Even in the changing landscape of the 21st century, there are still stereotypes about the "ideal" couple, specifically a young girl dating an older man. This stereotype has been well perceived by society, which might influence young girls to get into relationships with older men. Furthermore, it has been found that women prefer male partners slightly older than themselves (Lehmiller. e.t, 2011; Greenlees. e.t, 1994).
Since these relationships are very common nowadays, numerous young girls fall into the stereotype and genuinely fall in love with men older than themselves. Although this may not seem like an issue for young girls, these relationships have caused concerns to many individuals, including the parents of these young girls. Older men often take advantage of the experience they have gained over the years and abuse the trust young girls have put into their relationship. Many studies have investigated the risks and disadvantages of these relationships (Meier et al., 2016; Schelar et al., 2008; Beauclair & Delva, 2013;Agurcia et al., 2001).
Multiple research studies have been done on the negative side of these relationships, however, one of the most important factors for these researches has been left out... The reasons why these young women are attracted to older men. There are many rumored reasons why these young girls might be attracted to older men. For example, maturity, experience, financial resources, or even in the case of girls who suffer the absence of a father, they are trying to fill the sentimental void left by their father.
Father-daughter relationship significance for females
Arguably, a father plays a distinctive role in shaping a daughter's development. According to a research study by Blankenhorn (1996), a father’s love and involvement builds a daughter’s confidence in her own femininity and contributes to her sense that she is worth loving. It is clear that fathers’ presence in a woman’s life is of major importance, since they reflect on the affection given by their fathers when finding a significant other. Similarly, in a research study by Jackson (2010) it was found that fatherless women do have a less happy childhood as opposed to women who grew up with a father. This study also found that women who were raised without a father figure are often avoidant and untrusting of others.
Dating preference for females
The decision to embark on a new path with a partner is one of the most serious decisions a young woman faces throughout her life, which is why it is so important to address this issue. Clark (1989) and Buss (1993) suggest that women are more selective than men. These selections could range from physical appearance to a man's economic status. A study by Buss (1989) suggests that women react to men who can provide economic stability to their offspring, since women tend to look for safety in a man and their priority is to secure a future in which they will not face as many difficulties. Furthermore, it was found that women place emphasis on earning potential, considering such attributes as ambition, intelligence, and social status (Regan, 1998). Similarly, women also prefer men who grew up in wealthier neighborhoods rather than men who had economic difficulties (Eagly et al., 1999). These studies suggest that women look for partners who are able to provide them with economic stability.
Nevertheless, it is important to emphasize the purpose of the relationship being established. Regan (1998) found that women place greater emphasis on physical attractiveness when selecting mates for short- than for long-term relationships. According to Regan, women who do not intend to have a serious, long-term relationship do not feel the need to look at the big picture because their initial intention is not to formalize this relationship or have children. Therefore, they are more susceptible to be influenced by men’s physical attributes. Race being one of those physical attributes that females consider. (Eagly, 1999).
Risks of dating older men
A research study by Meier et al. (2016), found that adolescent females with older sexual partners will register greater declines in mental health than females with same-age sexual partners. These mental health declines included greater increases in depression and low self- esteem. In addition to mental health problems, several studies have discovered that there are also physical negative effects from these relationships, such as poorer reproductive health (not only in adolescence but also into young adulthood) and elevated risks for sexually transmitted infections (STIs), including Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV). (Schelar et al., 2008; Beauclair & Delva, 2013).
Furthermore, these age-gaps relationships not only have negative mental and physical consequences, but also have social and professional disadvantages as well. It was found by Agurcia (2001) that adolescents with older romantic and sexual partners were reported to be significantly less likely to be employed or enrolled in school and were more likely to report repeated pregnancies. These adolescents, in turn, also received less social support.
The Current Study
Plenty of research has examined the risks and consequences of age gaped relationships among young girls and older men. However, very little research has focused on the factors influencing these young girls into dating older men. Therefore, the present study will focus on girls from the age of 13 to 18 who self-identify as straight or bisexual and will test the relationship between these girls dating age preferences and the relationship they currently engage with their fathers as well as the factors leading them to date older men. In the present study, two primary research questions were addressed:
1. What are the factors influencing young girls into engaging in relationships with older men?
2. What role does the relationship a girl has with her father play in her likelihood to date older men?
Considering the significance the father relationship has on women, the hypothesis being tested is:
1. Women who grew up without a father figure will be more likely to date older men than those who grew up with a father figure.
Participants In this study, a convenience sample of 157 participants were recruited from Miami Senior High School, which had a large population of students between the ages of 13 to 18, and who self-identify as straight or bisexual, which was the target for this study. Further, the researcher focused on female adolescents since this group seems to be vulnerable to negative effects when engaging in age-gaps relationships, as it was explained in the review of the literature. (Meier et al., 2016; Schelar et al., 2008; Beauclair & Delva, 2013;Agurcia et al., 2001)
This research was a minimal risk for the participants. These participants did not undergo any type of harm. However, the risk was the emotions that go along with discussing and recalling upsetting events such as fatherlessness could bring about negative memories from childhood (Jackson, 2010). On the other hand, some of the participants mentioned to the researcher they discovered new things about themselves and/or their relationships as a result of participating in this study.
The researcher distributed consent forms that were required to be signed by the parents of the participants. This was crucial because most of the participants were under the age of 18. However, if the participants were the age of 18, they were not required to receive a parent signature. To maximize the number of participants, a snack of choice was given to them, as an incentive to participate in the study.
The researcher used some materials to conduct this two-part study. The first part was survey-based, and the second was interview-based.
Survey data. Prior to the individual interviews, the participants completed an online survey to collect quantitative data on the relationship each female had with their father figure, and the factors that influence these females into engaging in relationships with older men. Digital platforms like Google forms, text messages, and remind were used to send information about the study such as the link to the questionnaire.
Individual Interviews. To collect qualitative data, the researcher conducted individual interviews with 8 participants who were selected based on their responses and agreed to take part in the second phase of the study. The interviews were held at a mutual location agreed upon by the participants and the researcher. The aim was for the location to have a comfortable environment for the participants. The participants were asked a list of open-ended questions related to the present study. After collecting the data, the researcher thanked students for participating in the study and offered a food meal of their choice. It should be noted that all interviews were audio-recorded, then transcribed and analyzed.
The reason for using both qualitative and quantitative data was because the strengths and weaknesses of these methodologies allowed the researcher to examine data that is different yet complementary. The use of these mixed methodologies was beneficial because a single researcher had the opportunity to get a fuller understanding of the quantitative results.
The overall questionnaire of this study modeled and modified a study from Jackson (2010). The questionnaire was developed using a self-reporting platform, Google Forms, which allowed the researcher to divide the survey into 4 sections: 1) Demographic variables, 2) Father relationship, 3) Likelihood to date older men, 4) Partner preferences.
Prior to data collection, the modified self-reporting online questionnaire was pilot tested for clarity by random participants. The five adolescents were contacted by phone; the researcher explained the purpose of the questionnaires and asked them if they were willing to participate. The researcher also explained that they did not need to submit the finished questionnaires and that the main purpose was checking for clarity.
1) Demographic questions The first section on demographic questions only asked participants basic questions like their age, ethnicity, and sexual preference. Participants were not informed about what each section measured; instead, the researcher provided a brief description of what each section asked. The researcher did this to prevent participants from having biases that could have changed how they responded to the questionnaire. In sections 2 and 3, the researcher included a Likert Scale ranging from 1-5, where 1 represented “Strongly Disagree”, 2 “Disagree”, 3 “Neutral”, 4 “Agree”, and 5 “Strongly Agree.”
2) Father Relationship The second part of the questionnaire contained 7 statements dedicated to measure each participant's relationship with their father figure. Statements such as "I communicate with my father on a daily basis" were included. If the participant obtained a score of 30 to 35 points, she was considered to have a good father relationship. However, if the participant obtained a score of 10 or less, she was considered to have a poor father relationship.
3) Likelihood to date older men The third section of the questionnaire contained 6 statements that measured the participant's likelihood to have a relationship with an older man. Statements such as "I think it is okay for a girl to date a man 2 years older than her" were included. If the participant obtained a score of 30 points, she was very likely to have a relationship with an older man. However, if the participant scored 5 points, she had no likelihood to date an older man.
4) Partner attributes The fourth section of the questionnaire was created with the purpose of discovering what attributes influenced the likelihood of young women to engage in relationships with older men. There were several statements indicating different factors such as, money, security, and masculinity. For this section, a score was not calculated since these factors would be compared to the likelihood score each participant obtained in the previous section.
First, in order to recruit participants, the researcher created physical and digital flyers to promote her research study. The physical flyers were printed and posted at different common areas at the school. The digital flyers were posted on the social media accounts of different clubs from Miami Senior High. The researcher previously asked permission to the Activities Department director at the school to promote her study.
The data for this study was collected in three steps: 1) Students were asked to join an online classroom, through the platform Remind; this was done in order to maintain contact and send daily reminders to the participants. 2) Students who successfully joined the classroom, were given a consent form and were asked to return it signed by their parents or their guardian (if younger than 18 years old) and 3) Participants who completed steps one and two were sent the questionnaire. At the end of the survey, the students were informed about the optional participation in the second phase of the study (interviews) and were asked for their email and phone number. Eight students were contacted for personal interviews.
Once the participants were done answering the questionnaire , the researcher double- checked that all participants had turned in their consent forms, in order to distribute the agreed reward for participating in the study.
Quantitative Results: 1) Demographics A total of 157 female students participated in the present study. There were a total of 149 (94.9%) female students who identified as Hispanic/Latino, 1 (0.63%) female student who identified as Black/Latino, 1 (0.63%) female student who identified as Afro-Latino, 1 (0.63%) female student who identified as White, 1 (0.63%) female student who identified as Trinidadian- American, 1 (0.63%) female student who identified as both Hispanic and Asian, 1 (0.63%) female student who identified as Middle Eastern, 1 (0.63%) female student who identified as Haitian-American/Black, and 1 (0.63%) female student who identified as African-American.
The students’ ages ranged between 14-18 years old (M=16, SD=1.08). 101 (64.56%) of the students were raised with their biological father, and 56 (35.44%) of the students were not raised with their biological father.
Table 1: Demographic results
Figure 1: Females raised with and without father (mean)
2) Level of father relationship Participants’ father relationship level was scored by adding their responses from section 2 of the questionnaire, in which the researcher used a Likert Scale. It was decided by the researcher that scores of 35-25 (M=30, SD=7.07) determined the student had a good father relationship, 24-11(M=18, SD=8.49) an intermediate father relationship, and 11-7 (M=9, SD=2.83) a poor father relationship.
Twenty of the students (17.54%) in the relationship survey scored in the 25-35 range and have a good relationship with their father, eighty of the students (70.18%) in the 24-11 range have an intermediate relationship with their father, and fourteen of the students (12.28%) scored in the 7-11 range and have a poor relationship with their father.
3) Likelihood to date older men Participants’ likelihood was scored by adding their responses from section 3 of the questionnaire using a Likert Scale as well. It was decided by the researcher that scores of 30-20 (M=25, SD=7.07) determined the student was very likely to date older men, 19-11 (M=15, SD=5.66) moderately likely to date older men, and 10-7 (M=8.5, SD=2.12) very unlikely to date older men.
Thirteen of the students (8.28%) scored in the 30-20 range and are very likely to date older men, one hundred and ten of the students (70.06%) scored in the 19-11 range and are moderately likely to date older men, and thirty-four of the students (21.66%) scored in the 10-6 range and were very unlikely.
4) Partner attributes For this section of the questionnaire, the researcher did not assign a total score. Instead, this section served to find some of the possible attributes the participants look for in a partner. It was found that one hundred and thirty-one females (83.44%) were attracted to the protection a man could provide them in a relationship, eighty-eight (56.05%) were attracted to men who are nurturers, thirty-two (20.38%) were attracted to men who hold traditional male gender roles(man’s man), and sixty-seven (42.67%) were attracted to men who spend money on them.
Table 2: Partner attributes
Qualitative Results: The qualitative portion of the study was the primary strategy used to find the factors influencing young girls to date older men, as well as how a father relationship contributes to this decision. The 8 participants for the interviews were chosen based on the answers they provided in the questionnaire. Specifically, their likelihood to date older men.
In regards to age, 2 were 18 (25%), 2 were 17 (25%), 2 were 16 (25%), 1 was 15 (12.5%), and 1 was 14 years old (12.5%). In addition, 4 had a good relationship with their father (50%), 2 had a bad relationship with their father (25%), and 2 had a none relationship with their father (25%). Table 4 provides a more detailed description of the entire interview sample.
Table 3: Demographic sample of interview
The data collected was analyzed using the thematic analysis, which is a method for identifying and analyzing the themes within the data (Braun & Clarke, 2006). The participants were asked 12 questions in order to answer the research questions. Through the process of thematic analysis, four elicited key concepts from data were identified. These themes were coded into: escape, home, coming of age, and generation gap.
The names of the participants were kept confidential; therefore, the number in the first column represents the order in which the participants were interviewed. The second column contains a brief summary of the major findings in each interview. The third column lists the corresponding theme of the findings. The table provides a better understanding of the factors influencing young girls to date older men and the role the father relationship plays in this decision.
Father relationship and likelihood to date older men correlation: The correlations performed to identify the R-value between the father relationship and the likelihood of a young woman to date older men revealed a significant relationship. The correlation value (r) for the father relationship and the likelihood is statistically significant, identified as very strong with an R-value of 0.9458. The data from this section of the research suggest that the likelihood of a young woman dating an older man may be based on the relationship she upholds with her father figure. In other words, the stronger the father relationship, the more likely the young woman is to date older men. This association can be understood through the lens of paternal investment theory (PIT; Draper & Harpending, 1982; Ellis, 2004; Ellis et al., 2003; Ellis, Schlomer, Tilley & Butler, 2012), an evolutionary- developmental model of fathering rooted in life-history theory. According to PIT, the investment that daughters receive from their father forecasts the amount or quality of investment that they (and their future offspring) are likely to receive from male relationships in adulthood.
The economic security factor The data set revealed a very strong correlation between the money the girl would want her significant other to spend on her and her likelihood to date an older man with an R-value of 0.9274. The correlation value suggested it was statistically significant as the R-value surpassed the threshold line of significance. The reasoning behind this finding might be that since this study was conducted in a predominantly poor neighborhood, Little Havana, most of the women participating might have been of low income. Consequently, these women may aspire to date older men since they are more likely to provide them with a stable home. In fact, a study by Buss (2016) discovered that when a woman selects a mate, one of the things she looks for is somebody who is able to invest resources in her and her children.
The protection factor The dataset revealed a weak correlation between the protection level the girl would want her significant other to provide her and likelihood to date an older man with an R-value of 0.0823. The correlation value suggested it was statistically insignificant as the R-value did not surpass the threshold line of significance. Although a stronger correlation was expected, since
the money factor pointed women look for stability, maybe young women seek specifically monetary stability rather than physical. According to Buss (1989) women seek men who are able to physically protect her and her children. However, the result of the correlation indicates protection can be provided by partners of any age, not just older partners.
The affection factor The dataset revealed no correlation between the nurturer level a girl would want her significant other to be and her likelihood to date older men with an R-value of -0.0416. The correlation value suggested it was statistically insignificant since it did not surpass the threshold line of significance. A good logic behind this result might be that since the majority of the participants of this study were raised with their father and most of them indicated to have a good to intermediate relationship with them, maybe they were shown enough affection in their early lives. Therefore, their decision to date older men is not based on the necessity to receive affection from an external figure.
The traditional role of men factor The dataset revealed no correlation between the role the girl would want her significant other to play in the relationship and her likelihood to date an older man with an R-value of - 0.0054. Like the R-value of the affection factor, the correlation value suggested it was statistically insignificant. Both factors did not surpass the threshold line of significance. The reason behind this result might be simply the century we are living in. Nowadays, standards have been modified and women now take the lead on many things they were not allowed to in earlier
centuries. Having a mate who takes complete control over the relationship, might not be something women are currently attracted to.
Qualitative Data of Analysis
The interviews outlined the relationship each girl had with her father and the factors leading her to date older men. The responses of the participants were categorized by themes and were later explained through a thematic analysis. Although there was a total of four themes, there were three that seemed to be the most recurring.
Recurring Theme 1: Escape Participants 2 and 6 stated that they are looking for a way to escape situations. For example, family pressure. One of the participants did not have a relationship with her father and the other had a bad relationship with her father. Participant 2 stated, “I never met my father and my mom, and I don’t have a close relationship. We live under the same roof, but we don’t have those traditional mother-daughter conversations. It is honestly awkward, I’d rather live by myself. I want to make my own decisions, so I am planning to move with my boyfriend and go to college”. Similarly, participant 6 stater, “My father and I, argue all the time. He wants to control everything I say or do. I wish I was 18 and could move out. I am definitely not giving my children a father like mine; I want a real man who can take care of me.”
Family pressure on these girls has made them seek independence from a young age with the help of an older man. Therefore, it can be inferred that some of the factors influencing young girls to date older men are independence and the aspirations these men have to grow economically and professionally. This particular result aligns with the findings of Bowlby (1956), who in his research found that women tend to seek independence based on factors like family pressure.
Recurring Theme 2: Home Six out of the eight participants addressed the home theme. Participants 1,2,5,6,7 and 8 stated in their interviews that having an older partner most likely secured they would have things like a home, food, and transportation. As stated by participant 5, “Having a guy who’s older than me by my side gives me tranquility because I know when I move with him, he will figure out where we will live, what we will eat or how we will get to a place”. It is clear that older men have economic advantage and young girls find security in them. Furthermore, these findings align with Buss (2016) who found that females date older men because they can provide them with economic stability.
Recurring Theme 3: Coming of age The most prevalent theme was coming of age; seven out of eight participants addressed it. The participants stated similar opinions about what were some attributes they aspired their partners to possess. They all expressed that they aspired to have a partner who was experienced, independent, and mature. These girls seek qualities that would help them build a healthy family as they are growing old and building a family has become a priority in their life. (Duthie, 2017). Therefore, the factors found to influence young girls to date older men were experience, and maturity. These girls expect a partner who is mature and already has experience in life and past relationships so they can be guidance to these girls.
Conclusion The purpose of the present study was to find the factors that influence young girls to date older men and find if the relationship they uphold with their father plays a role in this decision.
Quantitative Summary of Findings After analyzing the data collected for this study, several conclusions were drawn. There was a positive relationship between the likelihood to date older men and the relationship with their father. In other words, the more affection a girl receives from her father, the more likely she will be to date older men. This finding debunked the original theory that girls would have a higher likelihood to date older men based on the bad relationship they uphold with their father. The results and analysis sections of the study revealed girls exhibited a greater preference for the money factor rather than protection, affection, and traditional role of relationship factors. The only factor that resulted significant was money, the other three factors were not significant at all and two of them were even negative. The neighborhood in which the study was conducted was predominantly poor and the results obtained are in line with the findings of Buss (2016) in that women look for economic stability when choosing a partner.
Qualitative Summary of Findings There was a total of four factors influencing young girls to date older men, which were identified based on the participants’ responses. These factors were: experience, independence, maturity, and aspirations. Previous studies on age gap relationships found that females who prefer older partners are also seeking guidance (Buss, 1989; Kenrick & Keefe, 1992). Based on the results obtained from the present study it can be assumed that women date older men with the intention of forming their own family. At the same time, ensuring they will have enough resources to live in moderate conditions. These findings coincide with the findings of past researchers who found women tend to date older men hoping they will find economic and emotional stability. (Buss & Schmitt, 1993; Kenrick, Sadalla, Groth, & Trost, 1990) and it also coincides with past findings that women higher their expectations and prefer older partners when looking for long-term relationships. (Buss, 1989; Buunk et al., 2001; Kenrick, e.t, 1996; Grøntvedt & Kennair, 2013; Otta et al., 1999; Guttentag & Secord, 1983; Buckle, Gallup, & Rodd, 1996; Regan, 1998)
Implications The quantitative data revealed that the most influential factors leading young girls to date older men are their father relationship and money. Similarly, the qualitative data revealed that some additional factors influencing young girls to date older men aside from the father relationship and the money were experience, independence, maturity, and their aspirations in life.
These findings will be beneficial to the world in many ways. First, this study might motivate girls who do not have a good father relationship to improve their relationship. Second, since girls look for men who have high aspirations, who are mature, and who are experienced in life, they might want to work together with their partner for professional, economic and emotional stability. Finally, this study profusely contributes to normalizing such a controversial topic by providing awareness about the risks and benefits of age gap relationships.
Limitations The present study had some inconsistencies that may limit the validity of the data. One of the limitations was that the study was performed in a predominantly poor neighborhood, Little Havana, and the girls' answers may have been influenced by their economic background. A second limitation is that this research recreated and modified a study by Jackson (2010) and in order to not bore the participants and collect more accurate data, the survey contained a limited and necessary amount of questions. The third and last limitation was the reliance on survey and interview methods to collect data, which may provide inaccurate data if the participants were being dishonest.
Suggestions for future research The present study provides a foundation for future research to understand the factors influencing young girls to engage in relationships with older men, as well as the role their fathers play in their decision to date older men. However, it may be helpful for future researchers to investigate if there is a difference in the answers of girls living in a middle- or high-class neighborhood. Additionally, since this topic is often stigmatized, future studies should investigate why men prefer younger women rather than women their age.