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Why isn't everyone doing it? - Elizabeth Unexplained
Lots of data but no answers
Why isn't everyone doing it?
There is a question that has been on my mind a lot lately: Why don't more of my friends have children? I've been wondering ever since my baby shower, when I realized that the vast majority of people at the shower did not have kids. Since most of my friends are around my age and given that I've started my family on the late side, this would lead me to conclude that a lot of my friends aren't planning on having children. I'd like to know why that is.

I did a quick survey of my friends list, figuring that it is roughly representative of my friends in general. It turns out that I have almost as many single friends as I do married ones. Of the ones that are married, half of those are childless. I did some slightly odd counting, such as counting divorced-with-kids as being the same category as married-with kids, but that's roughly how it works out.

I will admit that some potential answers are obvious, especially after last night. Kids are a lot of work. Also, they might keep you up when you'd really like to sleep by making grunting & squeaking noises in spite of the fact that they are not hungry, dirty or gassy. Yes, I understand that knowing what is in store a smart person might not want to sign up for all that. On the other hand it still baffles me because it seems like a terrible lot to sacrifice in the name of uninterrupted sleep. Then there are people with obstacles to reproduction. I know I'm not the only one with a reproductive system with issues, and I can only guess that there may be a person or two on my friends list who might not be quite as open about it as I am. Similarly some of my friends are gay, which is not an absolute bar to reproducing, but it does make things extra-tricky. Then there are all the single folks... being single makes it much harder to have kids, but I can't help but think that if having children were a high priority more of the single folks would have gotten married by now.

The thing is, I think most of my friends would make good parents. After all, my friends tend to be smart, successful people. So, if you don't have kids and don't mind commenting on the subject, I'd love it if you let me know what your thoughts are on the subject.
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firstfrost From: firstfrost Date: July 14th, 2008 05:48 pm (UTC) (Link)
It's kind of hard to explain what one wants versus what one doesn't want. :) But... I don't feel like I have a kids-sized hole in my life. Kids are nice. My nieces are adorable, but I don't find myself envious of my sister for having kids. It's a bit like why I don't do theater (especially after having people try to recruit me for tech staff) - yes, I would probably enjoy it and be good at it, it would add another good thing to my life. But adding that one thing would crowd out a lot of things that I have and am happy with, and at some point you can't fit any more life in.
firstfrost From: firstfrost Date: July 14th, 2008 06:40 pm (UTC) (Link)


A few places above this in my friends list was this entry from someone talking about her own kid-related instincts.
psychohist From: psychohist Date: July 14th, 2008 05:56 pm (UTC) (Link)
One thing I'd note is that the question seems to assume that the default is to want kids, and to be fair, it's not clear to me that's the default. The question may be more, why do those of us who have kids, want them?
chenoameg From: chenoameg Date: July 14th, 2008 06:44 pm (UTC) (Link)

Why do I want to be a parent?

- I think that my children will be an asset to humanity.

- I feel a responsibility to society, and should do something to help society. Parenting is a contribution I think I would be good at.

- I want to do something hard with ringrose that's worthwhile.

- It's what I've wanted to do ever since I was little. Seriously-- when they asked me at my college interview "where do you see yourself in twenty years?" I said "Raising my family" and then I thought I would never get in. (I did, and matriculated and everything :-)

countertorque From: countertorque Date: July 14th, 2008 09:26 pm (UTC) (Link)
Uhm, aren't we genetically programmed to want kids?
greyautumnrain From: greyautumnrain Date: July 14th, 2008 10:09 pm (UTC) (Link)
Well, that was my assumption. I took ethology at MIT, and the entire premise of that branch of study was that passing on our genes drives much of animal (and presumably human) behaviour. In fact psychohist should know this because he borrowed my text for that class eight years ago and I just noticed he never put it back with my books.
psychohist From: psychohist Date: July 14th, 2008 10:29 pm (UTC) (Link)
Not necessarily. We're genetically programmed to have kids, but that isn't the same thing as being genetically programmed to want them.

Our genetic programming happened in the absence of effective birth control. In that environment, we could be genetically programmed to have kids by:

(1) Being genetically programmed to want sex

(2) Being genetically programmed for an evolutionarily stable strategy that balances (a) being genetically programmed to care for kids once we have them, irrespective of whether we wanted them before, and (b) being genetically programmed to dump kids on partners (or others) to care for them.

I think the evidence indicates that most males, at least, are more strongly programmed to want sex than to want kids directly. Note that the fact that I think this is true does not mean that I approve of it.
psychohist From: psychohist Date: July 17th, 2008 01:48 am (UTC) (Link)
Hm. I don't feel like I'm in the genetically programmed camp, so perhaps I should answer my own question on why I want kids.

I do have some cultural programming to want kids. My dad had eight siblings, and he once said he thought everyone had a right to have as many kids as he wanted. I certainly wouldn't go that far - the entitlement mentality part of that statement really turned me off, actually - but it did keep me open to the possibility that it might be okay to have children. I don't think this was a strong effect, but it was an effect.

I think that mainly, it has to do with what I'd like the future to be like. I can make a contribution to the future through work and such, but I'd also like to make a genetic contribution. This even goes beyond just taking advantage of its being the only form of immortality currently available.

I do recognize that there are already too many people in the world due to the couple generations of petroleum induced plenty we're currently in the middle of. I completely respect the people who refrain from having kids for that reason, just as I do the people who simply choose not to have kids because it's not for them. However, I don't think the correct solution is for all of us K-selected types to refrain from having children even though we can support them. That would just leave the gene pool entirely to r-selection for genes that encourage reproduction with abandon on the assumption that food is free, which I don't see as a good thing.
dcltdw From: dcltdw Date: July 14th, 2008 06:38 pm (UTC) (Link)
Warren nailed it. Or to facetiously paraphrase you:

The thing is, I think most of my friends would make good rock climbers. After all, my friends tend to be smart, successful people. So, if you aren't into rock climbing and don't mind commenting on the subject, et cetera

To me, the real eye-opener was realizing how much social programming there is in having kids. It took me quite awhile to overcome the sense that, after getting married, I'm supposed to have kids. (To go on a tangent, it really made me appreciate how much social programming I feel there is for "well, everyone is supposed to get married", which I'm sure makes many happy single people go "..." with varying levels of, ah, politeness. :) )

To return to my facetious statement, being smart or successful, to me, has very little correlation with whether someone would be a good parent. Me, I want parents to be the kind of people who are independently and collectively centered and stable, have the financial wherewithal to have kids, like being around kids, and have excellent intuition (and if possible due to family or friends, experience) in raising kids.

For me... "mostly, but perhaps insufficiently", "no problem", "not really", "not even a little" are my answers. :) Which leads me to say, "hey, wait, I've got an idea: I shouldn't have kids!".
twe From: twe Date: July 14th, 2008 09:37 pm (UTC) (Link)
I'm pretty sure most of her friends would not actually make good rock-climbers though. :)
greyautumnrain From: greyautumnrain Date: July 14th, 2008 10:22 pm (UTC) (Link)
Well, I would say the answer to why people want to have kids is in the book Warren borrowed from me several years ago, or more generally can be derived from Darwin's writings: reproduction is an instinctual biological imperative. Those who lack the instinct to reproduce are less likely to reproduce. I don't think there is any evolutionary advantage to being a rock climber, unless you happen to be a mountain goat.
(no subject) - (Anonymous) - Expand
From: undauntra Date: July 14th, 2008 10:17 pm (UTC) (Link)


Married, no kids. I've been trying for a year and a half now. Therefore, the reason I don't have kids is "Biology hates me."
greyautumnrain From: greyautumnrain Date: July 14th, 2008 10:23 pm (UTC) (Link)

Re: Datapoint

A reason I understand all to well. Good luck with that.
readsalot From: readsalot Date: July 14th, 2008 11:25 pm (UTC) (Link)
I have been totally uninterested in having children since I reached puberty and had to confront the biological possibility. My mother kept telling me that I'd change my mind when I got older, but she was wrong in that, as she was in so many other things.

I became an aunt at the age of 11 (note that this isn't really weird--my brother is 12 years older than me and had been married for a couple of years at that point.) When we went to his house to visit, my parents oohed and aahed at the sleeping infant, while I played with his dog. I thought I was getting the better of the deal, even though no one else did. :)

I'm perfectly happy for my friends to have children; I wish them joy, and I'm even willing to babysit on occasion. I just don't have any desire for children of my own.
kirisutogomen From: kirisutogomen Date: July 15th, 2008 03:03 am (UTC) (Link)
Oh, and the answer to your question is that I do not have reliable access to a womb.
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