reproduce indefinitely long, and most of them would rather be in school attaining their own status and banging hot young men than obtaining status from men and taking care of babies.

comment by TraderJoe · 2012-07-11T06:34:36.369Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

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comment by Rubix · 2012-07-11T09:22:45.708Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Absolutely, but since empirically most young (18-22) women don't get with older men, they either prefer the tradeoff (valuing status in the "little pool" of college social life more than global status, in return for being with an attractive young man) or there's something else at work here.

Your framework says that men are mostly attracted to reproductive fitness, and women are mostly attracted to status. This appears basically true, but it seems to me like women have much more interest in reproductive fitness in their partners, than men do in status. Nearly all of the straight men I know are neutral to or anti-interested in status in a mate, whereas evo-psych seems to consistently under-predict for women's sexual interest in physical attractiveness.

comment by [deleted] · 2012-07-11T23:55:46.636Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

evo-psych seems to consistently under-predict for women's sexual interest in physical attractiveness

I suspect this might be a societal effect (akin to the now-widespread evolutionarily nonsensical male preference for very thin women). Does anyone have data on whether women in pre-industrial (or even just pre-mass media) societies cared about men's looks less than they today?

comment by TraderJoe · 2012-07-11T14:53:20.474Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

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comment by [deleted] · 2012-07-12T15:56:45.836Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Why do you assume that all men given the choice would prefer to be with college girls? And why do you seem to think of younger women as pawns whose fates are decided solely by the wills of older men?

comment by tmosley · 2012-07-11T21:59:19.163Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Perhaps it is because they actually married them when they were young, but at any given time your average "trophy wife" will by in her 30's?

This is a complex problem. I'm not sure the answer can be found without some in-depth statistical analysis.

Also, Rubix seems to be looking at things from the wrong perspective. It's not that women don't get with older men, it is likely the case that all the older men, and the men of status are taken. The younger men are not. Looking at it from the older men's point of view: what is the likelihood of an older, successful, single man getting together with women of a given age? I would guess it is much higher for younger women.

comment by [deleted] · 2012-07-11T07:45:12.402Z · score: 1 (5 votes) · LW · GW

I was unsure as to why you kept referring to evolution. I think the advantages of an older mate exist only within certain cultures. I was trying to say that what is socially advantageous is not always biologically so.

comment by RomanDavis · 2012-08-22T10:38:52.124Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

"Certain cultures" being damn near all of them, including every society I've ever participated in. Now, is it possible that younger people and women held the most power in (one or more of) our ancestral environment(s)? Yes. Totally.

But I kinda doubt it.

comment by CronoDAS · 2012-07-12T06:45:44.142Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

There are a lot of "older" male actors praised for their sexiness (some contemporary examples would be Daniel Craig and George Clooney), although the usual age for an actor to become a "teen hearthrob" (such as Leonardo DiCaprio in Titanic, Orlando Bloom in Pirates of the Caribbean, or Robert Pattinson in Twilight) does seem to be mid-twenties.

comment by [deleted] · 2012-07-12T15:21:46.744Z · score: 1 (7 votes) · LW · GW

The representation of older men in the media is always more complementary than that of older women. Particularly in regards to appearance and discussion of desirability etc. This is probably something to do with the fact that the majority of mass media is controlled by older males. For example the age difference between a husband and wife on television or in films is likely to be far higher than the average age difference in reality, with older men often being shown with a partner 10-15 years younger than them.

comment by [deleted] · 2012-07-11T23:52:01.936Z · score: 1 (5 votes) · LW · GW

This article is written entirely from a male perspective.

Wait... Is it? I've read it again and I can't see anything making the author's gender obvious, other than the last three letters of his username. (I had taken “we” to refer to society in general.) If I hadn't noticed his username and hadn't been primed by reading your comment (on Top Comments Today) before reading the article, I might have guessed the author was a teenage girl disappointed by the fact that older men wouldn't date her.

comment by [deleted] · 2012-07-12T15:05:48.865Z · score: 4 (8 votes) · LW · GW

The article only examines the issue in terms of what "makes biological sense" for men. It discusses the fertility of women and advantages of "going for" women of different ages but neglects to highlight any of the biological advantages from a female perspective. It ignores the fact that to ensure the highest rates of evolutionary success it doesn't make sense for 16 year olds to procreate with much older, less fertile males. It questions why men aren't sleeping with 16 year olds, ignoring the fact that 16 year olds choose who they sleep with.

comment by TraderJoe · 2012-07-12T07:07:06.383Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

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comment by NancyLebovitz · 2012-07-14T02:52:28.119Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I think there's a drift in your comment from "older men" to "old men".

There's a difference between saying that young women (which probably includes up to age 25 or so) might prefer 40 or 50 year old men, and saying that young women prefer 70 year old men.

Your general point might be correct-- my impression is that to the extent that there's any truth in the evo psych view of human mating, it applies rather narrowly at the margin, and most people don't live like that.

comment by Oscar_Cunningham · 2012-07-10T11:34:49.079Z · score: 11 (11 votes) · LW · GW

Better suited to the open thread.

comment by OphilaDros · 2012-07-10T12:51:22.763Z · score: 10 (10 votes) · LW · GW

The best solution I’ve heard started by looking at who benefits from this norm [older women] and wondering whether they could have contributed to it.

While this is generally a good question to ask, at this point you would also need to think of a plausible mechanism by which older women could have contributed to the change. What new powers have older women (Would this be women over 30? those over 40?) gained compared to younger women, younger men and older men in this period that they could have used to change the norms so drastically? How would they have cooperated between themselves to thwart the other groups' desires?

A few centuries ago, we did not have the laws against child labour that we do today, and it was common for young children to work and support their families. This norm has changed, and I don't think we need to ask the question of who benefited and posit that there has been an increase in this-or-the-other group's power to explain the shift.

Nowadays in many parts of the world sixteen-year-old girls themselves have a say in who they hook up with, which is something a lot of societies in ancient times (and very many even now) did not grant them. This should definitely be a factor in your analysis!

While not exactly an answer to your question, this Economist article talks about certain situations where social norms and options available in the workplace etc might push younger women away from matrimony altogether, not just matrimony with much older men.

comment by Manfred · 2012-07-10T09:30:29.240Z · score: 8 (14 votes) · LW · GW

who benefits from this norm [older women]

Tsk, tsk. The norms were set up by a culture of powerful men, in order to benefit powerful men. Who benefits from the changing norm? Anyone who isn't a powerful man.

Did you ever watch that film A Beautiful Mind? Spreading out romantic advances is the pareto optimum. If nobody is sleeping with the older women, then also nobody is sleeping with the non-powerful men. Changes in sexual patterns can be thought of as victory for the average human.

And it's certainly not all sunshine and roses for the young women. Power imbalances in relationships are a risk factor for things like marital rape, controlling behavior, and general bad stuff. Oh and there's the whole "treated like property for large chunks of history" part. And as we go a bit younger, do you know what a fistula is? Yeah, just... I'm really glad the sexual norms have changed.

comment by TraderJoe · 2012-07-10T09:52:44.755Z · score: -2 (4 votes) · LW · GW

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comment by gjm · 2012-07-10T10:23:22.408Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

Given that choice of partners is [roughly] a zero-sum game

Would you care to expand on that? It doesn't seem particularly plausible to me. Different people have genuinely substantially different preferences, which means that the most obvious reason for it to be a zeroish-sum game doesn't apply.

comment by TraderJoe · 2012-07-10T10:34:19.241Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

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comment by gjm · 2012-07-10T10:52:55.766Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

The reason why I think choice of partners isn't very close to zero-sum is precisely that I don't think there is a single scale of desirability; different people have different preferences, and a change in partner assignment can easily make everyone happier or everyone less happy.

comment by TraderJoe · 2012-07-10T11:08:29.640Z · score: -1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

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comment by maia · 2012-07-10T13:41:11.842Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

No. The point is that desirability is subjective, and therefore "winning" or "losing" at desirability is a two-place word.

comment by RobertLumley · 2012-07-10T14:04:16.841Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

What about a general shift for males to be more heterosexual than homosexual? Not saying this happens, but your statement obviously can be false. It is possible for all women to win.

comment by Desrtopa · 2012-07-10T14:56:17.109Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

I'm not sure that would be a net win for all women. Suppose a similar proportion of women are lesbians to the proportion of men who are gay, and if more men were straight instead of gay, lesbians would face increased competition for bisexual partners.

comment by RobertLumley · 2012-07-10T23:44:49.341Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

That is an excellent point. I didn't notice this since we've (for the entire post) operated under pretty restrictive heteronormativity. It wouldn't be a win for all women, but it would be a win for all women that we've been talking about.

comment by Manfred · 2012-07-10T23:41:55.189Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I'm not totally sure what you mean by "wins" and "loses" here - you seem to mean increasing or decreasing some sort of relative attractiveness (to the average potential mate? To your definition of beauty, which seems universal?), which would then be zero-sum for whatever group it's normalized over.

But just because something is called winning, doesn't mean you can rely on it to describe human behavior - humans have a much more complicated set of motivations than "maximize relative attractiveness."

comment by [deleted] · 2012-07-12T00:02:21.426Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Given that choice of partners is [roughly] a zero-sum game

How so? AFAICT it's entirely possible for World A to have a higher fraction of people experiencing long-term involuntary celibacy than World B.

comment by Gastogh · 2012-07-10T09:30:49.352Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

The best solution I’ve heard started by looking at who benefits from this norm [older women] and wondering whether they could have contributed to it.

Young men benefit from the decreased competition in the mating market.

Another, less plausible, suggestion I’ve heard is that it’s to do with mental capacity. I find this unconvincing because we have few objections to a high-status man dating a beautiful but low-intellect woman.

The objections never seemed all that few to me. The negative connotations of the term "trophy wife" are pretty well-established, IMO.

comment by TraderJoe · 2012-07-10T09:48:43.689Z · score: -2 (4 votes) · LW · GW

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comment by Brigid · 2012-07-10T21:56:12.143Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Maybe you could claim that men don't look down on men who date bimbos...But then again as Laurie6 pointed out, theres that pesky other 50.6% of the population that you are in fact including when you say we.

And based on personal experience, many women look down on men who date bimbos just as much they look down on men who date teenagers.

comment by wedrifid · 2012-07-11T02:29:01.290Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

And based on personal experience, many women look down on men who date bimbos just as much they look down on men who date teenagers.

In my observation both men and women are more likely to make some disapproving noises while for most practical purposes looking up to them.

comment by TraderJoe · 2012-07-11T06:35:33.020Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

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comment by Desrtopa · 2012-07-10T22:15:57.258Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Where does this 52% figure come from?

I'm always hearing people attribute numerical majority status to women, but as far as I can find, it's the other way around.

comment by othercriteria · 2012-07-10T23:04:08.089Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

As Brigid's link notes, there's a significant disparity in life expectancy favoring women that apparently more than balances the live birth sex ratio that you cite (at least in the US).

comment by Gastogh · 2012-07-11T08:01:19.337Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

People can mean one of two things when they talk about sex ratios; the first is birth rates, and the second is the number of people that exist at a given moment. In much of the world men have a lifespan several years shorter than women (and lead riskier lives, though that may already be taken into account), which may indeed lead to women being the majority.

comment by [deleted] · 2012-07-11T08:25:44.326Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

women being the majority

If you count them worldwide, given the selective abortions/infanticides in China I'm not that sure that's the case.

ETA: From Wikipedia: The sex ratio for the entire world population is 101 males to 100 females.

comment by Brigid · 2012-07-10T22:32:01.530Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

You are correct in that my number was wrong . I think the percentage of males increased (or females decreased) because 52% was the number that was always thrown around when I was in college (I went to a women's college so yes, it was thrown around quite a lot).

My number was about females in the US, not worldwide.

comment by MixedNuts · 2012-07-10T09:26:06.203Z · score: 3 (7 votes) · LW · GW

Puberty occurs much earlier in modern societies. Recently postpubescent girls and boys are children, and most people are turned off by the personalities of children (which of course makes evolutionary sense, as well as cultural sense in most societies). The age group you're thinking of is closer to 18 than to 15.

We have relatively gender-egalitarian norms now. In societies when older men are encouraged to date young women (and/or young men) the relationship is very asymmetric. We like having power-equal relationships, because we think it more moral, because we encourage sexual partners to be companions and friends rather than sticking to separate social spheres, and because it has become more valuable to have a partner who can help you socially and earn money than to have a fertile one.

Older women's interest would be to encourage woman-boy relationships rather than discourage man-girl ones.

comment by Eugine_Nier · 2012-07-11T07:15:39.006Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Puberty occurs much earlier in modern societies.

Relative to Victorian/Industrial age societies yes. If you compare it to pre-industrial societies it seems that the age of puberty is returning to its historical norm after a couple centuries of being unusually high.

Recently postpubescent girls and boys are children, and most people are turned off by the personalities of children (which of course makes evolutionary sense, as well as cultural sense in most societies). The age group you're thinking of is closer to 18 than to 15.

Which raises the question of why in modern societies 15-year-olds have childlike personalities. For example, in Jewish society children were traditionally considered adults at 13.

comment by CronoDAS · 2012-07-12T06:29:14.945Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Which raises the question of why in modern societies 15-year-olds have childlike personalities. For example, in Jewish society children were traditionally considered adults at 13.

Blame the Industrial Revolution. Adults went to work, and children went to school, which, unlike biological childhood, doesn't end when people reach sexual maturity.

comment by Eugine_Nier · 2012-07-13T05:46:49.704Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Yeh, that's more-or-less my working theory as well.

comment by IlyaShpitser · 2012-07-10T20:31:59.276Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

"We like having power-equal relationships, because we think it more moral, because we encourage sexual partners to be companions and friends rather than sticking to separate social spheres, and because it has become more valuable to have a partner who can help you socially and earn money than to have a fertile one."

Who is "we"? Power and sex have deep links. Sexual attraction often does not follow modern egalitarian norms, or indeed norms at any part of history (this is famously exploited in romantic plots in books/movies/tv shows, and similarly frequently observed in practice). Sexuality is ancient, predates morality (and social animals in general), and is often amoral and even cruel. Sex and political correctness do not really overlap.

"Older women's interest would be to encourage woman-boy relationships rather than discourage man-girl ones."

This statement assumes genders experience physical attraction in "symmetric" ways. It is not obvious why this should be so, and there is some evidence it is not.

comment by TraderJoe · 2012-07-10T09:47:00.600Z · score: 0 (4 votes) · LW · GW

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comment by asparisi · 2012-07-12T23:27:31.711Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

The word 'evolutionarily' seems to be doing no work here. Either women tend to be more drawn to high-status than youth and virility, or they don't. Trying to say what a woman does "because of evolution" seems pointless. There are genetic traits and there are social traits, but there aren't "evolutionary" traits, unless you somehow believe that evolution is affecting something other than the genetic traits the woman has.

Further, considering issues such as epigenetic gene modulation and expression, not to mention neurological concerns that while the result of genetics don't provide a clear map from "mate selection" to "DNA," it is entirely possible that any genetic preferences among women are naturally set to vary depending on the circumstances of their environment. In fact, this seems like a highly probable thesis for human beings in general, given the complexity of brains and the long development term for "attraction" in the human life cycle in men and women.

comment by RomeoStevens · 2012-07-10T21:48:24.527Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Security changed. Women are no longer forced to seek protection from powerful males in order to avoid sexual assault and the death of their children.

comment by [deleted] · 2012-07-11T00:39:16.743Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Aren't they?

I can't count the times female friends of mine have clutched my arm (I'm 1.88 m (6 ft 2) and weigh 90 kg (198 lb, 14 st 2 lb)) upon noticing a sleazy guy around.

comment by RobertLumley · 2012-07-10T14:08:22.383Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

The best solution I’ve heard started by looking at who benefits from this norm [older women] and wondering whether they could have contributed to it. After all, the strength of this norm has been increased in the last sixty years or so, which coincides with the period in which women’s power has increased.

The primary mistake you're making here is confusing correlation and causation. Even if you assume that the feminism movement has been the sole cause of this, the status gains older women have made are orders of magnitude smaller than the status gains all women have made. (If you disagree with this, I'm going to tap out and let someone who is more well versed in the history of feminism make this argument.) This may have been a small bonus for them (I doubt it even entered anyone's consideration) but to me this seems like saying people invest their money because they don't want to store it in a chest in their closet. Sure, it's nice that they don't have to lock it up, but the primary reason they are investing is to make more money.

comment by Sarokrae · 2012-07-15T23:00:22.475Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Hypothesis I haven't seen mentioned yet: contraceptive pills affect women's tastes in men. Specifically, the ideal of male attractiveness for young women has shifted away from older, more rugged stereotypically masculine "successful" older man, to, well, Zac Efron.

By no means the only hypothesis, there are many good ones mentioned already, I just didn't see this one and it's plausible that it's at least a contributing factor.

comment by CronoDAS · 2012-07-13T06:58:59.796Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

You're forgetting the other part of the "rich old man / sexy younger woman" trope: the young woman marries the older man for his money, and then has an affair with the handsome young pool boy. ;)

comment by knb · 2012-07-11T08:50:46.806Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I think we should look at this from a "Farmers and Foragers" perspective, as Robin Hanson often does. Foragers don't tolerate non-egalitarian relationships, and a young, vulnerable woman and an older, more-settled man have a wide gap in power. Farmers accepted marriages between young women and older men because they have more tolerance for power differences and less expectation of equality. More recently, we have switched back from farmer-style culture to forager culture, and these old-man/young-woman relationships are less tolerated.

I also think it is worth noting that women reach their peak fertility at around 23 years, not shortly after puberty. Your point still stands, because for long-term mating it is more valuable for the man to commit to a woman a few years before her fertility peak, so he can get more years of near-max fertility.

comment by fubarobfusco · 2012-07-11T09:38:48.825Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Farmers accepted marriages between young women and older men because they have more tolerance for power differences and less expectation of equality.

Or: Such asymmetric relationships worked well in farmer economies, where more established men had the resources to support (often several) wives, while younger men simply hadn't had the time and success yet to do so. In forager economies individuals couldn't accumulate so much private property as to make that difference. Farmer societies that developed an ideology that would support their economic success would outcompete those that didn't.

(This approach is somewhat Marxian, I'll admit: expecting that societies will develop an ideology that matches their economy. But it makes more sense to me than the opposite: expecting that cultural norms drive the creation of particular economic institutions.)

comment by knb · 2012-07-11T11:11:30.556Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I don't see this as being contrary to what I said. I agree that large power differences made sense for the economies of farming cultures, and that is why cultural norms shifted toward justifying such power differences. But I think the reason things shifted back is that rich industry-era people decided to move back toward the more egalitarian relationships was because it felt more natural (we may have evolved some adaptations that made us more successful farmers, but the primitive egalitarian urges are still strong, and we feel better having switched back).

I tend to agree with the Base/Superstructure concept from Marxian theory, although I'm generally skeptical about Marx's methods of deriving his theories.

comment by [deleted] · 2012-07-11T00:25:30.474Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Why don’t men go for younger women?

What? They do. (My father is eight years older than my mother.) And maybe it'd be better if they didn't.

The best solution I’ve heard started by looking at who benefits from this norm [older women] and wondering whether they could have contributed to it.

Indeed, I've often witnessed women apparently suddenly lose all interest in a man as soon as they found out he was younger than them, whereas I've never seen the reverse (except in an “I don't think she would ever get with me since she found out I'm this young, so I won't even try” fashion) -- the men I know (incl. myself) don't seem to care how old a woman actually is, so long as she looks attractive. BTW, “you look younger” (“older”) is usually taken to be a compliment (an insult) here in Italy.

comment by knb · 2012-07-11T08:37:27.602Z · score: -1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

If that OKCupid author isn't being wilfully dishonest, then he is just an awful thinker. Just as an example, he cites the higher frequency at which old female OKCupid users get tested for STDs as an example of why young guys should be more open to dating them.

comment by [deleted] · 2012-07-11T23:46:15.226Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Just as an example, he cites the higher frequency at which old female OKCupid users get tested for STDs as an example of why young guys should be more open to dating them.

I can't see anything obviously wrong with that reasoning.

comment by [deleted] · 2012-07-12T02:18:47.846Z · score: 1 (5 votes) · LW · GW

If that OKCupid author isn't being wilfully dishonest, then he is just an awful thinker. Just as an example, he cites the higher frequency at which old female OKCupid users get tested for STDs as an example of why young guys should be more open to dating them.

I can't see anything obviously wrong with that reasoning.

I believe that knb doesn't understand the difference between getting tested for STDs, and having STDs. Getting tested is something that every sexually active person should do occasionally, with a possible exception for long-term monogamous couples. (although even then, it's not a bad idea.)

comment by [deleted] · 2012-07-12T10:01:18.101Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Actually, I had interpreted what he says to mean that one advantage of dating older women is that they are less likely to have undetected STDs, since they get tested for them more often.

comment by [deleted] · 2012-07-12T18:02:58.825Z · score: -6 (12 votes) · LW · GW

I had interpreted what he says to mean that one advantage of dating older women is that they are less likely to have undetected STDs, since they get tested for them more often

Yes, that is what the author of the okc article believes, and I agree.

knb, however, disagrees, as you can see in his other comment. He thinks that if a woman is older, and gets tested for std's, then she must "have racked up large numbers of sex partners over the years." And that therefore "it isn't really surprising that young men who are looking for relationships would avoid [them]."

In other words, what knb is saying is that it isn't ok for a woman to have "a large number" of sex partners, as she is likely to do by the time she is older.

Note, however, that the older men on okc are also likely to have had significantly more sex partners than their younger counterparts, but knb doesn't mention this. I would assume it's because he considers women who have had many sex partners to be low-status, while he considers men who have had many sex partners to be high-status.

This is what feminists would call "double standards," and "slut shaming," and it's not ok.

comment by Scott Alexander (Yvain) · 2012-07-12T22:04:07.741Z · score: 8 (10 votes) · LW · GW

You interpret the OKCupid article as saying (and I agree) that older women, because they test for STDs more frequently, are less likely to have undetected STDs.

But although the conclusion is correct, the argument is fallacious. Consider the following analogous argument: "Don't want a boyfriend with prostate cancer? You should date an old man! After all, old men get tested for prostate cancer all the time, but young men almost never get tested for prostate cancer at all. Therefore, old men are less likely to have undetected prostate cancer."

We can't directly reason from one population being tested more often to that population having lower undetected levels of the disease. Doing so is a logical fallacy, and knb was exactly right to point this out, here on this site about avoiding logical fallacies. He didn't simultaneously point out that the same applies to someone fallaciously saying men who test for STDs must have fewer STDs, because no one posted a link to an article claiming exactly that.

This is an uncharitable interpretation of knb's post and the tone is extraordinarily nasty for this site.

comment by [deleted] · 2012-07-12T22:25:26.563Z · score: 1 (5 votes) · LW · GW

Your analogy is not at all applicable. According to the American Cancer Society, men should start considering getting a prostate exam at age 50. Therefore if a 23 year old male is NOT getting a prostate exam, then he is doing exactly the right thing and still has a low risk of prostate cancer.

However, adults of ANY age who are sexually active (again, excluding monogamy, if you want), SHOULD be getting tested for STDs. Therefore if a sexually active 23 year-old female is not getting tested for STDs then she is NOT behaving responsibly, and has a much higher risk of having an STD than the older female, who has had more partners, but is tested regularly.

tl;dr- Base rates

comment by Scott Alexander (Yvain) · 2012-07-12T22:47:15.398Z · score: 7 (9 votes) · LW · GW

You're disputing a contingent aspect of the analogy that isn't related to the problem with the OKCupid article.

To establish that "older people get tested more -> older people have less undetected disease", you first have to establish that older people started out with the same base rate of disease as younger people. The OKCupid article doesn't do that, and knb is correctly calling them out on it.

I agree that younger people in fact have higher STD rates than older people, but OKCupid makes a fallacious argument for this, and it is acceptable in philosophy to criticize fallacious arguments for true conclusions.

comment by [deleted] · 2012-07-13T10:25:37.203Z · score: 1 (5 votes) · LW · GW

Well, that's just nitpicking. The implicit assumption (that young women aren't much less likely a priori than old women to have STDs) is so uncontroversial that it's not such a fatal mistake to not make it explicit. For that matter, it doesn't make explicit the assumption that ceteris paribus people would prefer not to have STDs, either.

comment by [deleted] · 2012-07-12T22:36:35.737Z · score: -3 (5 votes) · LW · GW

Also, if you think the logic isn't strong enough on its own, here are statistics from the CDC:

Young people (age 15-24) have FOUR TIMES the rate of chlamydia and gonorrhea than the general population. Syphillis, however, is more likely in adults age 20-44.

The CDC also recommends testing all sexually active women <26 for chlamydia, every year.

comment by Scott Alexander (Yvain) · 2012-07-12T22:54:36.388Z · score: 6 (8 votes) · LW · GW

Note that I specifically said above that the OKCupid essay's "conclusion is correct." You're confusing criticizing an argument form and criticizing a conclusion. Consider the following exchange:

Person A: Karl Marx was an evil person, therefore communism is wrong.

Person B: That's an example of the ad hominem fallacy, and so an invalid argument.

Person A: How dare you say communism wasn't wrong, you Stalinist pig!

Posting statistics about exactly how many people were killed in communist regimes does not make A's argument valid, or B's criticism wrong.

comment by Jonathan_Graehl · 2012-07-14T02:37:13.219Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I'm no expert, but I think the STDs to be most concerned with those are those which are least treatable. Wikipedia says the ones you cite are bacterial, so I presume, completely destroyed by antibiotics.

So, viruses like HIV and herpes? And maybe HPV?

(still, perhaps the treatable STDs have already done some lasting damage by the time they're detected, anti-bacterials may be harmful, and it's still gross, so use condoms)

comment by knb · 2012-07-12T03:56:10.560Z · score: 0 (6 votes) · LW · GW

The older women still on these dating sites are those who didn't get married and have racked up large numbers of sex partners over the years.

So it isn't really surprising that young men who are looking for relationships would avoid women who are especially concerned about sex diseases and avoided (or were rejected) for long-term commitments.

comment by [deleted] · 2012-07-12T10:07:00.272Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

C'mon, 50% of the population have IQs below 100. :-) (And some of the older women might be recently divorced/widowed ones.)

(Still, I don't think your comment should be downvoted. Upvoted back to 0, because you still mentioned an issue I hadn't thought about.)

comment by knb · 2012-07-12T22:45:38.823Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I knew these comments would be downvoted. Less Wrong has proven unable to have a genuine discussion about relationships. These issues cut people too deeply.