For example, this sample of 60-year-old men report 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 —so this discrepancy is not necessarily a failure of the rule.
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.
In Figure 1, the solid black line represents the rule’s calculation for 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).
By the time of their separation in 2011, however, Kutcher, then 33 had crossed the minimum threshold (31.5) defined by the rule. Curious outsiders are quick to judge when they can see a wide age gap between two romantic partners. 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 map perfectly onto actual reports of what is socially acceptable.
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. Does it match our scientific understanding of age-related preferences for dating? 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. 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.
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 actuality, 30-year-old women state that their max acceptable partner age would be less than 40 (around 37).
What is the acceptable minimum age for your own (and others’) dating partners?
When this question comes up in conversation, someone inevitably cites the “half your age plus seven” rule.
Those age preferences consistently hover around the values denoted by the rule (the black line).