December 18, 2008

Disapproval of teenage sex across the lifespan

We always hear about how young people don't want to mature, against the best efforts of their elders to make them grow up. This is wrong. Young people themselves are eager to become adults quickly, while their adult supervisors wish they would remain in limbo forever, preferably by overeducating or otherwise overqualifying themselves.

I have more graphs to back this up, which I'll post soon, but for now let's just look at how approving people are of sex between teenagers who are between 14 and 16 years old. By disapproving, the person is saying that they're not adult enough -- that they should delay growing up, despite being capable of growing up now. It's like, "Yeah, you can work full-time right now -- but you should wait 5 to 10 years until you're through with your education." The GSS asks people the following question (TEENSEX):

What if [a male and female] are in their early teens, say 14 to 16 years old? In that case, do you think sex relations before marriage are always wrong, almost always wrong, wrong only sometimes, or not wrong at all?


Most people say "always wrong," so I'll just look at that response and how it varies by the respondent's age, from 18 to 85 (click for better view):


No surprise that responses are highly predictable by age for a question about what a certain age group should or shouldn't do. The Spearman rank correlation is +0.96, two-tailed p less than 10^(-6). Those hotheaded 18 year-olds are the only demographic group I could find where a majority don't think teenage sex is always wrong. You can project the line to the left to see how the 14 to 16 year-olds themselves would respond. Hey, if the so-called victims don't think it's wrong...

This is just one case of the elders wanting to shield anatomically adult people from the harsh realities of Adult World, but there are similar trends for the proportion who think that people should get married young, should have children young, and so on. Older people don't want people passing any such milestones while young -- they'd prefer if young people delayed becoming adults -- while young people are eager to pass them sooner rather than later.

I'll also post a follow-up to this post at GNXP.com, looking at how disapproval of teen sex varies by four indicators of social class, and why it varies the way it does.

10 comments:

  1. Nobody10:41 AM

    Young people themselves are eager to become adults quickly, while their adult supervisors wish they would remain in limbo forever, preferably by overeducating or otherwise overqualifying themselves.

    Thank you for this. It drives me crazy how society doesn't understand this. Drove me crazy back when I was young, too.

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  2. One problem with age comparisons in the GSS is distinguishing time-related changes from age-related changes. So theoretically people could gradually change their opinion on topic X over their lifespan, or it could be that people stay the same over their lifespan, but that younger successive cohorts gradually change their opinion. (not that I'm saying this is what you are showing)

    Several times I've tried to get around this in the GSS by looking at birth cohort instead.

    i.e. comparing 20yo, 30yo, and 40 yo in 1975 with 50yo, 60yo, and 70yo in 2005.

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  3. One problem with age comparisons in the GSS is distinguishing time-related changes from age-related changes.

    True. Actually, the GSS has a variable COHORT that is just the person's birth year, and then you could restrict AGE to lie within 18 - 24 (or whatever).

    Here, though, I think it's safe to view the contrast as one of development rather than a secular change.

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  4. Anonymous6:22 PM

    Hi,

    I recently stumbled upon your blog during a search for the peak age of physical attractiveness for females. You have some very high quality posts about a subject that is normally impossible to discuss dispassionately on the internet.

    I was wondering if you could do a similar post on the peak physical attractiveness of males. It's incredibly hard to find good information on that topic, of course, because it matters much less than for females. The closest I've been able to find is that male attractiveness peaks in the early twenties, plateaus through the mid twenties, and declines from there onward. It would be nice if there were some hard numbers to back that statement up.

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  5. Anon @6:22 -

    As an over-40 male who is highly interested in fitness, I can say that most men really let themselves go physically after age 35 or thereabout. Many formerly fit guys, even ones who were excellent athletes in high school and college, become sedentary and start packing on the pounds once they hit their mid-30's. Of course this is not true for everyone, but I've seen it happen ofter enough to suspect it's a general rule.

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  6. Anonymous10:00 AM

    "Of course this is not true for everyone, but I've seen it happen ofter enough to suspect it's a general rule."

    I wouldn't be surprised at all if you are right. However, physical attractiveness is way more than just pure fitness. Take, for example, women who keep themselves in great shape throughout their lives, and not the ones who let themselves go in their twenties. Even the hottest of the hot peak sometime between 20-24, and there's nothing they can do to change that.

    I've read that the reason is mostly facial structure. Look at Natalie Portman now, and when she was in her early twenties. She is still very hot, but she was noticeably cuter five years ago. I wonder if the same is true for men, or if growing into an older facial shape is rated as more attractive for women.

    It's just so difficult to find the peak parameters for male physical attractiveness because it matters so little compared to economic status. Still, this is burning question I've had for a while now, and nobody seems to have a definitive answer.

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  7. You've noticed that too about Natalie Portman? Thank god. She has a very strong masculine face now.

    Read Zebrowitz's articles on babyfaceness, since she also looks at attractiveness (search PubMed). Or read her book Reading Faces.

    From what I remember, facial attractiveness declines at similar rates for men and women. The twist is that babyfaceness makes a big diff as a guy ages -- helps to slow the decline in attractiveness. It doesn't do so for women (probably because they're already pretty babyfaced, so diminishing returns have set in).

    Things like skin tightness must show similar rates of decay. And the fitness thing already alluded to. Not to mention receding hairlines.

    So yeah, I'd guess that guys peak around 25 and really go downhill in their 30s, on average.

    I'm not too interested in looking up new data because I can't get as into the subject as with female looks. Someone might look up gay porn actors, gay Czech prostitutes, etc. -- gays are judged more on looks than straight guys.

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  8. Just on intuition I would say that if you're attractive in a feminine, prettyboy way, then you'll lose that in much the same was as a woman (or even faster) but if you've got rugged, testosterone-fueled good looks, you'll keep those a lot longer. this could even improve with age (up to a point)

    I'm not aware of any evidence to back that up, but there is evidence that both hyper-male and especially feminine male faces are both more attractive than bog-standard male ones. clearly they can't be attractive in the same way.

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  9. No, it's like I said -- having a babyface makes guys better looking as adults, though not as adolescents.

    The photos are of the same person, taken from different times in their lives, and they're rated at the same time (they're archival data).

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  10. Lauren10:03 AM

    I have only my own experience as an 18yo to go off of, but I'm depressed over the prospect of growing up - going to college, working, dating and relationships. The teenage years are fantastic, but I think so many people are whizzing through them without a second thought. In this instance, I think you're right - teens as a whole are very eager to grow up. As for your graph, if teens want to have sex, they'll have sex. It doesn't make sense to victimize them.

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