There is nothing old regarding the trope of a middle- aged man having a much younger partner. It’s perhaps at its most noticeable in Hollywood, where material wealth and beauty collide to create relationships that some might pen as problematic.
A classic case study in this is Scott Disick. The former partner and co-parent of Kourtney Kardashian is known for his relationships with much younger women. The 37-year-old reality TV star split with his 22-year-old girlfriend, model Sofia Richie last year, sparking rumours that he might reunite with the eldest Kardashian sibling.
Instead, Disick ended up embarking on a relationship that, to an outsider’s eye, seems almost identical to the last. He was first seen with 19-year-old Amelia Hamlin, daughter of outspoken Real Housewives of Beverly Hills star Lisa Rinna, in November of last year. While neither have officially confirmed that they’re an item, Instagram evidence and paparazzi shots of the father of three and Hamlin together suggest otherwise.
Disick is by no means an exception. Leonardo di Caprio’s preference for younger girlfriends prompted a Reddit user to draw a chart of the actor’s dating history that later went viral. It pointed out that the 44-year-old has never officially dated someone under the age of 25. There are countless other examples that spring to mind, but apart from the odd raised eyebrow, the older man to younger woman ratio is accepted in a way not possible for women who present as the older partner in the relationship.
Justin Lehmiller and Christopher Agnew of Purdue University published a study exploring age gaps in relationships in 2011. They stated that women who date younger men are much more likely to be accused of using their partners for sex than their male counterparts, while young women involved with older men are also viewed unfavourably.
Interestingly, their research also showed that while the word ‘cradle robber’ was sometimes given to men who were the senior in relationships, the term was seen as nowhere near as offensive as the words ‘cougar’ or ‘gold-digger’ used to describe women. Their conclusion? Men simply don’t suffer from the same negative stereotypes heaped on women in relationships with an age gap. They are often praised and applauded for having a partner who is significantly their junior.
The older person tends to be the individual with more power in a relationship. In all likelihood, he or she will have more financial stability and life experience than the younger party. Is it still too difficult for society to stomach a woman in 2021 holding more authority than her partner? The study leaves us in no doubt as to the answer.
For decades now, images from the celebrity world have helped normalise middle-aged men surrounding themselves with beautiful young women without a second thought. Ultimately, it may be worth scrapping our preconceptions with age to focus instead on the societal discomfort surrounding female authority that has no place at the table.