Time has nearly perfected internet trolling in their article last month where “15 Guys Explain Why They Date Women Over 30.” It is a completely absurd article and the content doesn’t even need to be justified by engaging with it. In one particularly dumb passage, writer Anita Hamilton thinks that women might otherwise be at home on Fridays knitting tea cozies, but now that there are men out there who actually find something attractive about these old maids, they don’t need to give up on life once they turn 30!
But the fact of the matter is that these “older” women aren’t living or dying by how men think age affects their attractiveness. Women are more empowered than they have ever been before and age matters less. In fact, as women age and progress in their lives and careers, one simple marker like age is overshadowed by other potential accomplishments and characteristics. After decades of improvement to women’s economic opportunities and social power, they can’t be bothered to give into the trolling or the idea that they lose their value to men once they enter their third decade.
When surveyed, on average men find women in their 20s most attractive. As it happens, I entirely missed out on my golden era, having spent ten years in a relationship with one man from a month before I turned 20 to a month after I turned 30. (Oh the Alanis Morissette definition of irony.) Back on the market again after a decade, now one of these “older” women at age 30, I barely experienced what it’s like to be single in my prime. And then when I read about men’s age preferences along these terms, the fact of the matter is that I could not give less of a shit about what judgments men might make of me because of my age. I’m better at 30 than I’ve ever been before.
Of course, as a heterosexual woman, I want men to find me attractive. But I also know that it isn’t the 1800s and I have more power in the dating market than this article seems to think women have. Men don’t set all the terms anymore. I get to set the terms now because women have more bargaining power in partnerships than ever before. I have a burgeoning career as a writer and an economist with comfortable potential future earnings that I could support myself independently off of. I don’t spend (that many) Friday nights at home knitting tea cozies because I have friends I love and activities I enjoy more than sitting around waiting for a man. Because of shifting economic and social structures, I’m more empowered as a single woman than women in previous eras.
Economist Gary Becker first introduced economic concepts to marriage markets in his Theory of Marriage in 1974, putting forth the idea that laws of supply and demand can apply to relationships. While Becker often used economic theory to justify traditional gender roles, the assumptions that underly his conclusions have changed drastically. Some insights from marriages in the time when Becker was developing his Theory of Marriage and from now show that women have a lot more to offer men other than just their attractiveness and baby making abilities, giving a greater premium to women’s preferences over men’s in contemporary dating.
From 1970 to 2007, women’s share of family income grew from 4% to 22% and the portion of wives who are better educated than their husbands became greater than the portion of husbands better educated than their wives. Pew Social Trends acknowledge this as a complete gender role reversal in marriage. Women no longer gain the same economic advantages from marriages to men, and men have more to gain than ever before from marrying women. When marriage is more advantageous to men and not as advantageous to women as it used to be, the power in dating and marriage markets is reversed. Men are now the ones who are, or should be, trying to appeal to women’s preferences.
Becker made an intuitive point that people must be entering into a relationship, specifically marriage in his work, if it increases both their utility. Utility is the economic concept of well-being. While it might increase many men’s utility to date a woman in her 20s, because of the greater potential years of childbearing or just because they may lead simpler lives than same-age women and demand less of them, it might not increase the utility for a woman in her 20s to settle for an older man. There is an incentive for women to delay marriage, preferring to be in the dating market for longer. Married women suffer a pay penalty compared to their single counterparts. Because of this, women’s utility gains from early marriage are lower compared to men, who receive a pay premium from marriage. This could be part of the reason why women are delaying marriage until older age, allowing them to make wage gains and climb up the corporate ladder so that they can maintain those higher levels after potentially settling down.
Women’s economic empowerment has reversed the relative importance of preferences and utility gains from marriage between women and men. Women don’t need to stoop of men’s level, by settling down young or spending too much effort appeasing men’s unfair and unjustified preferences. Men need to get on our level. Women over 30 are better than they’ve ever been (and they are still getting better).
Of course there are still some men who are living under an old gender regime where they find women in their 20s the most attractive. But as I re-enter the market, I acknowledge my power in dating that is a virtue of my age after my 20s – my higher education, developing career, greater access to financial resources, and my overall improved self-confidence that comes with age. Becker was right about some things, but he may not have realized whose preferences might end up mattering more and the greater utility that women can gain from claiming their power in the dating market.