It’s been nine years since Newsweek famously proclaimed 2009 as the year of the cougar. The now well-known term is a bordering-on-crass slang coined to define 40-plus women with a predilection for younger gentlemen.
Although the US-based magazine reasoned that the cougar-craze was a fad destined for cultural oblivion, the article offered up an intriguing explanation for the newfound popularity of older woman/younger man relationships.
Since then, there have been many think pieces dedicating to the phenomenon that is older women dating younger men.
These articles that the main driving force that brought cougars from the wilderness was Hollywood. Indeed, shows like Sex in the City paint a more sophisticated picture of a mature woman’s sexuality. Whereas sitcoms like Cougar Town had a less than mature approach to these relationships. But ever since the 1967 film The Graduate solidified it as the ultimate fantasy for young men and countless parodies have followed in its wake.
Off-screen, these relationships have flourished:
- Hugh Jackman (49) and his partner Deborra Lee-Furness (62) have been together for over 20 years.
- Actor Aaron Johnson (27) has been with Director Sam Taylor-Wood (50) since he was 18.
- President Emmanuel Macron (39) and Brigitte Macron (64) had a controversial start when they met when he was 16.
The very word ‘cougar’ is most certainly moot. Without getting too entangled in semantics, EliteSingles resident psychologist, Salama Marine, is quick to discuss this point. “Prejudices have a tendency to stick, even if society is changing,” she says, “calling an older woman a cougar isn’t meaningless, it’s a way of defining her as a predator who’s only interested in hunting down younger prey.”
Despite some of this negativity, the reality of older women dating younger men is actually long-term stability according to recent studies.
The reality for older women dating younger men
When ‘cougardom’ was becoming known in mainstream media, social scientists set out to explore the relationship between older women dating younger men.
In their 2006 study, the University of Maine interviewed eight married couples where the wife was between 10 to 17 years older than the husband2. Their findings revealed that whilst both partners were content with their relationship, they still worried about how others judged them. Also, women expressed concern over the prospect of ageing and whether it would affect their partner’s attraction to them.
READ MORE: Happily in an older woman/younger man relationship? Here’s how to make it last.
They reported that “vast age differences, especially in woman-older relationships, clearly violate the norms of this society”. When we look at how tabloids react to older women dating younger men, we can see this subconscious judgement in effect but the fantasy doesn’t match the reality. Older women dating younger men is far more common than previously thought, in a recent study by McGill University it was found that approximately 13 percent of sexually active women between 35 and 44 have slept with a man at least 5 years their junior.3
READ MORE: Over 50 and looking for love? Find a mature mate here!
Not only did they discover that middle-aged women who’d been previously married were more likely to seek a younger mate, they also showed that older woman/younger man relationships are rarely brief flings. On average, when an older woman and younger man start dating, the relationships last two years.
So, if women from all walks of life are ignoring the stigma and are happy romancing younger men, it begs the question; what’s the appeal?