Is younger really safer? A qualitative study of perceived risks and benefits of age-disparate relationships among women in Cape Town, South Africa
CITATION: Beauclair, R. & Delva, W. 2013. Is younger really safer? A qualitative study of perceived risks and benefits of age-disparate relationships among women in Cape Town, South Africa. PLoS ONE, 8(11): e81748, doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0081748.
The original publication is available at http://journals.plos.org/plosone
Young women in age-asymmetric relationships may be at an elevated risk for acquisition of HIV, since relationships with older men are also correlated with other risk behaviors like less condom use. Qualitative studies have shown that women are motivated to participate in these relationships for money and emotional support. However, there is a paucity of research on women’s perceived risks of these relationships, particularly in South Africa. To this end, we conducted in-depth interviews with 23 women recruited from three urban communities in Cape Town. A thematic question guide was used to direct the interviews. Thematic content analysis was used to explore women’s perceived risks of age-disparate and non-age-disparate relationships, the benefits of dating older men, and risk perceptions that influence decisions around beginning or ending a relationship. A plurality of women thought that dating an older man does not bring any adverse consequences, although some thought that older men do not use condoms and may be involved in concurrent partnerships. Many women were less inclined to date same-age or younger men, because they were viewed as being disrespectful and abusive. This study points to the need for more awareness raising about the risks of age-disparate relationships. In addition to these initiatives, there is an urgent need to implement holistic approaches to relationship health, in order to curb intimate partner violence, improve gender equity and make non-age-disparate relationships more attractive.