There’s a popular relationship “rule” that the oldest person you should date or start a relationship with should be no older than half your age, plus seven years. Supposedly, this applies to men and women, but there feels like a difference between a 23-year-old bloke dating an 18-year-old woman and a 23-year-old woman dating an 18-year-old guy. The former tends to be perceived as perfectly acceptable, whereas the latter tends to be perceived as a bit dodgy.
Perhaps this is due to societal patterns in the age discrepancy of heterosexual couples in the UK, America and Australia. For most of history, the mean age difference between husband and wife has been around two-to-three years, and recent statistics on the mean ages of men and women to marry support this trend (women: 34 years old, men: 36.5 years old, ONS, 2014).
Despite this being the mean age difference, only around a quarter of marriages from 1921 to 2001 have an age gap of two-to-three years and in a third of marriages, the age difference between the husband and wife is within a year. Obviously, the “half your age, plus seven” rule isn’t a rule of thumb, it only suggests age limits of supposedly suitable age differences within a relationship.
What is clear is that the age gap between people in a relationship seems less and less relevant as age increases; a 48-year-old could quite easily be with a 30-year-old, yet translating this difference to a younger couple, say, a 30-year-old and an 18-year-old, the acceptability starts to diminish. This is partly due to life stages, particularly the shift from education to work. School stages are (almost entirely) age-dependent, with clear boundaries between each phase of learning. Whereas in the world of work, age is far less important than experience and expertise (very likely positively correlated with age, but not as strongly as age and education). By highlighting such distinct differences of where someone is in their life (studying GCSEs, A-Levels, on their gap year, which year of university…) there is a real focus on a person’s age, so maybe the rule is more appropriate for younger generations.
I’m 23 and don’t really like the thought of being in a relationship with an 18-year-old because I feel there’s a lot of learning that’s done between the age of 18 and 23. Yet I have 23-year-old male friends who are eager to date an 18-year-old woman.
The differences between men and women continue.