What is the acceptable minimum age for a dating partner? When this question comes up in conversation, someone inevitably cites the half your age plus seven rule. This rule states that by dividing your own age by two and then adding seven you can find the socially acceptable minimum age of anyone you want to date.
So if you’re a 24-year-old, you can feel free to be with anyone who is at least 19 (12 + 7) but not someone who is 18.1 The (lesser-applied) other side of the rule defines a maximum age boundary: Take your age, subtract 7, and double it. So for a 24-year-old, the upper age limit would be 34 (17 * 2). With some quick math, the rule provides a minimum and maximum partner age based on your actual age that, if you choose to follow it, you can use to guide your dating decisions.
A Chart of the Rule's Max and Min Partner Age Discrepancies Based on a Person's Actual Age
The utility of this equation? It lets you chart acceptable age discrepancies that adjust over the years. According to the rule, for example, a 30-year-old should be with a partner who is at least 22, while a 50-year-old’s dating partner must be at least 32 to not attract (presumed) social sanction.
But how legitimate is this rule? Does it match our scientific understanding of age-related preferences for dating? Does it always apply? Should it ever?
Let's examine it.
How well does the rule reflect scientific evidence for age preferences?
Researchers Buunk and colleagues (2000) asked men and women to identify the ages they would consider when evaluating someone for relationships of different levels of involvement. People reported distinct age preferences for marriage; a serious relationship; falling in love; casual sex; and sexual fantasies. Did they follow “the rule?"
Based on the figures Buunk and colleagues (2000) provided (and thus the numbers are only informed approximations), I replotted their data superimposing the max and min age ranges defined by the half-your-age-plus-7 rule. Now we can see how well the rule corresponds with people’s reported acceptable ages.
Men’s preferred minimum partner age: Let’s start with minimum age preferences reported by heterosexual men. In Figure 1, the solid black line represents the rule’s calculation for the minimum acceptable range. You can see that men are basically operating by the rule for minimum age preferences for marital relationships (blue bars) and serious dating relationships (yellow bars). Those age preferences consistently hover around the values denoted by the rule (the black line). If anything, in practice, men are more conservative when it comes to preferred marriage, preferring a minimum age higher than the rule would say is OK.
Figure 1: Male Participants' Minimum Preferred Partner Age as Compared to the Rule
When it comes to sexual fantasies, however, men have minimum age preferences that are younger than the rule would designate appropriate. For example, this sample of 60-year-old men reports that it is acceptable to fantasize about women in their 20s, which the rule would say is unacceptable. But fantasies, of course, are not generally subject to public scrutiny and the rule is only designed to calculate what is socially acceptable in the public eye—so this discrepancy is not necessarily a failure of the rule.
For rule-related involvement (relationships), 60-year-old men are stating that the minimum acceptable age is around 40, which does map much more closely to the rule’s predictions.
Men’s preferred maximum partner age: The rule states that you can calculate maximum acceptable partner ages by subtracting seven from your own age and multiplying it by two. Figure 2 clearly shows that the rule’s max-age guidelines for men do not reflect real-world preferences. The rule overestimates the perceived acceptability of men becoming involved with older women. Men do not show a linear increase in maximum age preference that matches the rule’s predictions. Instead, men report maximum acceptable partner ages that hover around their own age through their 40s. After 40, maximum age preferences for most categories remain lower than their own age. Thus the rule for maximum age is fairly ineffective at capturing what men actually believe is acceptable.
Figure 2: Male Participants' Maximum Preferred Partner Age as Compared to the Rule
Case Study: George Clooney. Now let's apply the rule to actual dating behavior by examining George Clooney’s dating habits. Clooney has been scrutinized at times for dating younger women, though not consistently, and this pattern is nicely reflected in a graph of his own age, his partners’ ages, and the rule’s calculations for minimum and maximum acceptable ages. Only twice has he become involved with women whose ages were outside the rule’s guidelines. He approached the line with two other partners but is well within the threshold in his marriage with Amal Alamuddin.
Does the rule work for women?
The minimum rule (half-your-age-plus-seven) seems to work for men, although the maximum rule falls short, failing to reflect empirical age-related preferences. How well does the rule capture women’s preferences?
Women’s preferred minimum partner age: Below are the data from Buunk et al.’s (2000) study on women’s minimum age preferences; the rule’s age calculations are represented by the solid line. In general, the figure shows that women are reporting minimum age preferences that exceed the rule’s predictions. In other words, while the rule states that 40-year-old women can feel comfortable dating 27-year-old men, this does not reflect the social preferences and standards of women. Women in their 40s think that approximately 35 or older is acceptable for marriage or a relationship. Even when fantasizing, such women’s minimum age preference remains over 30. The rule’s calculated minimum acceptable partner ages seem to fit men better than women.
Figure 3: Female Participants' Minimum Preferred Partner Age as Compared to the Rule
Women’s preferred maximum partner age: Examining maximum preferences, again the rule is more lenient, offering an age range with which most people are not comfortable. The rule states that it is acceptable for 30-year old women to date men who are up to 46 years old, but in reality, 30-year-old women state that their max acceptable partner age would be less than 40 (around 37). The rule underestimates women’s reported preferences in their 20s, but the gap between reports of what is socially acceptable and the rule itself widens over time.
Figure 4: Female Participants' Maximum Preferred Partner Age as Compared to the Rule
Case Study: Demi Moore. Let’s take a look at Demi Moore, who at times has been criticized for dating men who differ substantially from her own age. As you can see from the graph, one partner exceeded the rule’s calculated acceptable maximum age, while Ashton Kutcher’s age fell short of the socially acceptable minimum age when they first started dating in 2003. By the time of their separation in 2011, however, Kutcher, then 33 had crossed the minimum threshold (31.5) defined by the rule.
How effective is the rule?
Curious outsiders are quick to judge when they can see a wide age gap between two romantic partners. Maybe this is why the rule is so appealing. In a world in which many social norms are often unspoken, the half-your-age-plus-7 rule concretely defines a boundary.
But the rule does not map perfectly onto actual reports of what is socially acceptable. At times it is too stringent, but most often it appears too lenient, condoning age pairings with which most people are not comfortable. So if you are following the half-your-age-plus-7 rule, know that it may not be perfect or truly mirror age-related preference. You might also take care to refer to the maximum age judiciously—the minimum age guideline seems to be more on target (and more so for men than women).
Source: Carlos Horta/Shutterstock
When you’re 26, however, this person would be 20 and would be right at the line of your age-minimum threshold (13 + 7). In a few more years, you’ll be 28 and this person will be 22, above your new threshold of 21 (14+7).
Buunk, B. P., Dijkstra, P., Kenrick, D. T., & Warntjes, A. (2001). Age preferences for mates as related to gender, own age, and involvement level. Evolution and Human Behavior, 22, 241-250.
Some pediatricians suggest that kids wait until they're 16 to start this kind of one-on-one dating. That's a good place to start the discussion, but every kid is different. Some are more emotionally mature than others.What is an acceptable age to date? ›
Consider their emotional maturity and sense of responsibility. For many kids, 16 seems to be an appropriate age, but it may be entirely suitable for a mature 15-year-old to go on a date, or to make your immature 16-year-old wait a year or two. You can also consider what other parents are doing.What age difference is not acceptable? ›
There is no exact maximum or minimum acceptable age difference considered good or bad in a relationship. Research shows that married couples with a one-year age gap have a much lower chance of separation than couples with large age gaps.Is 18 and 22 okay? ›
Should a 22 year old date an 18 year old? Legally, there is nothing wrong with pursuing a romantic or sexual relationship since, in all states, 18 is considered an age of consent, and both parties involved are considered adults. Socially, there are some taboos with the age difference.What age gap is too big? ›
A relationship age gap bigger than 10 years often comes with its own set of issues. “While there are always exceptions to rules, a good rule to remember is that dating someone more than 10 years older will present challenges now or later that add to the preexisting challenges any relationship has,” he says.What age difference is too much? ›
An often-asserted rule of thumb to determine whether an age difference is socially acceptable holds that a person should never date someone whose age is less than half their own plus seven years.
There is no hard and fast rule on what kind of an age gap is or isn't acceptable in any relationship. While couples typically tend to have an age gap of around one to three years in many cultures, each individual will have a different comfort level that they feel is right for them.What is the best age to date and marry? ›
“The ideal age to get married, with the least likelihood of divorce in the first five years, is 28 to 32,” says Carrie Krawiec, a marriage and family therapist at Birmingham Maple Clinic in Troy, Michigan. “Called the 'Goldilocks theory,' the idea is that people at this age are not too old and not too young.”Does age matter in a relationship? ›
Romantic couples with a large age gap often raise eyebrows. Studies have found partners with more than a ten-year gap in age experience social disapproval. But when it comes to our own relationships, both men and women prefer someone their own age, but are open to someone 10-15 years their junior or senior.Is a 20 year age difference OK? ›
The truth is, there is no ideal or appropriate age gap in a relationship. Whether it's a 20 year age gap relationship or a 5 year age gap relationship, there will be both challenges and benefits to your situation.
Yes, a younger man falling for an older woman is more common than many think. There are many reasons why younger men fall for older women, but most commonly, he admires her maturity and experience associated with being an older person.What age is a cougar? ›
According to the Urban Dictionary, which lists many definitions of cougar too unsavory to print, the cougar woman is generally at least 35 — and always on the hunt — while many of the Hollywood and tabloid depictions put the women in their 40s, 50s and even 60s.Is 18 dating 21 weird? ›
No, it's not weird for an 18 year old to date a 21 year old. In fact, it's quite normal. Most college students are around the ages of 18-22, so it's not uncommon to see a 21 year old and a 18 year old in a relationship. Plus, the age gap between the two is very small.Is 18 dating 15 ok? ›
In a Nutshell: Sex between an 18 year-old and a 15 year-old is illegal in California, meaning any touching of “private parts” of either, even with consent of both parties (and perhaps even the parents of each teenager) is illegal in California because the age of consent is 18.Is 19 and 17 ok? ›
A person under the age of 18 years cannot legally consent to sexual intercourse. The age of consent is the same for both males and females. Therefore, if you are 19 years old and have sex with a 17-year-old, you could be arrested for a sex crime. In most cases, the crime would be statutory rape.What is the creepiness rule? ›
The “creepiness rule” states that the youngest you should date is “half your age plus seven.” The less commonly used corollary is that the oldest you should date is “subtract seven from your age and double it.”What is the easiest age gap? ›
Possible benefits of a 3-year age gap
According to some research, you may have the lowest risk of labor complications when you have your second baby around three years after your first. Pregnancy may carry less risk for you and your baby.
Skills are not limited by a specific factor, such as age. There are no restrictions; the only thing that keeping you away from learning and doing new things is yourself.Is 20 and 17 weird? ›
It's not very weird. Less 'weird' than a senior dating a freshman in high school — which always exists to a small degree. The older the parties are, the greater the age difference can be without any concerns on the subject.Is 19 and 23 weird? ›
That age difference is not much, and you shouldn't feel awkward or wrong in any way. There are couples with much larger age gaps, cultural and religious differences so yours is pretty normal. If a girl is legally old enough to have sex and she is mutually and happily with you, you have nothing to worry about!
No there is nothing at all wrong with a 18 year old and a 26 year old being together. It is totally fine. It is also just an 8 year age difference which is nothing. 8 years is not a big age difference.Is dating after 25 hard? ›
No, dating does not get harder as you grow up. Dating can be continued or started at any age because a person should not take you by just your age, height or weight. They should date you by looking at your inner beauty. Age is just a number, so don't worry about it.Is it too late to change after 25? ›
You're Never Too Old To Make A Change
Despite age, one can still pursue a career transition if it promises to improve their life circumstances. It may seem daunting, but with careful assessment and planning, you can successfully transition into something new.
It's widely assumed that couples with big age differences will face bigger struggles and are, therefore, more likely to split. But research suggests not. Some studies have found the relationship satisfaction reported by age-gap couples is higher, with greater levels of trust and commitment and lower levels of jealousy.At what age do men want to get married? ›
The age varies from man to man, but there are patterns that are easily identified: Most men who graduate from high school start thinking of marriage as a real possibility when they are 23 or 24. Most men who graduate from college don't start considering marriage as a real possibility until age 26.Which age is best for kiss? ›
Around ages 12-15, people often start having their first kiss. Don't feel pressured by other people your age kissing people, and don't rush into kissing someone if you are apprehensive. You'll know intuitively when the time feels right.Does love care about age? ›
Does Age Really Matter in Relationships? Generally, it doesn't. A relationship depends on the understanding and connection between two individuals, regardless of the differences in their ages or generations. A couple can have a strong relationship as long as they love, respect and care for each other.What is the most common age difference in relationships? ›
While age differences between couples may spark raised eyebrows, they aren't that uncommon. Though the average age gap between people in heterosexual relationships in the US is about 2.3 years,¹ many relationships endure with a much wider age interval.Can you be in love with 2 people? ›
Being in love with two people may be more common than some think. Studies show that many individuals worldwide identify as polyamorous, meaning they partake in a romantic relationship with or feel attracted to more than one individual at a time.What is half your age plus 7? ›
Half age plus seven rule: In dating/romantic/intimate relationships, the age of the younger person should not be less than half the age of the older person plus seven years.
When they have their life goals, ambitions and perspectives aligned together, a 10-year gap may not be threatening. However, for normal couples, it can be a bit stretchy. Sometimes, the younger partner may not stand up to the older partner's maturity level and that can create a lot of issues.At what age do men stop caring about looks? ›
Men Stop Caring About Their Looks 26 Months After They Get Married, Or At Age 46, Whichever Comes First. Or something like that, says a new study.Do guys like girls who are older? ›
Yes, a younger man falling for an older woman is more common than many think. There are many reasons why younger men fall for older women, but most commonly, he admires her maturity and experience associated with being an older person.What age do you find men most attractive? ›
While men seem to be genetically predisposed to be attracted to women in their mid-to-late-20s, women tend to be attracted to men around their ages, if not older; this means men in their 30s have the best of both worlds. Men in their 30s are attractive to a wide range of women, from 20-somethings to women in their 40s.How old are sugar daddies usually? ›
The average age of sugar daddies on the site is only 42, a rep for Seeking tells InsideHook, meaning nearly half the daddies on the site have barely glimpsed middle age.What is a puma in dating? ›
In the United States, "puma" has been used as slang for a cougar minus ten years; she is defined as a woman in her 30s who prefers dating younger men. Hollywood celebrity Jennifer Aniston has long been associated with the term due to her relationships with younger men, most notably John Mayer (nine years younger).What age is a Jaguar woman? ›
A term that describes a woman 50 years and older who dates significantly younger men; similar to cougars who are in the age range of 30-50; commonly found in a club looking to pick up younger men.What is the average age for a first kiss? ›
Love is in the air
No need to wait for the official first date to get a little face time, however. Americans agree kids are ready for their first kiss at age 15 (15.1 on average), while on average, they had theirs at age 14.5.
It can be scary to find out that your child has started dating for the first time, and you may be wondering what this should look like—or whether it's even okay in the first place. Rest assured that it's totally normal for a 14-year-old to be interested in dating, and this is a healthy, important part of growing up.Is dating at 13 too young? ›
Typically, it's best for children under 13 not to engage in romantic relationships as they are still developing emotionally and cognitively. Healthy friendships are encouraged for teenagers between 13 and 15, but romantic relationships could be too much for them to handle.
There's no one age when people “should” start dating — plenty of people don't start until their late teens or after, and some people start earlier. But dating when you're 12 means something different than dating when you're in high school or older.Which age is best for relationship? ›
Most experts agree that the right age to start dating is around 16. Wanting to spend more time with a boy you genuinely care about is a sign you might be ready to start dating.What is the best age to kiss a boy? ›
Around ages 12-15, people often start having their first kiss. Don't feel pressured by other people your age kissing people, and don't rush into kissing someone if you are apprehensive. You'll know intuitively when the time feels right.What does kissing feel like? ›
Along with the oxytocin and dopamine that make you feel affection and euphoria, kissing releases serotonin — another feel-good chemical. It also lowers cortisol levels so you feel more relaxed, making for a good time all around.What age do girls start liking boys? ›
First crushes may occur at any time, but generally start at around 10-13 years of age. They are an important step in developing normal and healthy romantic relationships, and provide opportunities to learn how to compromise and communicate.What is an appropriate age gap? ›
In short, research seems to indicate that in many cultures, an age gap of 1 to 3 years is considered ideal — but some researchers suggest even a relationship with an age gap of less than 10 years will bring more satisfaction.How do most relationships start? ›
'Friends with benefits'
Of the married couples in the study, two-thirds said they were friends before becoming a couple, but many of the couples also said they were “friends with benefits,” or friends who engage in sexual activity, before being in a fully committed romantic relationship.
And though for most people it happens young, it's certainly not true for everyone. They found 55 percent of people fall in love for the first time between the ages of 15 and 18.What is normal dating behavior? ›
Healthy relationships involve honesty, trust, respect and open communication between partners and they take effort and compromise from both people. There is no imbalance of power. Partners respect each other's independence, can make their own decisions without fear of retribution or retaliation, and share decisions.Is it OK for a 18 to date a 12? ›
If a dating relationship with a minor involves sexual conduct, it can be illegal. The ages of the couple and the state's age of consent will determine whether it is a crime, or not. If it is, the offense is generally statutory rape.
There is no hard rule for when tweens should be allowed to date. Keep in mind that even if you forbid young relationships and dating, your tween may still spend lots of time with a special someone at school.