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Why Mrs. Robinson Is Miss Right

Trust me, young men: go for older women

The first time Roger Ebert saw "The Graduate," back in 1967, he loved it. The second time, thirty years later, he merely liked it. The biggest problem with the film, wrote Ebert upon reflection, was that Dustin Hoffman's character, Benjamin, who seemed so daring and bold on initial viewing, actually makes the wrong decision:

Seen today, "The Graduate'' is a movie about a young man of limited interest, who gets a chance to sleep with the ranking babe in his neighborhood, and throws it away in order to marry her dorky daughter.

The "ranking babe," of course, is Anne Bancroft: "the only person in the movie you would want to have a conversation with," Ebert writes. Not that conversation is foremost on her mind:

For the film, makeup artists went to work on Bancroft to widen the perceived age-gap between her and Hoffman. The audience believes Benjamin to be about twenty-two, and Mrs. Robinson, probably somewhere in her fifties. In actuality, Hoffman was thirty when the movie was made. And Bancroft? Only thirty-six.

The age of thirty-six places a woman firmly in the center of the twenty-seven-to-forty-five range that psychologists are calling the period of "reproduction expediting." From early twenties to late thirties women lose about half their ability to conceive, according to previous studies. In a new paper in press at Personality and Individual Differences, a group of researchers at the University of Texas at Austin argue that women in this age range experience a heightened sexuality in response to their diminishing fertility. As a result, the researchers contend:

women’s "biological clock" may function to shift psychological motivations and actual behaviors to facilitate utilizing remaining fertility.

In other words: yes, Benjamin, Mrs. Robinson is trying to seduce you.

The research group, which was led by Judith Easton and included David Buss, conducted an online survey with 827 women split into three groups: pre-reproduction expediting (18-26), reproduction expediting (27-45), and menopausal (46-up). The women were asked a battery of questions about their sexual thoughts, frequency, and willingness.

The results gave anything but a mixed signal. Women in the throes of "reproduction expediting":

  • thought more about sexual activities and had more frequent sexual fantasies than those in the other groups;
  • had more intense sexual fantasies than the younger group, though not the menopause group;
  • had sexual intercourse more frequently than the younger group, with no significant difference in the menopause group;
  • were more willing than the other two groups to engage in sex after knowing someone for one month, one week, and even one evening.

Here's, uh, to you, Mrs. Robinson.

These data ring true with current analytics from the online dating world. Take this recent, ridiculously thorough evaluation of members by the dating site, OkCupid, appropriate titled, "The Case for an Older Woman." As the author of the post argues up top:

As it is, men between 22 and 30—nearly two-thirds of the male dating pool—focus almost exclusively on women younger than themselves. I'll be investigating this phenomenon today, with gusto and charts. Ultimately, I'll argue that they would be well-served to expand their search upwards, to women in their thirties and forties.

Indeed, both the ensuing gusto and charts support the theory of "reproduction expediting." Like this one (the X axis is women's age):

And this one:

And this one:

Now, The Headcase doesn't presently partake in online dating. (Not that there's anything wrong with that.) But if these trends hold true, I may have to start. Additional gusto and charts show that older women prefer to "dominate" in bed, and also that they get tested more frequently for S.T.D.'s.

I'm sure I speak for Ebert himself when I say: two thumbs up.

Take it away, Simon & Garfunkel:


The Headcase thanks lead author Judith Easton for sending a copy of the paper.

HT Cardiff Garcia

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