If you are looking for a cougar or sugar daddy to support you, forget it. A new study shows you might be better off with someone your own age.
Indeed, researchers found that those who are married to older or younger spouses have, on average, lower salaries and lower cognitive abilities, and are not as educated or attractive as couples of similar ages.
"Hugh Hefner is an outlier," said Dr. Hani Mansour, an assistant professor of economics at the University of Colorado in Denver, in a press release. "Our results call into question the conventional wisdom regarding differently-aged couples."
Mansour co-authored the study -- published online last week in the Review of Economics and Statistics -- with Dr. Terra McKinnish, associate professor of economics at the University of Colorado in Boulder.
The researchers didn't provide a range of how much older or younger a spouse had to be to see the above negative effects. They simply found that the greater the age difference, the higher the negative indicators.
The researchers say their findings largely reflect the varying networks that lower or higher ability people belong to. For example, Mansour said that those attending four-year colleges tend to mix more with people around their own age. After graduation, they and their peers often start their climb up the career ladder at a time when people tend to marry.
In comparison, those who attend community colleges or work in low-skilled jobs with little chance of advancement are more likely to mix with people of all different ages, increasing their chances of marrying someone significantly younger or older, the study said.
"It really depends on who your social network is," Mansour said. "People with lower earning potential are in networks that are more age diverse."
The study also found that men married to younger or older spouses earned less money than those married to women of a similar age.
In the 1980 Census, for example, men married to women eight or more years younger or older earned on average $3,495 less per year than men married to women no more than a year older or younger.
The study also found most cougar couples bear little resemblance to Demi Moore and Ashton Kutcher.
The economists examined U.S. Census Bureau data from 1960 through 2000. They looked at people's ages at their first marriage, completed education, occupational wages and earnings. They also used the 1979 National Longitudinal Survey of Youth to measure cognitive skills and the National Longitudinal Survey of Adolescent Health (Add Health) to evaluate physical attractiveness.
Although there has been a lot of talk about cougars in the media in recent years, the researchers said the idea of older women seeking younger men is nothing new.
"We really didn't find any evidence of a new cougar phenomenon," Mansour said in the press release. "Although their share has slightly increased over time, cougars have been among us since the 1960s."
The real trend, he noted, is that people of similar ages are increasingly marrying each other.
"The benefits from marriage might be changing. When you are close in age you can do things together," he said. "You can have children when both parties want to, retire at the same time and grow old together"