iAge

Changing how we see aging

Dating at Older Age

Online dating for older adults is a growing business.

When most people think of their parents and grandparents, they do not see them as sexual beings. It is the same way that we do not like thinking of our children and grandchildren as sexual beings either. Our mutual relationships are based on nurturing non-sexual behaviors. But with the worldwide discrepancy between male and female life expectancy, it is likely that one of us will become widowed or—in industrialized countries—divorced. We will become single again.

Single older adults are a unique phenomenon because there are so many. In the United States there are whole communities and cities built exclusively around older adults. And it is not surprising to learn that older adults are the fastest growing demographic of online daters.

Sheyna Sears-Roberts Alterovitz and her colleagues from the University of California, Berkley analyzed Internet personal ads. They found that across all ages, men sought physical attractiveness and offered status-related information more than women. On the other side, women were more selective than men and sought status more than men. With older age, men desired women increasingly younger than themselves, whereas women desired older men until ages 75 and over, when they sought men younger than themselves. Which is not surprising since at age 75 years and older, most male peers are dead.

Women are pickier than men in online dating. Their preferences for age and ethnicity are stricter than men’s, and they initiate contact and reply to fewer adverts. Most academic papers talk about evolutionary theory that predicts that men have a stronger preference for attractive mates and that women value good earning potential and education more than men do, as well as women's preference for taller men. But with older adults, there is no evolution to worry about. Post-menopausal women are not after a strong partner to secure the future of their offspring.

Women are likely to have experienced caregiving of their deceased partner. They are likely to have endured caregiving of their children, their parents, their spouse’s parents, family members, neighbors and friends. Their priorities are different from men’s. They want someone who is independent, solvent, healthy and mobile. They do not want to spend their time caretaking--again. This is not evolutionary theory but pragmatism.

Men on the other hand ensure that they do not end up caregiving by wanting someone younger, someone who can liven up their sex life, drive, cook, and look after them. In online dating men and women construct different profiles. Women focus on their looks and sociability while men focus on their financial and occupational successes. With a changing environment, it is more important for older adults to meet someone that fits their needs. There is some urgency and older adults are willing to lie. Studies with younger online daters (under the age of 50) have reported that men are more likely to lie about their wealth while women are more likely to lie about their age. Men tended to overestimate their height and women tended to underestimate their weight. There is a collusion of lies. Giving women and men what they are both looking for.

© USA Copyrighted 2014 Mario D. Garrett

Mario Garrett, Ph.D., is a professor at the school of social work, San Diego State University.

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