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Adolescents' Age Preferences for Dating Partners: Support for an Evolutionary Model of Life-History Strategies

Douglas T. Kenrick, Richard C. Keefe, Cristina Gabrielidis and Jeffrey S. Cornelius
Child Development
Vol. 67, No. 4 (Aug., 1996), pp. 1499-1511
Published by: Wiley on behalf of the Society for Research in Child Development
DOI: 10.2307/1131714
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/1131714
Page Count: 13
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Adolescents' Age Preferences for Dating Partners: Support for an Evolutionary Model of Life-History Strategies
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Abstract

The tendency for women to prefer older partners, and for men to prefer younger partners, has frequently been explained in terms of socialization to American sex-role norms specifying that men must be older and more powerful than their female partners. However, recent cross-cultural data reveal this same pattern in all societies studied, a finding more in line with an evolutionary life-history model. The evolutionary model assumes that what is attractive to males is not youth, per se, but features related to fertility. This perspective leads to a hypothesis concerning the development of age preferences among adolescents: teenage males should violate the normative pattern shown in adult males and express interest in females older than themselves. 209 teenagers (103 males, 106 females) ranging in age from 12 to 19 were surveyed regarding the age limits they would find acceptable in a dating partner, as well as the age of a dating partner they would find ideally attractive. Although teenage males were willing to date girls slightly younger than themselves, they indicated a much wider range of acceptability above their own ages, and also reported that their ideally attractive partners would be several years older than themselves. Preferences of teenage females were similar in pattern to those of adult females, ranging, on average, from their own age to several years older. When combined with the consistent adult data obtained from numerous cultures, these data suggest the utility of viewing the development of sex differences in mate preference from the perspective of an evolutionary life-history model.

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