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However, if we accept the findings, the Skentelbery and Fowler study suggests that the younger woman-older man relationship has unique psychological qualities, at least on the measures used.
Relationship fulfillment depends on a host of factors, but according to this study, the age gap alone is not sufficient to predict who will be happiest with whom.
Once a man is literally old enough to be a woman’s father (or vice versa, for older women), public opinion starts to shift from acceptance to skepticism. Mary’s University’s (Halifax) Sara Skentelbery and Darren Fowler examined the phenomenon of “age gap relationships” (AGRs) from an evolutionary perspective, noting that such pairings have benefits in terms of species survival.
Testing their predictions on a sample of 173 women, all involved in a romantic relationship, the study's authors compared those in AGRs (with a nine-year or larger age difference) vs. The AGR women ranged from 18 to 53 years old, with partners, on average, 17.3 years older than themselves.
Using standard questionnaire measures, the research team asked all participants to rate their attachment styles as well as their relationship satisfaction.
Because these relationships are more prevalent when they involve older men and younger women, the authors didn’t perform an analogous study of “mommy figures." If it’s true that younger women in AGRs are seeking father figures, then it would be expected that they would have maladaptive relationships with their fathers which play out in adulthood by their choice of a mate. Mary's researchers used to test this proposition is attachment theory.
According to the attachment theory perspective, people’s adult relationships reflect the way they were treated by their caregivers.
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Women who need the security of a father figure would, from this point of view, have been poorly cared for by their own fathers, as reflected in later seeking security from an older male.