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When a friend opts to date someone who is old enough to be their parent, a common response is to see if the decision passes the “half their age plus seven” test.The rule, whose origins remain mysterious, has been passed down through generations as a way of justifying or, more commonly, pouring scorn on other people’s couplings.

Some economists have wondered whether smaller age gaps between partners could have wider, societal benefits, as they might help to narrow the gender earnings gap.The older you get, the wider the permissible age gap: a 50-year-old can venture as old as 86. In practice, research conducted by Christian Rudder, co-founder of OKCupid, a dating website, suggests that when it comes to age gaps, men and women have slightly different ideas.While female users look for men roughly the same age as them (or perhaps a year or two older) men prefer women in their early twenties, regardless of their own age.It did not find a strong link between age gaps and divorce rates in England and Wales, though there was some evidence that women marrying later than 30 who were more than ten years older than their spouse were more likely to divorce.Common sense does suggest that a large age gap would have implications for old age.