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Why old men fall for younger women and vice-versa

I’m sure that photo front-paged in several newspapers of a respected octogenarian politician with his much younger staff raised eyebrows among matrons, giggles among single women, and sighs (disgust or admiration or envy?) among not a few senior citizens.

But most people, in the middle and upper classes that is, would have a friend (as I do, in fact several) and even a relative who’s found true love in somebody decades younger (for him) or older (for her).

It’s certainly the stuff of delicious gossip among ladies having lunch and gentlemen sipping Scotch. Not a few of the very rich and very powerful—media tycoons, presidents, members of Congress, business magnates— seem to have such a predilection for much younger women.

Many years ago, I even chanced upon one of the country’s taipans—then about 60 years old—playing like a teen-ager on a remote part of Boracay with a woman whose breasts seemed like she was just months after puberty. Another taipan, in the banking industry, was said to have six young mistresses, whom he conveniently set up in Forbes Park houses in “jogging” distance from, his residence which Wife No. 1 maintains.

Fictional character Sherman McCoy’s subterfuge in the novel “Bonfire of the Vanities”—taking out the dog for a walk for a quick one with the young mistress just around the corner—I was told, is not fiction among daring Filipinos in a similar situation (quagmire?). A similar contrivance was said to have been the practice of President Marcos, although his excuse was that he was playing golf. Could that be a major reason why golf, especially among seniors, is so popular in the country?

Book explains such things as road rage, religiosity, and dirty old men.

Book explains such things as road rage, religiosity, and dirty old men.

“It’s a Chinese thing, an ancient practice,” I was told. “The Chinese believe young women possess the elixir of youth.”

It certainly isn’t’ just a Chinese thing, and I stumbled on one of the most entertaining, yet comprehensive discussion of the phenomenon in the book titled “Sex, Murder, and the Meaning of Life.”

Despite its schmaltzy, for-a-comedy-movie title, the book, written by American psychology professor, Douglas Kenrick, is about a new field of science called “evolutionary psychology.” In fact, the book’s subtitle is, in stark contrast to the title, sounds like an academic tome: “A Psychologist Investigates How Evolution, Cognition, and Complexity are Revolutionizing Our View of Human Nature.”

The Wikipedia entry on evolutionary psychology describes it as “an approach in the social and natural sciences that examines psychological traits such as memory, perception, and language from a modern evolutionary perspective. It seeks to identify which human psychological traits are evolved adaptations—that is, the functional products of natural selection or sexual selection.”

Among the many human traits and practices the book investigated in the framework of evolutionary psychology, which includes road rage and religiosity, was what it referred to, inappropriately I think, as the “dirty-old-man” phenomenon: Old men falling in love with much younger women, which it says is very common in our species.

The book was referring not just to seniors running after ladies two to even four decades younger than them, but actually marrying them.

Using hard evidence as marriage records, the author shows that “dirty old men” are so ubiquitous in so different countries and time periods, from the US before TV was invented to Europe to a desert tribe in North Australia. He even reports that one Filipina academic, Nenita Estrera, sent her data on marriage ages showing the “DOM phenomenon” recorded from 1913 to 1939 in a remote Philippine village called Poro.

Therefore it is not a cultural thing, as proponents of the “trophy wife” explanation claim.

The author explains that the pattern consists first of most young men marrying women of roughly of the same age or just a few years younger or older. This is expected since a young man would be able to talk to, have social contacts with, and share the same world-views as a female of his generation.

But a second pattern, although a secondary one, is for older men to marry much younger women and for these females to prefer older males. Why would they? It doesn’t happen in the female’s case—few young men prefer and get married to older women. Maybe that’s why the term “cougar” was coined, as promiscuous females needed to hunt down young men.

Evolutionary psychology very easily explains why these patterns are so.

The prime directive, as it were, hard-wired into Homo sapiens is the drive to reproduce. If our drive to reproduce was just a bit less powerful than it has been wired into us—that is, if it didn’t bring the kind of ecstasy it gives us and if our sex engines didn’t virtually automatically start—the human species would have become extinct in its many episodes of acutely harsh environments it faced.

Evolution has also wired into our brains “software” that calculates for us the most optimal strategy for reproducing. That explains—arguably however—why men are more promiscuous than women, and even willing to have sex with complete strangers: The more sperm cells he implants in different wombs, the greater his chance for producing offspring. This obviously isn’t the case with females.

So why dirty old men? The book explains: “First, women undergo menopause, a complete cessation of fertility, during their forties. Men do not. On the other hand, women are highly fertile during their twenties, and the features men find attractive in women, such as rounded hips, full breasts, and lustrous hair are indirect cues to fertility.”

“A strong innate bias for those fertility cues would easily account for the older men’s preference for younger women,” the book concludes.

“On the other side, we suspected,” the book points out, “that women are seeking men who could contribute indirectly to their children by providing food, protection, and other resources. To the extent that men continue to accumulate resources and social status with age, women would be expected to prefer older men.”

Henry Kissinger, whose first wife was 26 younger than him, was right: “Power is the great aphrodisiac.”

But what happens if, as could happen only in the post-modern world of gender equality, a woman, at the peak of her fertility, has resources and status (even celebrity status) that she doesn’t need “food, protection, and other resources” from any male or anybody else. What if such a woman not only has economic resources, but political power, even if only an indirect one?

Maybe evolutionary psychology explains why not few of such female celebrities are nuts, and dispose of their partners one after another so easily.