Silver daddies: Why do young adult men like older partners?

We spoke to UBC sociologist Dr. Tony Silva about why younger adult men are interested in older men for sex and relationships.

One older man and one younger man holding each other's hand while walking.

You’ve probably heard of “sugar daddies.” Or “the internet’s daddy,” Pedro Pascal. Stereotypes of this popular term abound, but what does it actually mean to be a “daddy”? And who is most likely to engage in age-gap relationships, and why?

Daddies of a Different Kind, published today by UBC sociologist and assistant professor Dr. Tony Silva (he/him), analyzes the stories of gay and bisexual daddies and asks why younger adult men are interested in older men for sex and relationships.

We spoke to Dr. Silva about his findings.

What is a daddy and why were you interested in studying them?

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Front cover of Dr. Tony Silva’s new book, Daddies of a Different Kind.

Many people think of a daddy as a desirable, confident older man who may be paired with a younger partner. The term has gained popularity in recent years, and while it is used in the context of heterosexual, gay or bisexual relationships, research across the Western world shows that age-gap relationships are far more prevalent among gay and bisexual men than any other group. I was interested in finding out why, and learning more about the older men who identify or are perceived as daddies, and what it means to them.

For this book, I interviewed men in their twenties and thirties who partnered with older men, and men in their forties through late sixties who partnered with younger adult men in their twenties and thirties. Some of the older men actively identified as daddies, while others did not necessarily identify that way, but still fulfilled a daddy role and were aware that others saw them as daddies.

What does it mean to be a daddy?

For many of the older men I spoke to, being a daddy was not just about age and sexual and romantic partnerships, but also a sense of responsibility, mentorship and guidance.

As daddies, they saw themselves as providing emotional support, wisdom and life experience to their younger partners: whether that means helping younger adult men figure out career paths, how to come out, or how to integrate into gay and bisexual communities.

For many older men, it was also a point of pride and self-worth, as they felt that their age and experience made them more attractive and desirable to younger men.

The youngest daddy I interviewed was 43, and in general, men started seeing themselves as daddies in their 40s. Contrary to the popular stereotype of older men going after younger guys, it was often younger men who approached them on dating apps once they had silver hair or had other physical markers of aging, and that really sparked their transformation into a daddy.

What do the younger men get out these age-gap relationships?

Some of the reasons why the younger adult men pursued age-gap relationships included a preference for emotionally mature partners, finding older men physically attractive and a desire to learn from older men. Many of the younger adult men also found age-gap pairings sexually exciting and emotionally fulfilling and were drawn by the idea of having a mentor or role model in their partner.

Whether gay or straight, age-gap relationships can involve a power difference. How did the men you spoke to navigate that?

In most cases, there was a sense of responsibility the older men felt to make sure they treated younger adult men with a particular care and made sure they didn’t disadvantage the younger adult man in any way. In contrast to what many people assume, I found little evidence of widespread power differences that harmed either the younger or older men.

For many men, these cross-generational connections between adults seem like they’re a major part of what it means to be a gay or bisexual man today. According to some demographic research I’m currently working on, it looks like these relationships are actually becoming more common, not less.

But there’s still a lot of stigma and misinterpretation around age-gap relationships, so even though many of the men I spoke to were openly gay or bisexual, they don’t always talk about their age-gap relationships outside of other LGBT groups. This research helps us move beyond stereotypes.