Old men chasing young women: A good thing

It turns out that older men chasing younger women contributes to human longevity and the survival of the species, according to new findings by researchers at Stanford and the University of California-Santa Barbara.

Evolutionary theory says that individuals should die of old age when their reproductive lives are complete, generally by age 55 in humans, according to demographer Cedric Puleston, a doctoral candidate in biological sciences at Stanford. But the fatherhood of a small number of older men is enough to postpone the date with death because natural selection fights life-shortening mutations until the species is finished reproducing.

“Rod Stewart and David Letterman having babies in their 50s and 60s provide no benefit for their personal survival, but the pattern [of reproducing at a later age] has an effect on the population as a whole,” Puleston said. “It’s advantageous to the species if these people stick around. By increasing the survival of men you have a spillover effect on women because men pass their genes to children of both sexes.”

“Why Men Matter: Mating Patterns Drive Evolution of Human Lifespan,” was published Aug. 29 in the online journal Public Library of Science ONE. Shripad Tuljapurkar, the Morrison Professor of Population Studies at Stanford; Puleston; and Michael Gurven, an assistant professor of anthropology at UCSB, co-authored the study in an effort to understand why humans don’t die when female reproduction ends.

Human ability to scale the so-called “wall of death”—surviving beyond the reproductive years—has been a center of scientific controversy for more than 50 years, Puleston said. “The central question is: Why should a species that stops reproducing by some age stick around afterward?” he said. “Evolutionary theory predicts that, over time, harmful mutations that decrease survival will arise in the population and will remain invisible to natural selection after reproduction ends.” However, in hunter-gatherer societies, which likely represent early human demographic conditions and mating patterns, one-third of people live beyond 55 years, past the reproductive lifespan for women. Furthermore, life expectancy in today’s industrialized countries is 75 to 85 years, with mortality increasing gradually, not abruptly, following female menopause.

Grandmother hypothesis

In 1966, William Hamilton, a British evolutionary biologist, worked out the mathematics describing the “wall of death.” Since then, the most popular explanation for why humans don’t die by age 55 has been termed the “grandmother hypothesis,” which suggests that women enhance the survival of their children and grandchildren by living long enough to care for them and “increasing the success of their genes,” Puleston said. However, Hamilton’s work has been difficult to express as a mathematical and genetic argument explaining why people live into old age.

Unlike previous research on human reproduction, this study—for the first time—includes data on males, a tweak that allowed the researchers to begin answering the “wall of death” question by matching it to human mortality patterns. According to Puleston, earlier studies looked only at women, because scientists can reproduce good datasets for humans entirely based on information related to female fertility and survival rates.

“Men’s fertility is contingent on women’s fertility—you have to figure out how they match up. We care about reproduction because that is a currency by which force of selection is counted. If we have not accounted for the entire pattern of reproduction, we may be missing something that’s important to evolution.”

Men and longevity

In the paper, the researchers analyzed “a general two-sex model to show that selection favors survival for as long as men reproduce.” The scientists presented a “range of data showing that males much older than 50 years have substantial realized fertility through matings with younger females, a pattern that was likely typical among early humans.” As a result, Puleston said, older male fertility helps to select against damaging cell mutations in humans who have passed the age of female menopause, consequently eliminating the “wall of death.”

“Our analysis shows that old-age male fertility allows evolution to breach Hamilton’s wall of death and predicts a gradual rise in mortality after the age of female menopause without relying on ‘grandmother’ effects or economic optimality,” the researchers say in the paper.

The scientists compiled longevity and fertility data from two hunter-gatherer groups, the Dobe !Kung of the Kalahari and the Ache of Paraguay, one of the most isolated populations in the world. They also looked at the forager-farmer Yanomamo of Brazil and Venezuela, and the Tsimane, an indigenous group in Bolivia. “They’re living a lifestyle that our ancestors lived and their fertility patterns are probably most consistent with our ancestors,” Puleston said about the four groups. The study also looked at several farming villages in Gambia and, for comparison, a group of modern Canadians.

In the less developed, traditional societies, males were as much as 5-to-15 years older than their female partners. In the United States and Europe, the age spread was about two years. “It’s a universal pattern that in typical marriages men are older than women,” Puleston said. “The age gaps vary by culture, but in every group we looked at men start [being reproductive] later. At the end of reproduction, male fertility rates taper off gradually, as opposed to the fairly sharp decline in female fertility by menopause.”

Despite small differences based on marriage traditions, all women and most men in the six groups stopped having children by their 50s, the researchers found. But some men, particularly high-status males, continued to reproduce into their 70s. The paper noted that the age gap is most pronounced in societies that favor polygyny, where a man takes several wives, and in gerontocracies, where older men monopolize access to reproductive women. The authors also cite genetic and anthropological evidence that early humans were probably polygynous as well.

Older male fertility also exists in societies supporting serial monogamy, because men are more likely to remarry than women. “For these reasons, we argue that realized male fertility was substantial at ages well past female menopause for much of human history and the result is reflected in the mortality patterns of modern populations,” the authors say. “We conclude that deleterious mutations acting after the age of female menopause are selected against … solely as a result of the matings between older males and younger females.”

According to Puleston, the “grandmother hypothesis” may be true, but the real pattern of male fertility extends beyond this explanation. “The key question is: Does the population have a greater growth rate if men are reproducing at a later age? The answer is ‘yes.’ The age of last reproduction gets pushed into the 60s and 70s if you add men to the analysis. Hamilton’s approach was right, but in a species where males and females have different reproductive patterns, you need a two-sex model. You can’t correctly estimate the force of selection if you leave men out of the picture. As a man myself, it’s gratifying to know that men do matter.”

Grants from the U.S. National Institute on Aging supported this study.

1,803 thoughts on “Old men chasing young women: A good thing”

    • I would be interested where you got that information. I’m 66; half of that plus 7 makes age 40 a minimum. My wife is 24. Yes, a boomer and a millennial. Makes for an interesting life. Noteworthy is that she had a bad time with men for a long time — an immature boyfriend, an absentee divorced father, an older brother who stole from her and did not appreciate her. I’ve been married twice before and have learned a few things about behavior.

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  2. This information is really useful, I’ll ask my favourite professional writing service to write a paper on this topic.
    Thanks!

  3. there should be a difference of at least 10 to 15 years between men and women..cause women gets old very fast while men are men..they never get old… so in my opinion = Old men chasing young women: A good thing (yea it is totally)

  4. Guys over 35 have less perfect sperm and so they can produce less healthy offspring. So it would be a disadvantage for a younger woman to be with an older man.

    • I thought it was only lower sperm count, not the condition of the cells themselves. It’s not las if older men produce mutants you know. I am 41 and would like to have more children, I am in the financial position to provide for them.

      I understand my role in evolution as a protector and provider, and I greatly appreciate womens’ roles as childbearers, mothers, pillars of emotional support for both men and children. I don’t think women should feel like this is demeaning. You should know that being a man isn’t as empowering in someways as you might think. A man’s life can be very demanding, and women in fact have much control over men; more than you probably realize. I have often felt controlled by women and their sexuality, but I am not bitter about it. In the right environment men and women can be mutual benefactors for each other.

      • Women 35-year old (+) present increased risk for Downs Syndrome primarily, and men 40-year old (+) present risk for autism in offspring… statistically.

        And, as a man, I agree with your comment on empowerment… as when I hit 40, total loss of control happened in the home. If I tried to hold on tight to it, the more I lost it… and then it was too late. I separated from my wife of nearly 20 years last week. Were you to observe, it was clear who was in control, and it is quite uncomfortable to be in that spot… so, when I was asked to leave… I said “OK.”

        If you have kids, stop while you are ahead… what if you have some raging autistic child who screams and moans all the time – you would kick yourself for it. Good luck!

  5. As long as you feel young and enthusiastic,age hardly matters.One should persue his passion with full vigour and courage if u mean it.

  6. Drop the royal ‘we’ and get cracking?” What exactly do you mean by that?

    Wouldn’t mind having an explanation that was at least a paragraph long.

    By “we” I meant people in general, not a “royal we”.

  7. yes. old men chasing young girls, they are dating..but in reality the young girls are writing the particular and exact “date” to escape with the property and jewels. When the old ones wake up they come to know about the truth, the realisation. They open their eyes really. .She says, “Damn”. ..Want another negative comment, i told you when you were sleeping, now you want another one? Get it, “Close the door”. Old says, “i believed you the chick, …She says, “thats what i wanted”.. am not a green chick.. my huntingcontinues…wait, call for me…yes darling, pass the address..switch off. She says, my bank balance is increasing. :)

  8. It was an interestingly enough article. I don’t judge a book by its covers and have nothing against older men dating younger women, Nor the other way around. Anyway, i found a web site that has interesting information about male breeding and their preferences.
    It’s true that all men like younger women, but not because they breed better, but because they’re beautiful and willing.

  9. I want everyone to know that being with an older man is not different from a younger man other than he is far more likely to have settled with his life and at the same time willing to stand by you.
    I am a woman 50 years old , married with a wonderful 18 year old son and a 76 year old husband.
    I have to admit that when we first were together I hid him because of society and what people would think. The only hurdle to cross was my family and they like me accepted slowly, but now could not imagine me with anyone else.
    It was I that chased him and I that encouraged him to fall in love with me. I was attracted and went for what I wanted.
    To this day I love him more than life. When I was 30 and he was 56 he seemed 56. Now that I am 50 he seems 45. Life is what is in the person and not only the eyes. He has a beautiful heart and mind and is my soul mate. Don’t think it wasn’t hard, but it was worth it.

    • Thank you for your point, Sandra. I’m 25 and my fiance is 52. I chased him 4 years ago and can not bare the thought to be with someone else. Yes, the stares and judgements are annoying. But at least I’m happy with him. I’m not a gold digger and he is not a pedophile like everyone thinks. Tired of the stereotypes. Anyway, good to read your post. You and your husband take care:)

      • old pervert! You should be ashamed. Take a look at your ugly face in the mirror before you chase young women. You’re disgusting. You stink! Nobody wants you.

    • My step-father was 42 years older than my mother and fathered my brother at 70 years old. He was a decent man, didn’t drink or smoke and went to church everyday and rarely took time off work, you could set your watch by him.

      My mother had me when she was 15 years old so we are more like brothers and sisters in the way we communicate. I asked her why did she marry such an older man and she told me point blank…for security, because at 19 and being a single mother she didn’t have too many 20 something guys looking her way.

      Now the opposite of this is that my real father ended up living with a lady 11 years older than him with 6 children(all girls)and has stayed with her for over 40 years.

      Both marriages seemed happy. My mom claims my step-dad was a good lover too. However there was a little deception with my dad, he claimed to be 10 years younger and it wasn’t until a year or two into my parents relationship that he told her the truth, but by then age was just a number.

      Now I’m 48 and I live in Thailand and the oldest women I dated is 36 with the vast majority in their middle twenties. Most women in the world are disgusted that I don’t date women nearer my age and probably think I’m a perv but I feel it’s the most natural thing in the world for an older experienced man that has already made all the mistakes in life to be with a younger girl. I’m not with them for deep philosophical conversation, I have male friends that provide that. I’m with them because I don’t need viagra to perform in the bedroom. They do it for me, and 50 year old women do not. i don’t care if it’s Madonna.

      The thing about society is that it’s perfectly exceptable for rich and famous men to marry teenagers(think Tom Cruise) but if you are just a normal guy with an average job you are considered a creep. But the way it works is that if I win the lottery and have 10 million in the bank it doesn’t matter what I look like, society deems me a winner and fit to date supermodels.

      • “The thing about society is that it’s perfectly exceptable for rich and famous men to marry teenagers(think Tom Cruise) but if you are just a normal guy with an average job you are considered a creep. But the way it works is that if I win the lottery and have 10 million in the bank it doesn’t matter what I look like, society deems me a winner and fit to date supermodels.”

        Excellent point….

        Jack, good on you for living the dream.

  10. Yes, and then there’s my great grand ma, married or married off to, we don’t know. She was 13, he was 35. I’m sure she took care of him when he was sickly and died (at about 76) Then she had another 50 years to live. She had a boyfriend who moved in, her ‘cousin’ and she was healthy and spry into her old age. Didn’t make this up.

    I don’t know if my granny had birth control, but she lived through those reproducing years, unlike many women who died in childbirth before it was available, many who were treated like baby factories with no respect for their health and needs to recover between kids.

    Actually, I heard that husband of hers was a difficult fellow. I guess she lived a long life afterwards in part because he wasn’t around to harrass her and treat her poorly. She got a break.

    I understand in some cultures it’s older men for young women and older women for young men. Not everyone young is going to buy that. The hurt seems to be when older men or women are spouses who attain their new arm candy by ditching someone they’ve leftbehind, often out of the blue with little preparation. (not assigning blame here, unless they’ve been reassuring all along).

    The take away, don’t ever run yourself into the ground taking care of any partner when he/she is young and able bodied. If you love them enough, stay around when they are old. If they’ve mistreated, that is your call!

  11. If all the women wer impregnated by a smaller number of men, does this mean that there were a large minority, or even a majority of men who did not pass their genes on to the next generation at all? How could a society like that possibly work?

    he he he +1

  12. The researchers seem to be completely ignoring the fact that better nutrition means women are staying fertile longer and having babies at later ages – which is a strong indicator of a civilization living longer as a whole.

    If women are having babies in their forties, biology will keep them alive to care for those babies and subsequent grandchildren. The age of menopause will keep on pushing back. Women AND men will live longer.

    Sperm from young sperm is of a much higher quality than the sperm of older men. So, older women mating with young men – A good thing for humanity living longer!

    Hey, older women can form harems and stock them with young men (all for the good of humanity of course!)

  13. However,you know in hunter-gatherer societies, which likely represent early human demographic conditions and mating patterns, one-third of people live beyond 55 years, past the reproductive lifespan for women.

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