Age Differences

The human need for love is not limited to a particular chronological age or gender, but its features vary with age and sex. The desire for emotional closeness appears to be stronger in younger than in older women, and greater in older than in younger men. Passion and sexual intimacy are generally of greater importance to younger adults, whereas affection and faithfulness are more important to older adults (Huyck, 1982). It seems that the passions of youth either burn out or become transformed into more serene and tender feelings in old age. There are, however, both similarities and differences in the way adults of different ages perceive love. For example, in a study of factors important in love at different chronological ages, Reedy, Birren, and Schaie (1981) found that, at all ages, emotional security was ranked first, followed by respect, communication, help and play behaviors, sexual intimacy, and loyalty. Although the relative rankings of these factors remained constant across age groups, the exact scores on each variable varied somewhat with age. Thus, the communication score was higher for younger adults than for middle-aged and older adults, sexual intimacy was higher for younger and middle-aged adults than for older adults, and emotional security and loyalty were higher for older adults than for younger and middle-aged adults. However, because most such studies are cross-sectional, it is possible that the results reflect cohort differences rather than aging per se. Thus, when today's young adults reach middle- and older adulthood, it may be that their judgments of factors important in love will be more similar to what they are now than to those of today's older adults.

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