May 7, 2013
Beyond Stereotypes: Digging Deep For Clues To The Cougar And Sugar Daddy Myth
April Flowers for redOrbit.com - Your Universe Online
The image of a rich older man taking care of a beautiful young woman, or a rich older woman using a hot young man for his body is pervasive in our culture. A new study led by the University of Colorado, however, reveals that those married to younger or older mates have on average lower earnings, lower cognitive abilities, are less educated and less attractive than couples of similar ages.
"Hugh Hefner is an outlier," said Hani Mansour, Ph.D., an assistant professor of economics at the University of Colorado Denver. "Our results call into question the conventional wisdom regarding differently-aged couples."
Those married to older or younger spouses scored negatively in key areas like education, occupational wages, appearance and cognitive skills, according to the research. The research team, which included Terra McKinnish, Ph.D., associate professor of economics at the University of Colorado Boulder, did not give a range of how much older or younger a spouse had to be for these effects to come into play. The study did find, however, that the greater the age difference, the higher the negative indicators.
Forty years of data from the US Census Bureau — 1960 to 2000 — were examined by the researchers. They looked at the categories of age at first marriage, completed education, occupational wages, and earning. The team combined this data with the 1979 National Longitudinal Survey of Youth to measure cognitive skills and the National Longitudinal Survey of Adolescent Health (Add Health) to gauge physical attractiveness.
They found that the social networks of the higher or lower ability individuals are the key. Persons who attend four-year colleges have more interaction with people of their same age. After graduation, this group tends to enter upwardly mobile careers at a time when people tend to marry.
Community college attendees or those that work in low-skilled jobs, in contrast, are more likely to interact with a more diverse age group of peers. This increases their chances of marrying someone significantly younger or older, according to the study findings.
"It really depends on who your social network is," Mansour said. "People with lower earning potential are in networks that are more age diverse."
The age of your spouse apparently reflects your earning potential as well. The researchers found that men married to women younger or older than themselves make less money than men married to women of a similar age. For example, the 1980 Census revealed that men married to women eight or more years younger or older than themselves earned an average of $3,495 less per year than men with spouses no more than a year different in age.
Women married to differently-aged spouses made more money than their spouses. This was not due to earning higher wages, however. It was due to working more hours than their spouse.
The National Longitudinal studies were conducted in high school to measure verbal, math and arithmetic reasoning skills. The study found that those married to differently-aged spouses scored lower on the tests. Men whose spouses are at least eight years younger scored an average of 8.4 points less than those who married women of a similar age, while women´s scores had less drastic drops.
The interviewers conducting the Add Health survey rated physical attractiveness on a scale of one to five, with one being “very unattractive” and five being “very attractive.”
"Overall, the estimates indicate that individuals married to differently-aged spouses are less attractive than those married to similarly-aged spouses, with the possible exception of men married to older women," the study said.
The study, according to Mansur, sheds light on how and why people marry who they do. Despite Hollywood portrayals to the contrary, the researchers found that there is nothing new about older women searching for younger men to marry.
"We really didn't find any evidence of a new cougar phenomenon," he said. "Although their share has slightly increased over time, cougars have been among us since the 1960s."
The researchers found that the real new trend is that people of similar ages are marrying each other in increasing numbers.
"The benefits from marriage might be changing. When you are close in age you can do things together," he said. "You can have children when both parties want to, retire at the same time and grow old together."
The findings of this study were published online last week in the Review of Economics and Statistics.