Strange But True

Sugar daddies and cougars: May-December couples seldom rich or hot, study says

The myth of the rich older man or woman who weds a gorgeous spouse many years younger has been perpetuated by TV, movies and the tabloids. But are such stories the rule or the exceptions?

The latter, argues a study by two academics associated with the University of Colorado. Their analysis, which can be read below in its entirety, argues that people who marry much older or younger partners are seldom wealthy or attractive. And yes, there's an attempt to quantify their relative hotness, or lack thereof.

"Who Marries Differently Aged Spouses? Ability, Education, Occupation, Earnings and Appearances" was penned by University of Colorado Denver assistant economics professor Hani Mansour and University of Colorado Boulder associate economics professor Terra McKinnish and published in the online Review of Economics and Statistics. Mansour and McKinnish maintain that "in direct contrast to conventional wisdom and most economic models of marital age gaps," the majority of men and women who marry across a wide age gap "are negatively selected."

This last phrase means exactly what it seems. The authors state that "empirical results show lower cognitive ability, lower educational attainment, lower occupational wages, lower earnings, and less attractive appearance among those married to a differently aged spouse."

In other words, they're not, in the conventional sense of the word, catches, either from a dollars-and-cents or oh-my-God-what-a-hottie standpoint.

Economically speaking, men in "all of the age-difference categories have lower occupational wages" relative to couples of similar ages, "and the wage gap increases with age difference," the authors allow. Likewise, they continue, "women with differently aged spouses tend to work in lower wage occupations than women married to similarly aged spouses."

How do Mansour and McKinnish quantify attractiveness? In a manner sure to horrify those of us for whom adolescence was a series of embarrassments and humiliations -- a.k.a., most of humanity.

Specifically, the pair utilize the National Longitudinal Survey of Adolescent Health, which was conducted from 1994 to 2008 and measures "physical appearance and Body Mass Index (BMI)." In the process, they note that "interviewers rated the respondent's appearance on a scale from 1 to 5, where 5 is "very attractive." Mansour and McKinnish then use a binary indicator for "attractive," with roughly 45 percent of men and 60 percent of women making the grade.

The pair subsequently found that "individuals married to differently aged spouses are less attractive, with the possible exception of men married to older women," they write. Moreover, the BMI data suggests "that women married to differently aged husbands had higher BMI in high school than those married to similarly-aged husbands."

Weigh these results for yourself below.

CU-Denver Study: Who Marries Differently Aged Spouses?

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Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts