What Does Robbing the Cradle Mean?

Robbing the Cradle Meaning

Definition: To marry or date someone who is much younger than oneself.

Origin of Robbing the Cradle

Rob means to steal and cradle is a bed for a baby. Therefore, someone who robs a cradle, in a literal sense, is stealing a young baby from its cradle, away from its mom and dad.

The figurative sense uses this imagery to imply that an older person dating a much younger person is also stealing a child away from his or her parents. This expression originated in the first half of the 1900s.

A lesser-used meaning involves any type of exploitation of the very young. An example of this could be the recruitment of young teenagers to fight in the civil war.

Examples of Robbing the Cradle

cradle robbing meaningHere is an example in which two roommates are reading blogs about celebrities.

Mario: I can’t believe that my favorite actor is dating someone so much younger than himself.

Axel: Why? How old is he and how old is she?

Mario: He’s 62, and she’s only 18.

Axel: I thought it was common for men to like younger women.

Mario: Perhaps so, but he never seemed like the type to rob the cradle.

robing the cradleIn this example, two college students are discussing the divorce of one of their parents.

Roger: My parents’ divorce keeps getting messier and messier. At least I’ve already moved out and don’t have to deal with the problem every day.

Noel: What’s going on now?

Roger: Since my parents are legally separated, my mom decided to start dating again. And I really have no problem with that at all. However, she decided she had to rob the cradle and date someone my age!

Noel: I can see how that might be awkward.

Roger: I just wish she would find someone more mature to date.

More Examples

This excerpt is from an article about a Lifetime movie and the actress in it.

  • Miller has her own record of playing real-life folks, including cradle-robbing criminal teacher, Mary Kay Letourneau to former First Lady of New York, Donna Hanover — but this one arrested her attention more than any other. –New York Daily News

The second example is about a politician visiting a family with a sick baby.

  • She added that about half the time the campaign callers asked for her husband, who had died two years earlier. Santorum said he apologized, but he also told the woman that her late husband “must have robbed the cradle” because she appeared so youthful. –Des Moines Register


The idiom rob the cradle means to be romantically involved with someone who has a much lower age than oneself.

This phrase can also refer to other types exploitation of much younger people, although this second definition is much less common.