It's a tale as old as time. Sean Penn is the latest Hollywood star to submit to the cliche of the successful older man dating a much younger woman. At 56, he's gone public with his new partner, 24 year-old Leila George.

At 32 years Penn's junior, She's around the same age as Penn's two children with ex-wife Robin Wright, Dylan and Hopper.

She's 17 years younger than his most recent love interest Charlize Theron, and 26 years younger than Robin Wright.

Leila is the daughter of actor Vincent D'Onofrio (who is only one year older than Penn), which serves to make the whole story even more titillating. Christmas lunch could be incredibly awkward this year.


So what does a young woman like George and an older man like Penn get out of being in a relationship with someone with such different life experience?

Clinical psychologist Sasha Lynn says there are many reasons young women might find themselves attracted to an older man, but their maturity compared with younger men can be a big factor. "Necrologically, men do tend to take a bit longer than women to reach maturity," she says.

Dr Lynn says older men are also more confident and secure in themselves, and are more settled in their lives and careers. If those factors are high on a young woman's list of priorities, older men have a lot to offer.

Add an impressive bank balance, massive Hollywood star power, and a couple of Academy Awards, and a man like Penn can be irresistible.

For older men, being attracted to young women can be about more than just the obvious physical element, according to Dr Lynn. "Again, there can be all sorts of individual factors at play here, but studies have shown older men may be attracted to women who are biologically in their reproductive 'prime', thus setting their sights on those younger than them."

Sean Penn isn't the only one. Michael Douglas and Catherine Zeta Jones have a 25-year age gap. Picture: Stefanie Keenan/Getty Images
Sean Penn isn't the only one. Michael Douglas and Catherine Zeta Jones have a 25-year age gap. Picture: Stefanie Keenan/Getty Images

So as the man ages, the women he finds attractive stay around the same fertile age, so he has the best chance of fathering as many babies as possible.

Can a relationship such as Penn's and George's work out? "Absolutely!" says Dr Lynn. "It's important to ensure there are no mitigating factors that might lead to this kind of attraction, such as unresolved parental issues, but that's true of any relationship. With open communication, personal reflection and work from both partners, a relationship with a large age gap can flourish."

Whether Penn and George will flourish for years to come remains to be seen. Watch this space.


Michael Douglas and Catherine Zeta Jones - 25 years

Harrison Ford and Calista Flockhart - 22 years

Alec Baldwin and Hilaria Thomas - 26 years

Jeff Goldblum and Emilie Livingston - 30 years

Annette Bening and Warren Beatty - 21 years

Rod Stewart and Penny Lancaster - 27 years

Bruce Willis and Emma Heming - 24 years

Ronnie Wood and Sally Humphries - 31 years

Donald and Melania Trump - 23 years

George Clooney and Amal Alamuddin - 17 years

Jason Statham and Rosie Huntington-Whitely - 19 years