With Sex and Age, Men and Women Are Surprisingly Similar

A couple years ago, evolutionary psychologists coined the “George Clooney Effect” to describe the familiar phenomenon of younger women (like Clooney’s wife, Amal Alamuddin, now 39) pairing up with older guys (like Clooney, now 55). The gap gives men more time to gain resources and grow emotionally stable, the reasoning goes, and allows women to stay in their reproductive window.

But a new study of 2,676 people in Finland challenges that assumption. The respondents, who were between 18 and 50 years old, self-rated how attracted they were to the same and opposite sex, the youngest and oldest sexual partners they’d consider, and the youngest and oldest people they’d slept with in the past five years.

For both ladies and gentlemen, the oldest considered ages were strongly associated with their own age. The youngest age was also strongly associated with women’s own age, with a weaker association in guys. Though relatively small, these differences magnify over time: Women had their youngest considered partner go up by 4.5 months every year, with guys increasing their minimum age by 2 months every year. By age 50, that gap grew to 11 years.

The age of actual sex partner increased with participants’ age in all demographic groups, the researchers found, with the exception of homosexual men — which, the authors reason, “strongly suggests that women’s sexual interest constrain men’s behavior on the heterosexual mating market.” It’s a finding that parallels how women are the “gatekeepers” of sex in heterosexual marriages, too.

That this is a Finnish study means that it may not be super-generalizable, but useful in potentially interesting ways. The World Economic Forum says it’s the second-most gender-equal country on the planet, which may inform sexual preferences, too. It would be fascinating to see how more patriarchal countries do in relation to sex and age; maybe some are more Clooney-esque than others.

With Sex and Age, Men and Women Are Surprisingly Similar