Thursday, April 29, 2021

Within age-gap relationships, older men & women were perceived as reaping greater rewards than their younger partners; perceived inequity predicted prejudice towards age-gap, but not age-matched, couples

Perceived inequity predicts prejudice towards age-gap relationships. Brian Collisson & Luciana Ponce De Leon. Current Psychology volume 39, pages2108–2115, Dec 2020.

Abstract: Age-gap couples often elicit negative stereotypes and prejudice. According to social exchange and equity theories, we predicted that prejudice towards age-gap couples may stem from perceived relational inequity. We hypothesized that age-gap, as compared to age-matched, couples were perceived as less equitable and, as a result, less liked. To test these hypotheses, people evaluated, and inferred the equity of, age-gap and age-matched relationships. We found that age-gap, as compared to age-matched, couples were more disliked and perceived as less equitable. Within age-gap relationships, older men and women were perceived as reaping greater rewards than their younger partners. Importantly, perceived inequity predicted prejudice towards age-gap, but not age-matched, couples. In exploratory analyses, age-gap couples consistently elicited significantly more prejudice than other types of couples. Implications for age-gap relationships and future research are discussed.

In sum, our hypotheses were largely confirmed. People
expressed greater prejudice towards age-gap couples than
age-matched couples. People also perceived greater inequity
among age-gap couples, such that they perceived that older
partners reap greater rewards than their younger partners.
Furthermore, perceived inequity predicted prejudice towards
age-gap, but not age-matched, couples. That is, the more onesided
people perceived age-gap relationships to be, the more
prejudice they expressed.
However, it is also important to note that for both types of
age-gap couples (i.e., old man/young woman, young man/old
woman), people expressed greater prejudice and perceived
greater inequity than they did for age-matched couples (i.e.,
young man, young woman, old man/old woman). However,
the relation between perceived inequity and prejudice was
greater for old man/young woman couples than young man/
old woman. Although this null effect should be interpreted
cautiously, it does suggest that the degree to which people
perceive certain relationships as inequitable may better predict
prejudice towards some couples more than others.
Furthermore, our exploratory analyses found that participants
own age and gender did not moderate their prejudice
towards age-gap couples. However, exploratory analyses did
reveal differences in the amount of prejudice elicited by different
types of couples (e.g., those who differ in race, weight,
or finances). Interestingly, people evaluated age-gap couples
less favorably than interracial, mixed-weight, or mixedsocioeconomic
status couples. Because this finding was not
predicted, it should be interpreted cautiously. Nonetheless, it
suggests the need for further research on age-gap couples, in
general, and the potential reasons why age-gap couples might
elicit greater prejudice than other types of couples,
Although exploratory analyses are interesting and potentially
meaningful for future theory development, exploratory
findings should be interpreted cautiously. They were not predicted
and are currently not supported by theory. For instance,
it is possible that people may perceive that age-gap couples are
more inequitable than other types of couples and therefore,
elicit greater prejudice. It is also possible that people perceive
age-related prejudice as more socially acceptable than race or
weight-related prejudice and therefore, feel more comfortable
rating age-gap couples negatively. Replicating and explaining
why age-gap couples elicit greater prejudice than other couples
may be a fruitful avenue for future research.

These findings may have implications for people currently
within, or who may later form, age-gap relationships. For those
currently in age-gap relationships, people’s perceptions of inequity
and corresponding prejudice may stigmatize the couple
and possibly lead to relationship dissolution. Indeed, age-gap
couples tend to be less committed to their relationships than
non-stigmatized couples (Lehmiller and Agnew 2006, 2008).
Future research is needed to more clearly identify how prejudice
towards age-gap relationships may lead to increased conflict,
dissatisfaction, and possibly relationship dissolution.
Future research studies may also explore whether age-gap,
and other marginalized, couples’ lower levels of commitment
to their relationships reflect societal disapproval and stigma or
true differences in inequity. More research is needed to survey
actual age-gap couples and determine the extent to which one
partner contributes more, or less, than the other. If people’s
stereotypic perceptions of inequity are accurate, then actual
age-gap couples may be less committed than other couples
because of their inequitable investment. Certainly, more research
is needed to explore the commitment experienced within
age-gap relationships.
For those who may later form age-gap relationships, a
younger partner may stereotypically infer that the older partner
contributes more to the relationship as an effort to equalize
the partnership. Similarly, it is possibly that the partner perceived
to benefit more may feel pressure to highlight the rewards
he or she may bring to a relationship to provide equity.
For instance, older partners may highlight their wealth or
wisdom to attract younger partners and combat perceived inequity
inferences from others (e.g., friends and family).
Conversely, people may stereotypically infer that the younger
partner in an age-gap relationship contributes more than
his or her partner. It is possible that this inference may pressure
younger partners to downplay his or her contributions to the
relationship and thus avoid perceived inequity from others.
Future studies which survey the experiences of actual couples
within age-gap relationships seems like a logical extension of
the current research.
Furthermore, the current research may also have implications
for later stigma-reduction interventions. If perceived inequity
underlies people’s prejudice towards age-gap couples,
then future studies which manipulate perceived equity may
find decreases in prejudice. Indeed, other studies regarding
Bmismatched^ couples, such as interracial relationships
(Miller et al. 2004a, b) and mixed-weight relationships
(Collisson et al. 2016) show that perceived inequity is indeed
related to people’s attitudes towards couples. It is possible that
highlighting equity among age-gap couples, and other dissimilar
couples, may reduce prejudice.

Strengths & Limitations
The current research has many strengths, as well as limitations.
In regard to strengths, first, the current research replicates
and extends the only study which qualitatively assessed
age-gap prejudice (Banks and Arnold 2001) and provides theoretical
support for the role of equity within age-gap relationships
(Lehmiller and Agnew 2011). Second, the current research
draws upon social exchange and relationship theories
to offer an empirically supported explanation regarding why
people may dislike age-gap relationships. Indeed, it bridges
romantic relationship and prejudice literatures in a novel and
theoretically meaningful way. Third, the current research
shows the relationship between perceived inequity and prejudice
towards age-gap couples in a hypothetical context.
Indeed, people may describe unknown couples in such generic
terms, such as the Byoung man^ dating the Bolder woman.^
Regardless, given psychology’s concern about replicability
(see Klein et al., 2014), these findings would be replicated
using other, more naturalistic paradigms. Indeed, viewing a
picture or video of an age-gap couple may be another way to
assess people’s perceived inequity and prejudicial attitudes. In
the current study, it may have been difficult for participants to
imagine age-gap couples given its hypothetical and generic
wording. In more realistic scenarios, people may have more
information of the couple to base their level of prejudice and
perceptions of equity. When this information is lacking, it
appears that people generally express prejudice towards agegap
couples and perceive them as inequitable.
Furthermore, people’s prejudicial attitudes towards agegap
couples were limited to response scales. Future research
may choose to assess prejudice and potential discrimination
towards age-gap couples in more ecologically valid, real
world situations, such as dating scenes or marriage venues.
Additionally, the findings were limited in their experimental
realism. For instance, asking participants to rate hypothetical
couples not reflect the true feelings people may experience
when witnessing such couples. Future studies may ethically
replicate and extend the current research in more natural
In addition, the current research offered a more general
description of age-gaps (e.g., a young person dating an old
person). Future studies may choose to use more specific interval
ranges (e.g., dating someone 5, 10, 15 years younger/
older). More specific age ranges would allow researchers to
test whether the specific age range affects people’s prejudice
and perceptions of equity.
Another limitation of the current research is in regard to its
online sample of participants. Although Amazon’s
Mechanical Turk allows researchers to recruit a significantly
more diverse and representative sample than traditional college
students (Buhrmester, Kwang,&Gosling, 2011), it still is
not a fully representative sample. Online samples tend to be
more educated and participate for intrinsically motivating reasons,
such as enjoyment of research. Future studies may
choose to selectively recruit a representative sample which
varies more widely in age, education, and ethnicity to more
aptly test whether participants’ own demographic variables
relate to their perceptions of age-gap couples. It may be possible,
for instance, that younger people may give greater
weight to appearance and vitality; whereas, older people
may give greater weight to financial stability and life management

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