The Age Equation: A Mathematical Model for Preferred Age Discrepancy

12- Age GapI look pretty young for my age. Most people guess my age to be between 3 and 7 years younger than I actually am (depending on makeup, clothing, whether my hair is styled in pigtails or the brand of vulgarity that is spewing from my mouth). I love to take advantage when I can by making inappropriate age jokes around people I’m dating, for my own personal amusement (and sometimes theirs). One of my previous partners’ colleagues actually once said to him “oh how cute, is she your niece”? You can only imagine the silly ways I capitalized on that incident.


Age is a funny thing; some people don’t care at all about it and some are immensely bothered by it. I suspect many women hesitate to date much younger men, lest they be labeled a “cougar”; similarly, some men might want to avoid the branding of “manther.” These terms conjure up images of prowling predators. Meow, baby!


Age discrepancies can actually increase the chance of a relationship breaking apart.1 Part of this is due to the fact that Western cultures frown on large age gaps between partners, and this disapproval influences people in relationships where this is the case. In fact, the more criticized people feel about the age difference in their relationship, the more likely they are to break up.2 There could also be a thousand other reasons why people break up (like harboring the television remote or grinding your teeth incessantly while sleeping); this only being one potential risk.


People oftentimes ask my age when they’re beginning to enter the courting phase, to make sure I’m an “appropriate” age for them to date. Even online dating often requires that you select and age range from which to choose your potential mates. What makes an age “appropriate”? Well, according to this time-honored popular equation, there is such a thing as an “appropriate” age range for potential partners (math enthusiasts, rejoice):


Low end of range:   ½ (your age) + 7

High end of range:  (your age) – 7, x 2 3


Let’s say you’re looking for a younger partner and you aren’t sure how low to go. Divide your age by half and add 7 years; that’s your low limit. So, if you’re 40 years old, the lowest age you should go for is 27. To figure out the maximum age, subtract 7 years from your age then multiply by 2; that’s your high limit. So, if you’re 40 years old, the highest age you should go for is 66. Thus, if you’re 40 years old, you’ll want to look for a partner in the 27-66 age range.

  12- Age Equation


Of course, this rule isn’t proven by science and we see lots of happy couples break it. There are plenty of successful celebrity couples who have violated the equation: Harrison Ford and Calista Flockhart (22-year age gap), Michael Douglas and Katherine Zeta-Jones (25-year age gap), Patrick Stewart and Sunny Ozell (37-year age gap) and of course, Hugh Hefner and Crystal Harris (60-year age gap; wowza!).


In the end, this shouldn’t be taken too seriously (sorry math enthusiasts). It might be a decent starting point, but inevitably there are other things that are probably higher on the priority list (like whether or not they can wiggle their ears). If you find someone younger or older than you, and you’re happy and healthy in your relationship, that’s a much better indicator of success than any equation will predict.




1 Hill, C. T., Rubin, Z., & Peplau, L. A. (1976). Break-ups before marriage: The end of 103 affairs Journal of Social Issues, 32(1), 147-167.

2 Lehmiller, J. J., & Agnew, C. R. (2007). Perceived marginalization and the prediction of romantic relationship stability. Journal of Marriage and Family, 69, 1036-1049.




  1. Franklin Veaux
    Jun 9, 2013

    I first saw that formula in an article by Dan Savage, and I’ve often seen it attributed to him as its creator.

    Human beings do love to have rules and guidelines, don’t we? As near as I can tell, that formula was simply made up by someone sitting around thinking about what sounded good to him, rather than being based on any sort of empirical research, and it’s become popular because it offers us rules, which is something we love.

    I’m not particularly interested in dating anyone who’s significantly younger than me (and as I get older, I find my patience for people significantly younger than I am decreases with each passing year), but having said that, I’m still suspicious of the idea that such a simple formula can actually provide any sort of realistic guidelines for the messy, complicated world of real-life relationships.

    • admin
      Jun 9, 2013

      It’s my understanding that it is much older than Savage is, from the fifties or sixties I believe. That said, I got the information from a Wikipedia page, so who knows how accurate it is. It’s not supposed to be taken very seriously for the exact reason you cited: there is no empirical evidence that this equation actually holds true. But yes, we humans love to have rules and guidelines so as to ease the cerebral energy it takes to live this crazy thing we called life, so for that reason it’s potentially useful for some.

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