Age-Gap Relationship Stigma: A Study on the Effects of Stigmatization and Attachment on Individuals in Age-Gap Relationships

  • Derek Scolpino The New School
  • Howard Steele


The present study seeks to examine the impact that stigmatization has on age-gap couples. Stigmatization can have a negative impact on an individual’s mental health, identity formation, and create feelings of shame. Stigmatized individuals are also exposed to increased risks of social isolation, mental and physical abuse, and stereotyping. In this study, a sample of 103 participants, including 51 individuals in age-gap relations and 52 individuals in age-matched relationships are compared. All participants completed the Experience in Close Relationship Scale (ECR-S) as a measure of maladaptive attachment in adults in a romantic relationship. Participants also completed a novel questionnaire measuring exposure to stigma and stereotyping as a result of their age-gap relationship and how stigma has impacted their mental health and the success of their relationship. Results demonstrated that participants in age-gap relationships reported higher levels of exposure and negative impacts from stigmatization, and that an increase in age difference between romantic partners was positively correlated to increased exposure to stigmatization. While no significant difference was found in ECR-S measures of anxiety between age-gap and age-matched participants, a regression analysis highlighted that low avoidance and exposure to stigma were uniquely linked to large age-gap relationships. This study also revealed that location, measured by region within the United States, plays a significant role in mapping exposure to stigma. Findings from this study will provide key insights into the effects of stigmatization on the well-being of individuals in age-gap relationships, which can be used to help change societal narratives and better address mental health needs of those impacted.

Keywords:       (age-gap relationship; stigma; relationship; stereotypes, age-gap romance, sexism, ageism)