Facebook on age gaps in relationships

It’s been a while. I blame the holidays and some Secret Big News.

Facebook’s data science team has an interesting post on the age difference between two people in a relationship. Fun fact: the average age difference in same-sex couples (of either sex) is much larger than that in opposite-sex couples. Why? I can think of two reasons:

(1) the size of the pool of potential mates is smaller for same-sex couples than for opposite-sex couples. Therefore individuals in same-sex couples have to compromise more on other dimensions, like age.

(2) the idea that both partners in a relationship should be of the same age is “conventional”, and people who are in same-sex relationships (an unconventional choice, if strictly for numerical reasons) are likely to make unconventional choices about other aspects of their relationships as well.

One possible way to find evidence for (1): is the difference between same-sex and opposite-sex couples larger in areas where there are less same-sex couples? If so, this is evidence for the “compromise” hypothesis – where there are less same-sex couples there ought to be more compromising along other dimensions. (Similarly, are the members of same-sex couples more different on other dimensions – such as educational status, race, religion, and so on – in areas with less same-sex couples?) It seems more difficult to find a way to test (2).

3 thoughts on “Facebook on age gaps in relationships

  1. I haven’t noticed this in lesbian relationships, but historically – when being gay was taboo and illegal – older men brought younger men into the culture, and very different ages were common in gay male relationships. Even though there’s not the same sort of necessity, perhaps this has continued some. I’d be interested in seeing the whole distribution. I wonder – are most clustered closely, with a small percentage of couples with big age differences throwing off the average?

  2. I can think of another reason: it’s all about the children!

    Same sex couples can’t get pregnant together. Most opposite sex couples who commit for the long term eventually want to conceive a child (or more than one), together. The ages at which people want to have kids and can reasonably expect to succeed in the effort constrain the ages of ideal partners for most heterosexual men and women.

    Now of course, men can generally father a child at a much more advanced age than women can, but most men who want to be fathers don’t want to be old when they start or even when the child reaches adulthood. So lots of men in their 20s and 30s who anticipate finding a mate want to find a woman of their same age, perhaps younger, or just a bit older. And women seeking a mate and potential father for their children naturally prefer someone with a good expectation of at least a few decades of health and strength, and who will be excited, eager and energetic about the adventure of having a child. So those men of their generation who already are seeking women of about their age are a natural choice.

    If that natural “biological clock” time constraint is removed, there’s less reason to find a young partner (for both sexes). There are of course still plenty of reasons one might want to, but one big one is removed.

    This puts a little pressure on heterosexuals who have any plans to be parents to find a similar-age life partner by around age 30 to 35.

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