The gendered double standard of aging in US marriage markets

Paula England, Elizabeth Aura McClintock

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

Using data on marriages collected in most US states between 1970 and 1988, we show that the older men are when they marry, the more years senior to their brides they are, whether it is a first or higher-order marriage. While older men with more education marry down in age slightly more than less educated older men, the pattern of men marrying further down if they marry later holds strongly for all education groups. We consider several possible explanations for the tendency of men to marry further down in age if they are older at marriage. While we have no direct measure of physical attractiveness, we argue that the most compelling interpretation is that men, more than women, evaluate potential spouses on the basis of appearance. Because the prevailing standard of beauty favors young women, the older men are when they marry, the less they find women their own age attractive relative to younger women, leading them to marry further down in age if they are older at marriage. The consequence for women of men's preference for youth is more often that they remain unmarried than that they end up married to much older or less educated men.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)797-816
Number of pages20
JournalPopulation and Development Review
Volume35
Issue number4
DOIs
StatePublished - Dec 2009

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Demography
  • Development
  • Sociology and Political Science

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