Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Gauging attractiveness by age via sexual activity

++Addition++Agnostic posted something similar back in January, but due to my apparent gayness, the following adds to it by injecting gender into the relationship between sexual activity and age.

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There are several different ways to estimate at what age physical attractiveness peaks among men and women. For my part, looking at Maxim's Hottest 100 list of 2008 shows an average age of 27.6 years. That's probably too far to the wizened end, since building up celebrity credentials at such a high level tends to require a little time after initially being discovered. Agnostic looked at the age of porn actors and found an average of 22.8 years. Because there is an artificial floor at 18 (despite the existence of hot 16 and 17 year-olds), even that is probably a little on the high side, although not by much.

The GSS provides more suggestive evidence backing up Agnostic's finding. The following graph shows the average number of sexual partners in the last year for unmarried respondents*. Female responses (pink) are scaled so that they are comparable to male responses (blue)**. For ease of presentation, age ranges represent early-ies, mid-ies, and late-ies (click for higher resolution):

Women are at the peak in their early twenties. The absolute highest point is reached at age 23, which catches some of 22 as well, since the question inquires about activity over the last 12 months. They decline slowly but steadily from their mid-twenties to their early-forties and then tank as they stare down menopause.

Men top out a few years later, in their mid-twenties. The high point for men in their mid-twenties isn't as far above men at other ages as the corresponding high point for women in their early-twenties is relative to women of other ages. It comes as no surprise, then, to see that men degrade more slowly than women do after their respective peaks.

A smile of the sweetest flower, now wilted, soiled, and soured. Agnostic has commissioned a poster appropriate for the subject at hand:

GSS variables used: PARTNERS, SEX(1)(2), AGE, MARITAL(2-5)

* I am using the number of partners over the last year as a proxy for physical attractiveness (as well as libido, to which it is related). People who are married are filtered out so that only those playing the field are counted. It's obviously not a perfect approach--when it comes to quantifying physical attractiveness, that always seems elusive. On the individual level, it's not worth much. In aggregate, however, it seems like a good measure. It certainly has face validity.

The y-value is not exactly the mean number of reported partners for men, as response categories enter into ranges from five and up. Participants who have had five or more partners in the last year comprise less than 4% of the total.

** Men consistently report having more sexual partners than women do, despite the mathematical impossibility this presents (homosexuality cannot plausibly explain the entire gap).

20 comments:

Jokah Macpherson said...

Seems like Roissy's question #1 is due for a revision.

http://roissy.wordpress.com/dating-market-value-test-for-men/

agnostic said...

Beat you to it:

Here

I didn't look at guys, though. (That would be gay.)

And here's one on actual physical traits -- BMI, waistline, weight -- that are central to good looks, as they change from puberty to menopause.

Here

Sometime I'll dig up some data on how they measure the tightness or radiance of the skin. Baby!

In her book Reading Faces, Zebrowitz says that attractiveness ratings of male faces went down at about the same pace as they did for females. But I didn't see a graph; my guess is they actually declined more slowly.

Chuck said...

you're making a big leap by assuming that sexual promiscuity indicates the highest level of attractiveness. there are other variables at play.

its entirely possible that females are at their hottest at the age of 17 or 18, but on the average they are likely to be less promiscuous than 23 or 24 year olds.

ironrailsironweights said...

It's interesting that the age-related decline is interrupted and reversed for about a decade among men in their mid-50's. Could visiting hookers amount for some of that?

Peter

BGC said...

There is a profound assymetry between men and women with respect to sexual partners in a sexual marketplace without moral constraints on promiscuity.

Young healthy women can have as many sexual partners as they want (not whoever they want, but as many as they want - limited by the number of hours in the day). Indeed they will find men willing to pay them for sex with no strings. Basically, all the woman needs to do is say yes.

The same is *not* the case for men (except, perhaps, for very high status young men like sports or rock stars).

Imagine a college dorm: if an average women put up a sign on her door saying line-up-here for free sex with no strings, there would be a line of men (especially if they could conceal their identities); if an average man did the same, women would give the area a wide berth.

A woman who did that would very probably be psychologically deranged in some way (some kind of mental illness, drugs or something), and people would assume that was the case even if it was not - and some men would avoid her for that reason - but there would probably be plenty who would take the risk of tangling with a crazy, even so.

This is because biologically (as elaborated by Robert Trivers) human females are the high-investing sex (they invest more in offspring - a minimum of 9 months and usually several years during ancestral history), and therefore women are the choosier sex.

So the numbers of partners will have quite different meanings for men and women on average (just as status has different meanings for men and women). For women it is important to recognize that they are choosier.

It is very easy indeed (and very common) for a less attractive woman to have more partners than a more attractive woman simply by being less choosy.

My first line hypothesis for your data on women would focus on the change in average personality with age - e.g. the reduction in extraversion and increase in conscientiousness through early adult life.

Audacious Epigone said...

Jokah,

Roissy's site is skewed a little further along the age spectrum than it 'should' be to be nationally representative, in part because it's expensive to live in Manhattan and so the people who do are generally well-off and well-educated--both things that take a little time to realize.

From my own personal experience, making over $70k helps a lot more with women in their mid-twenties and older than it does with girls in their teens, to whom it means much less--just that not having enough money for doing something is not going to be a problem, which is a plus, but a minor one. Having "your own place" is definitely good, but the younger girls don't really care how much is left on your mortgage or if you already own it outright. Older women do.

Also, if you're interested in girls in their late teens, being in your early-thirties is not helpful--three to five years older is probably ideal. Anything more than ten is really pushing it. It can be done, but you're going to be trying to hide your actual age, at least in the beginning--it's not an asset if the gap is that large.

Agnostic,

Hah, so you're calling me gay, eh?

I'd guess ratings for faces peaks later or at least declines more slowly for women than other measures of attractiveness do. It's easier to find a 30 yo with a beautiful face than it is to find a 30 yo with a slamming body, while 18 yo girls who have average faces seem more likely than not to have above average everything else. "Yeah, I'd hit that if I had a bag to put over her face" applies more to younger girls than it does to older ones, I think.

Chuck,

Yeah, it's possible. This is just another suggestive data point to add to the stack.

Peter,

That is curious. It could just be random noise. It's a little late for the mid-life crisis to be hitting.

BGC,

That is, that women become more conscientious and less extraverted as they age and a conseequence of that is a conscious reduction in the amount of sexual access they offer?

Neuroskeptic said...

The problem with this is that as people get older they get progessively more likely to be married, so the unmarried become a progressively more select group. I'd guess that those who aren't married by age 50 never had much sex anyway. Or are gay.

agnostic said...

haha, dude, calling your friends gay for no reason is all part of staying young.

besides, i've put up quite a few posts at gnxp about what makes guys attractive.

Audacious Epigone said...

Neuro,

Good point, even though it's not just the never-married, but those who are not currently married. On the other hand, those of the opposite sex in the market the unmarried oldies are operating should be comparably relatively easy to attain, since they're in the same boat.

Agnostic,

I know, I know, but this way I don't feel like I'm totally plagiarizing (I read all of your posts, so I must've just forgot about that one, or the quant behind it, anyway).

To "that's gay", which is still uttered by teenagers as frequently as it was when I was in high school, I usually say, in a serious tone, something along the lines of "I don't know how getting pulled over has a sexual orientation". The reaction is pretty hit-or-miss, but it reinforces my maturity, which is good to do from time to time.

agnostic said...

Sometime this summer I'm going to take my undergrad chick friend to Barnes and Noble just so I can say out loud:

"Let's see, Cultural Studies... Asian American Studies... Gay & Lesbian Studies? Dude, that's sooo gay..."

BGC said...

AE asks: That is, that women become more conscientious and less extraverted as they age and a consequence of that is a conscious reduction in the amount of sexual access they offer?

My answer: I am suggesting that the main factor governing the number of sexual partners in young women is her choosiness. On average women will get choosier as they get older, due to innate personality changes.

But a big confounder is alcohol - which makes women less choosy. (Moving from science to anecdote...) Sometimes alcohol is used as a deliberate self-medication for this purpose, by women who want to be less choosy.

Jack said...

"Seems like Roissy's question #1 is due for a revision."

Actually, this post proves Roissy completely right. He says the optimum male age for getting women is 25-34. This post here indicates just that - the maximum amount of partners is at the beginning of that range, 25-26, but that doesn't mean that 30-35 year olds are less attractive. 30-35 year olds are more likely to be in a serious relationship or engaged than 25 year olds, cutting down the number of partners. Plus, even if attractiveness does go down slightly, males, unlike females, are judged substantially on income and status, which both rise during the 25-34 years, making the 30-34 year old at least as desirable as the 25 year old.

"Also, if you're interested in girls in their late teens, being in your early-thirties is not helpful--three to five years older is probably ideal."

This is likely true, but what is the minimum age where being a guy in your early 30's is NOT a drawback? 24?

Jokah Macpherson said...

Re: That's so gay

I have called out my gay friend (mentioned in the SWPL post comments) to his face before for being gay in the figurative sense. Talk about anti-PC...

AE & Jack,

Your points regarding income, etc. are all valid, although at 26 I have never seen any noticable effect of learning I have a steady well-paying job on potential girlfriends other than boredom (and I only bring this up when asked). In addition to the "boiling effect" where the most attractive men get sucked into marriage, I would also add a supply problem contributing to the sharp drop in the mid-late 20's. By this time, even the most aimless drifter is probably out of grad school, where there are many girls his age in close proximity, and thrust into the real world.

Either way, question #1 is still due for a revision because Roissy's ranges don't include age 25.

ironrailsironweights said...

Also, if you're interested in girls in their late teens, being in your early-thirties is not helpful--three to five years older is probably ideal.

This is likely true, but what is the minimum age where being a guy in your early 30's is NOT a drawback? 24?

It may often be dismissed as an old chestnut, but from what I gather, many people still honor the half-your-age-plus-seven rule. Perhaps without really giving it much thought, but nonetheless they still observe it. A 24-year-old woman would be a suitable partner for a man who is 34, but not one who is 35.

One thing I've noticed, though based on a rather limited number of cases, is that when the age difference is greater than about three or four years the lack of shared interests can sometimes be an issue. Tastes in movies and music and other cultural aspects may not be the same. These differences usually aren't enough to prevent a relationship from developing, but might make the process a little more difficult.

Peter

Audacious Epigone said...

Jack,

Based on my experience I'd say that the early-twenties constitute the very low-end of the age range men in their 30s can realistically aim for. One of the guys who is currently living with me (my house is becoming a refugee camp, but I have the space and these refugees pay, so I'm not complaining) is 34 and just separated from his wife with whom he has two kids. He is now dating a 23 yo who is a 6 or so and definitely has her stuff together. He's a good-looking, athletic, 'alpha' type by just about every measure though, so his results aren't typical.

Jack said...

Yeah, I think I'll stay with 24 as the minimum age where I'm not disadvantaged. Being in law school, I certainly don't want to be the "creepy" guy (to the bitchy females at least) going for a 22 year old. Once a girl is a few years out of college, she's an adult like me, that's how I see it. Now if a 22 year old wanted some, that's a different story, but she'd probably have to make the move.

print said...

are you able to test the line hypothesis?

Audacious Epigone said...

Print,

BGC has been scouring the GSS for questions that are probably proxies for conscientiousness. Not sure at this point how reliably they'll measure the trait, but we'll see. Stay tuned :)

Anonymous said...

hmm, its not a good measure, simply because females value different trates to looks from men; its more accurate to base women on their num of partners, but not men for these reasons.

A guy who is super confident, but really not that attractive at all certainly wont get girls staring at him from across a car park because they fancy him, but he will get a lot of interest very quickly when he presents himself in a social setting. The shy guy who sits uncumfortably and doesnt look people in the eye, and find it hard to start convocations: he probably will have less partners, even if he is traditionally attractive (as they say).

Anonymous said...

And there's the social college environment fueled by drinking -- living away from home the first time - craziness. This is a factor unique from attractiveness.