It all started when Citizen Renegade posted on the heartbreaking decline of Female beauty with age. Sibling of Daedalus replied with her post marking the decline in male beauty. While it was, no doubt a good excuse to post pictures of handsome men for her girl readers, it also was a mischievous attempt to undercut the wisdom of the maxim that women age like milk, while men age like wine.
This post is not going to argue to obvious truth of the milk/wine comparison, but instead look at why it is true.
Except for the youngest of women (teens to early twenties), looks play a relatively small part in the overall attractiveness of a man. I should be clear that I am not arguing that a man’s physical attractiveness is of zero importance; merely that it is of less importance. This means that the decline in physical perfection that comes with age has less impact on men. It is not zero, but enough to give him many more years in the “hot” zone.
[I discussed, in graph form, the relative importance of looks for men and women in a previous post.]
The status markers for men change over time: During the teens, it is looks, sexual maturity, size (height and bulk), and social dominance. At later ages, it moves towards achievements, earnings, poise, humor, and style. This means that the average (not the chosen few, or “alphas”) start to gain points as they age. By their mid twenties all men have reached sexual maturity, and while size and social dominance still count, it is easier to offset with other traits. Indeed, an older man can carry a quiet and reserved manner with a certain dignity that would look like callow clumsiness in a younger one. Over time, more men will find themselves acquiring traits the are attractive to women; it is not that the alpha/beta divide disappears (although it may narrow), it is that more men move into the “acceptable” category.
At the same age (twenties) that the boy is growing into a man, a young woman is becoming less impressed with prettiness and more impressed with what we might call seriousness. In her early twenties, there is a shift of female taste from prettiness (boy bands) to hotness (jocks and frat boys). This is the beginning of her attraction to the masculine rather than the beautiful (frat boys and jocks represent the archetype of masculinity at that age). While the attraction to jocks and frats, to some degree, still represents a looks based assessment, it is demonstrates a move away from beauty and looks only, to other things (social status in this case). By her mid twenties, for most women, her tastes will focus more on seriousness (not a lack of humor, but overall masculine and competent demeanor); she looks back on her boy-band fancies with a wry smile and is beginning to consider the frat/jocks a bit of a joke. The men with average faces and build are falling into her field of consideration.
Age takes its toll on both men and women, however its worst effects are blunted for men. For a given level of exercise and care, testosterone will allow men retain greater leanness and may protect the skin. In any case, a man’s skin is not meant to be soft and smooth, so the aging is less obvious. Many of the markers of aging can be seen as markers of status and wisdom; the gray hair and smile lines can, for a man, signify wisdom and maturity. A large part of female attractiveness is fertility, while a large part of male attractiveness is authority. The signs of aging can actually add to a man’s sense of authority.
Not all women go sour, and not all do so at a young age. Neither do all men age like a fine wine, adding weight, maturity and balance. However most men will have a longer shelf life, and can probably extend it with greater ease.
When I started this out I wanted it to be a fun piece (I prefer to post lighter stuff at the weekend), but somehow it ended up more serious.
However well an older man might do compared to a same age women, I wonder if it makes up for how much worse off he was when younger. At 17, his success with women is a great part of his happiness; at 40, it is less so.
I would guess that part of the difficulty much older (50+) men have attracting twenty-somethings, is because the age gap is so obvious (and seems awkward) and not because the man is inherently unattractive. My guess is that a twenty-year gap is the outer limit for most men (still pretty damn good).
Using graphs, I compared the relative changes in attractiveness between men and women over time in an earlier post.