Whether it's businessmen, politicians or entertainers, there's no shortage of rich, successful men marrying much younger women.
The assets of fame, power and big bucks, the belief goes, tend to make up for the debits of time - grey hair, paunches and assorted wrinkles.
But, according to new US research, the "success" part may not have much to do with it, either. The older a man is when he marries after 40, the greater the likelihood that his bride will be significantly younger - whether that man is wealthy and educated or not.
"If you look at guys who do marry, the poor guys marry down in age just as much as the rich guys do," said Paula England, a Stanford University sociologist and co-author of the new study.
"That was kind of surprising to us."
Men in their 40s tend to marry women who average seven years younger, and men in their 50s are marrying brides who average 11 years younger, according to England's research. And men in the 60s? They tend to marry women who are 13 years younger.
"In first marriages, men are typically a couple years older than women," England said. But, "the older men are when they marry, and it doesn't matter whether it's a first or a second marriage, the more years they marry down."
England and research partner Elizabeth McClintock of Stanford partially explain their findings as due to major alterations of the family structure following the tumult of the 1960s. But they especially point to "a double standard of aging."
They say the male ideal of beauty is found in women in their early 20s, and that ideal remains fixed for men no matter that they themselves are growing older.
"Women may be a little more indifferent to age than men are," England said, "because they are not judging people as much on looks."
Women certainly don't have trouble buying into the results.
Men "don't want to get old," said Paulette Dickerson of San Jose. "We don't worry about it so much because we take care of ourselves."
Thi Tran, a 44-year-old social worker from Milpitas, California, said it always bothered her that women in her mother's generation worried so much about their looks as they aged. But things haven't changed, she said.
"We can't deviate from what the TV tells you to look like," she said. "Every day you look at the TV, at magazines, at the newspaper; it's very hard. I see friends that are starting to worry about how they look."
While the age differential between husbands and brides is narrowing in first marriages, a significant portion of husbands in the US are still substantially older than their wives. A wife who is even four years older than her husband remains a rarity, US Census data shows.
In about one-third of American marriages, husbands are at least four years older than their wives, according to 2006 Census data. Wives are four years or more older than their husbands in just 7 per cent of unions.
Still, in a first marriage the median age difference is 2.2 years between brides and grooms in California, the Census Bureau says.
That narrowing points to a trend to more egalitarian marriages, argues Stephanie Coontz, author of Marriage, a History: How Love Conquered Marriage.
Other research shows that women who marry later in life tend to have lower rates of divorce, even though they are more likely to marry men of a different race or religion.
"You're still getting a lot of guys who marry down" in age, said Coontz, "but I think that obscures a trend to more age-equal, more power-equal relationships between men and women, a long-term trend over the last 50 years."
What demographers call the Second Demographic Transition - the explosion in divorce and the rearranging of family units after the 1960s - has increased the potential for wider marital age gaps, with more people marrying later in life, frequently for the second or third time.
With both older and younger men chasing younger women, the law of supply and demand make the marriage market a tough place for middle-aged people of both genders, England said.
For women, the marriage market may be limited to potential husbands who are significantly older, because many men of the same age are interested in younger women, she said. And for middle-aged men, the marriage market is tougher because they must compete with younger men for the same pool of younger brides.
Less clear from the data is how lower-income, less educated older men are successfully marrying younger women.
"We do find that money helps men's chances of getting married," England said. "But if we take youth as our crude measure of beauty, it doesn't seem like men are being able to exchange their money for younger women, so we don't know what's differentiating which older guys are able to marry very young women."
Youth is beauty, beauty youth ... Rupert Murdoch and his significantly younger third wife, Wendi Deng, are typical of US demographic trends.
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