Does age play a role in the partner preferences of women around the world? Clue and researchers at the University of Göttingen and Queen's University Belfast partnered up to find out.
To investigate how age is related to what people look for in an ideal partner, we ran a large-scale international survey, receiving responses from over 20,000 people who identified as women, ranging from age 18 to 67, across nearly 150 countries.
The result? Surprisingly, we found that the traits women desired were remarkably consistent across all age groups, including characteristics like kindness-supportiveness, physical attractiveness, financial security-successfulness, and education-intelligence. However, one point of difference was that older women were more attracted to higher levels of confidence and assertiveness than their younger counterparts.
Another area where age was related to partner preferences was desired parenting intentions: in heterosexual women up until age 28, the preference for a partner who wants to become a parent stayed consistent. After age 28 the preference decreased. From an evolutionary perspective, it may be expected that there would be a more stable interest in parenting desire until the onset of menopause, around or after the age of 50 (1), when menstrual cycles stop. However, research on the “biological clock” suggests that from a psychological point of view, age 40 may be perceived as a more critical time point for fertility (2). Interestingly, in our study, we observed that the preference for greater parenting desire starts to decrease 10 years earlier.
One explanation might be that many young women, like those surveyed under the age of 28, picture themselves starting a family in the future. Yet, as life progresses and life plans become more concrete, many reconsider, either postponing parenthood to prioritize other endeavors (3) or even deciding that being child-free is an attractive option (4). Alternatively, older women are more likely to already have children from earlier relationships and may therefore place less importance on a partner’s parenting desire. They may even prefer a partner who’s not interested in having (more) children. The pattern observed in heterosexual women was somewhat similar to the one observed in bisexual women, but was not seen in lesbian women, suggesting that reproductive goals vary across these groups.
Another interesting finding was that the age range considered “acceptable” in a partner increased substantially with age. Most heterosexual women desired someone with a similar age to themselves or older, although ideally not more than seven years older. Acceptance of older partners did not change with age, but older women were more accepting of partners that were younger than themselves. Women around age 18 generally wanted their partner to be their age or older, while 65-year-old women were interested in partners as young as 50. This pattern was observed in lesbian and bisexual women as well, although these groups tended to have a larger age range that they considered acceptable.
While love knows no age in many respects, our study brings to light the ways in which age is linked to the romantic ideals of women around the world. When it comes to what people look for in an ideal partner, preferences for most qualities remained stable across the age groups that participated in this study. However, some things can change with time, such as the importance of a partner who wants children. Other desired characteristics, like the ideal age of a partner, can also become more flexible as women go through life.
Of course, we can’t say whether the changes we observed were solely due to increasing age or if the time when these women were born and grew up also played a role. These preferences may be affected by social and cultural changes, such as the increase of women in the workforce and the later average age of having children, which can affect how people view relationships and what they find appealing in a partner. The current study is a step forward in understanding the factors that shape women's partner preferences around the world and we’re curious to see how these trends evolve with the world around us.
We want to extend a big thank you to all Clue users who participated in this research and in so doing, have helped to advance this area of female health research. Check out the full research article here.