January 10, 2010

People in age-diverse clubs are less trusting, and that kills the mood

A little bit ago I showed why an older guy looking for a younger girl should search for them in a place where everyone is her age, and the guy is one of only a few outliers. It's much more difficult in a place where ages run the gamut. I chalked it up to how comfortable she would feel -- very much so when she fits in age-wise, uneasy when there's a broad mix, and not safe when she stands out as an outlier among fogies.

I still believe that description, but what's the source of her comfort or discomfort? I think it boils down to trust, in particular trusting that if she makes a move to "cooperate" (in Prisoner's Dilemma terms) by putting herself out there, it will be reciprocated rather than spurned. There's a great book, Coethnicity, that reviews the empirical results which show higher ethnic diversity associated with lower levels of trust and less provision of public goods. The authors propose many mechanisms that could drive this pattern, but they conclude that it mostly comes down to Zoe expecting co-ethnics to reciprocate her cooperative moves and to punish her if she shirks, while she doesn't expect the first or fear the latter reprisal from other-ethnics.

So in a highly mixed-age setting, if she belongs to the teenage ethnic group and you belong to the 20-something ethnic group, how does she know that if she makes a move on you, you won't view her as some weird immature little girl who presumes to be attractive to older guys? Plus she doesn't feel pressure from her own ethnic group or from other groups to approach members of other groups, whereas she feels she'll be ostracized by her group as a wet blanket if she doesn't approach people her own age (that is, if she "defects" from the game of mingling).

Thus, she's much more secure in approaching a boy of similar age because she expects greater reciprocity in the first place. Moreover, she feels compelled to approach boys her age in order to avoid the punishment from her age-mates if she were to not play along. And she's aware that the boys her age are going through the same thought process. So she trusts interacting with same-age boys more than older-age boys, even if she's equally attracted to both. When interacting with the former, there is greater norm enforcement, and trust is a precondition for having fun with someone.

That all changes, though, when most of the people are her age and you're an outlier. We expect guests to assimilate to our norms, at least as long as they're in our company. As the 20-something guest among the teenage ethnic group, you're expected to reciprocate advances, and you can expect them to quickly cast you out if you show disdain for their customs. Well now the situation is like it is when the boy is her own age -- the risk of being cruelly or callously rejected shrinks, even though the reward remains just as valuable, so she's more likely to indulge her desire to approach a cute older guy.

And of course, her worst nightmare is the opposite situation, where she's the teenage guest among people who are mostly in their 30s or older. This time, even if she tries to assimilate into the older group, she can't expect reciprocity from her target guy as much as before. The simple reason is that he feels incredible peer pressure to reject her advances, in part from male co-ethnics who are envious of him being approached by a pretty young thing, but more so from jealous female co-ethnics. More, she doesn't expect her own group to punish her if she doesn't make a good-faith effort to mingle -- they're not even there, and even if they were, wouldn't care much. And the other-ethnic group definitely won't punish her for not joining in -- if anything, most of them would punish her for trying to join. Her trust in the interactions now evaporates, and she doesn't approach anyone.

As I said in my first post, this applies to any setting, not just night clubs. Teenage girls will make moves on their tutor or teacher (assuming they find him attractive) because most of the people in that setting are her age. She's much less likely to in a setting that includes teenagers, graduate students, post-docs, and tenured faculty. And she's not likely at all to do so when most of the people are tenured faculty.

Again, it may sound strange to approach younger girls where you'll stick out as an outlier age-wise, but assuming you have any chance at all, that's where it's the greatest. * By taking the easy and more intuitive path of pursuing them where you'll blend into a broad range of ages, you allow trust-aborting diversity to spoil your fun.

* The same holds for any difference that can be construed as an ethnic difference, obviously including race: if you want a Cuban girl to feel comfortable approaching you, don't go to a club where Cubans are only one of a wide variety of races, but to a club that has a mostly Cuban crowd and you're the guest.


  1. Steve Johnson1/10/10, 3:44 PM

    if you want a Cuban girl to feel comfortable approaching you, don't go to a club where Cubans are only one of a wide variety of races, but to a club that has a mostly Cuban crowd and you're the guest.

    Going to a mono-ethnic club and hitting on women as an outsider is a good idea? Really?

  2. Note what I said, though: if you want her to feel comfortable approaching you.

    You could say the same about going to a mostly college-aged club and hitting on girls 11 years younger than you, embittering a bunch of their male agemates.

  3. Steve Johnson1/10/10, 9:25 PM

    There's a big difference in the risk of violence between a bunch of Cubans and a bunch of teenagers. Teenagers these days are very diffident.

    This might be correlated with your original idea. Girls will be more free to approach precisely because the guy is in a superficially dangerous situation. He's either so bad ass that he's not worried or he's got high social status and is in no danger.

  4. Both Steve and Agnostic are making good points, though incompletely. To stick wit hteh Cuban club scenario, it's best to pick up girls at such a club if you are an outsider AND you are there with above-average status Cuban male friends.

  5. Although I quickly kept it from showing, I can't completely shake the odd feeling I get when I'm hanging out with a group of friends who are 6-10 years younger than me. But it is a non-issue to them. The only time it even gets mentioned is by a friend of friend who isn't yet comfortable with me--it's an instinctively protective response on the unknown's part. I don't go clubbing, but I'm confident the dynamics are the same.

    The point hit home when I took an 18 yo to the zoo with my best friend (who is, like me, 26), a girl he's interested in (age 25), and his interest's younger sister (age 23), a couple of months ago. My girl was beyond quiet; only uncomfortably laughing here and there, she was mute for the first couple of hours except when I'd break off a little ways ahead of or lag a bit behind the others to isolate and engage with her. My friend and his girls left before we did, but my friend came back after walking the sisters to their car. Once they were gone an avalanche ensued as my girl totally came to life--our last couple of hours there were amazing.

    Bottom line, if you're older, immerse yourself in the age group your after. It is indeed best if you are the only one later in years. And if there are a few people your age around, it's better for you if they are guys.


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