In principle, this popular relationship rule is applicable to men and women. Yet there’s a difference between a 23 year old guy dating an 18 year old girl and a 23 year old girl dating an 18 year old guy. The former will tend to be perceived as perfectly acceptable for both parties. Whereas the latter tends to be perceived as any (or all) of the following: she’s desperate, he’s a lad, it’s a bit dodgy.
This is probably due to common patterns in the age discrepancy of heterosexual couples in the UK, America and Australia. For most of history the mean age difference between husband and wife has been around two-to-three years, and recent statistics of the mean ages men and women to get married support this trend (Office for National Statistics, 2014):
- Women: 34 years old
- Men: 36.5 years old
Despite this being the mean age difference, only around a quarter of marriages from 1921 to 2001 have an age-gap of two-to-three years and a in a third of marriages the age difference between the husband and wife is within a year. Although it would seem the ‘half your age, plus seven’ rule isn’t followed, it’s really only to establish age limits rather than suitable age differences for a relationship.
What is clear is that the age-gap between people in a relationship seems less and less relevant as age increases; a 48 year old could quite easily be with a 30 year old, yet translating this to a younger age (say a 30 year old and an 18 year old), the acceptability starts to diminish. I believe this is partly due to the divide in education and work. Schooling is completely age-dependent, with clear boundaries between each phase of learning, whereas in the world of work, age is far less important than experience and expertise (very likely positively correlated with age, but not as strongly as age and education). By highlighting such clear differences where someone is in their life (GCSEs, A-Levels, Gap Year, 1st, 2nd or 3rd year of Uni….) there is a real focus on a person’s age, so maybe the rule is more appropriate for younger generations.
I’m 23 and don’t really like the thought of shacking-up with an 18 year old guy (immaturity is a definite issue here), but I have 23 year-old male friends who are more than keen to hook up with a girl of this age.