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March 1, 2013 / JayMan

For every person that doesn’t want kids there are 25 that do. Is that so?

Following up on my previous post, a commenter over at Ellen Walker’s Complete Without Kids responded to my comment there with this:

Jayman the problem is that for every person that doesn’t want kids there are 25 that do…

I wanted to see if this was in fact true. So I took a look at what the GSS could tell me.

First, I used the CHLDIDEL variable, which reports the answer on the ideal family size:

childideal wordsum

This is ideal family size of non-Hispanic Whites born 1960-1985, from the 2000-2010 GSS, by WORDSUM.

Taken at face value, indeed, it appears the commenter is more than correct, that the number of people who report an ideal family size of 0 is indeed pretty small (and smaller among the most intelligent respondents).

However, this contrasts with seems to be case anecdotally, especially among the smartest, professional types. Indeed, as commenter “e” noted on one of my earlier posts on the topic, the CHLDIDEL question may not be an accurate measure of who doesn’t personally want children since it asks the ideal family size, not your ideal family size. People may be giving the “acceptable” answer even if they don’t personally want children.

We can however look at the real-world outcomes:

childs wordsum

This is the number of children had by the generation preceding the one in the previous example, non-Hispanic Whites born 1940-1960, from the 2000-2010 GSS, by WORDSUM score. As we can see, for the smartest Whites, about 20% failed to leave any offspring (fortunately, it seems, the same is also true for the dumbest Whites; perhaps consistent with the distribution of IQ: it is those of average ability that seem to have the largest fertility advantage).

Among the smartest Whites (with which we’re most concerned) it’s unclear how much of this is due to the fact that many actually don’t want children at all or simply wait too long to have them, and end up having few or none. But the main point is that it’s clear that problem of actual childless, regardless of actual desire, particularly among the most intelligent isn’t a problem that affects 1 in 25, but more like 1 in 5.

With that considered, perhaps it’s not wise to advocate a child-free lifestyle, particularly with the smart, capable people likely to be receiving such a message (and not the less intelligent people who should be receiving this message, but would be unmoved by how much being child-free allows you pursue a career, which is not at all a realistic possibility for them).

Oh, our commenter over at Walker’s place asked me this:

Have you really never considered the costs of bad/lazy parenting?

To which I have to answer yeah, I gave it a little bit of thought.

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23 Comments

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  1. The Man Who Was . . . / Mar 1 2013 4:09 PM

    There may just be a real discrepancy between the number of children people really want and the number they achieve. I will give a couple examples. One girl I know, very ambitious, scholarly looks to be headed for a high flying academic career. On the other hand she often posts pictures of herself on Facebook holding some baby of her relatives’. My guess is she really likes kids. My other guess is that she’ll spend so much time in school that she’s not going to have as many kids as she’d like. The other is a medical resident doing a 5 year specialty whom I personally had been dating until a few months ago. She _loves_ kids, but she’s now 33. Realistically, she’s not going to have any until she’s at least 35. That’s rough for her.

    Summary: people still like kids. They just have so many other things they want to do too that they end up with fewer kids.

    • JayMan / Mar 1 2013 4:15 PM

      I agree. That makes it hard to pick out the proportion of the voluntarily childless.

    • e / Mar 6 2013 5:06 PM

      Conservatives manage to prioritize kids.

  2. Sister Y / Mar 1 2013 5:03 PM

    I tend to think of things from the perspective of potential human beings, not from the perspective of some imaginary “society as a whole” which might benefit from a eugenic program (more than, say, with lots of smart people not having their energy sapped away by the mean-regressing project of breeding). With this perspective, you see that the intelligent have a great degree of variance in their happiness; many of us suffer miserably, more than the average person most likely to breed and no doubt most fit in the Darwinian sense. The benefits of a child-free lifestyle are greatest for the most intelligent, who have so much else to do; the benefits of their not breeding are also, I submit, great for the never-to-be-born miserable children of the most intelligent (and perhaps even for society as a whole, who benefits from decreased oversupply of humanity and increase available effort of the very intelligent). Babies are cute and all, but a never-born baby never cries or dies.

  3. JayMan / Mar 3 2013 11:42 AM

    Macgyver, your comment was copied verbatim from Bruce Charlton. Please do not quote sources without attribution.

  4. Krakonos / Mar 3 2013 2:19 PM

    As we can see, for the smartest Whites, about 20% failed to leave any offspring (fortunately, it seems, the same is also true for the dumbest Whites; perhaps consistent with the distribution of IQ: it is those of average ability that seem to have the largest fertility advantage)

    When you look at the rest of the chart you will see a different picture. While 20% of the dumbest fail to reproduce they have the greatest number of 3+ kids (especially when you look at 5+ range). In fact they are outbreeding even 5-6 Wordsum. And when you inspect their mating patterns, fun just begins.

    • JayMan / Mar 4 2013 12:37 PM

      When you look at the rest of the chart you will see a different picture. While 20% of the dumbest fail to reproduce they have the greatest number of 3+ kids (especially when you look at 5+ range).

      The proportional 5% more of the dumbest that are having 4+ children over those of average intelligence amounts to zip when you consider that the dumbest are outnumbered by those in the middle range of intelligence by nearly a factor of 3 to 1.

      And when you inspect their mating patterns, fun just begins

      You know, I don’t really care about such things. Low-IQ r-strategists are going to be low-IQ r-strategists no matter what we want.

      Many people act as if it’s a travesty that there are people in the world who don’t conform to upper-middle class norms. Well, I’ve got a big surprise for you…

    • Krakonos / Mar 4 2013 1:40 PM

      @Jayman
      The proportional 5% more of the dumbest that are having 4+ children over those of average intelligence amounts to zip when you consider that the dumbest are outnumbered by those in the middle range of intelligence by nearly a factor of 3 to 1.

      The problem is that the data is not presented in a good way. It is divided into 0-4, 5-6, 7-8, 9, 10. When I do not know distribution (I have not inspected sources) I might only guess how many children it means.

      And I am not surprised. I just wanted to point out that different strategies mean different outputs and different traits selected.

      BTW, even small proportional difference results huge changes over long term.

    • JayMan / Mar 4 2013 1:45 PM

      The problem is that the data is not presented in a good way. It is divided into 0-4, 5-6, 7-8, 9, 10. When I do not know distribution (I have not inspected sources) I might only guess how many children it means.

      I put the respective sample sizes above all the bars…

      BTW, even small proportional difference results huge changes over long term.

      Still not any time soon.

  5. Staffan / Mar 4 2013 7:19 AM

    Another way to look at it is by using education as a proxy for intelligence. Sociologist Philip Cohen presents some of the findings on his blog showing the inverse evolution very clearly, although he does what he can to spin it in a different direction,

    http://familyinequality.wordpress.com/2013/02/12/lets-not-panic-over-women-with-more-education-having-fewer-kids/

    • JayMan / Mar 4 2013 12:43 PM

      He’s a clever bugger in his bullshitological assertions. He does point out that the fertility gap among educated women is going down, but how much of that is due to increased births among the native born vs births to immigrant women?

      He’s pretty clever in his proposition to export modern Western standards to the developing world as a way of curbing their fertility…

  6. e / Mar 6 2013 9:26 AM

    You know, I’ve been thinking about this whole liberals and conservatives and kids business, and it occurred to me recently, inspired by many of your posts (this probably occurred to you long ago, but forgive me for stating the perhaps obvious,) that on a fundamental level, conservatism and ‘family orientation’ are basically the same thing. Conservatives strongly value The Group, following along with group norms, enforcing group norms, etc. They don’t like change and they don’t like people who challenge their group. Liberals, by contrast, aren’t into The Group. The old canard about liberals hating America has a grain of truth to it–liberals just aren’t that into group identity in the same way conservatives are.

    Evolutionarily speaking, the group is just the family. Australopithecines didn’t have nations. They had extended families. As you’ve noted, the parts of the world where families are more closely related tend to be more conservatives; the parts with more out-breeding are the places where liberal democracy evolved. On a practical level, there’s a huge difference between growing up in a culture where almost everyone you know is a close relative who’s got your back and somewhat similar to you, and growing up in a place where almost no one is closely related to you. Even without throwing in genetics, that’ll effect how people see the world (and I don’t doubt genetics.)

    On a mechanical level, I suspect that there is a feedback mechanism in the brains of conservative (or maybe normal) folks which rewards them for doing what other people are doing, and perhaps punishes them for not doing what others are doing. The advantages for our ancestors of eating the same foods as other humans, and avoiding the potential foods others are avoiding, without having to be specifically told to, are immediately obvious. Of course, we want some amount of innovation, some desire for novelty. But I suspect some people are really, deeply happy when doing what others do, and made profoundly uncomfortable by being in a position where they aren’t conforming. Others don’t notice what the group at all–insufficient herd instinct, as I call it.

    When the people around you are closely related, they are more likely to all act (and look) similarly, thus re-enforcing whatever herd instincts a person may have. When people around you are not closely related, there’s much less ‘herd’ to go along with. This will probably affect folks with different dispositions differently. But at any rate, folks with strong herd instincts and solid herds to live in will likely express this as political conservatism and contribute lots of new members to their herds. People with low herd instinct and no particular herd to belong to will be much less conformist and have much less desire to contribute to said non-existent herd.

    Anyway, I know this is only tangentially related to this particular post, but I was thinking about it and wanted to mention it to you, since it was you blog that inspired the thoughts in the first place.

    • JayMan / Mar 6 2013 10:33 AM

      Good points. Indeed, there’s definitely some evolutionary difference between liberals and conservatives with respect to a lot of things. Groupness is one important aspect, but I don’t think that’s something that completely separates liberals and conservatives. Liberals are quite susceptible to group think, and are often quite conformist (think your SWPL-types). And indeed, many pay lip-service to the idea of multiculturalism but, in the end, want to be around people of their own kind (not that there’s anything really wrong with that). In America, there are at least two kinds of liberals. The Puritan-derived ones (from the Northern tier and the West Coast) are the ones who are more communalistic and are less tolerant of those who differ from themselves. The Quaker/German derived ones probably are more faithful to the idea of multiculturalism and live and let live thinking. I’m working on spotting these differences among modern American Whites.

    • Staffan / Mar 6 2013 4:07 PM

      Liberals score high on the trait Openness to experience, which is pretty much what it sounds like. They are more idea-oriented. But a lot of it is airy fairy and falls flat when, if ever, it’s applied in real life. And they are tribal, just not into family. Their tribes are based on ideas instead. Although unlike conservatives they are in denial about it, thinking they are the Sapiens 2.0. Funny example from The Daily Show (which of course is liberal but Stewart is fairly balanced),

      http://www.thedailyshow.com/watch/wed-september-5-2012/hope-and-change-2—the-party-of-inclusion

  7. e / Mar 6 2013 8:06 PM

    TL;DR version: All functional, neurotypical humans exhibit some degree of ‘group think’, but strong, willing-to-die for the group identity is a conservative trait. There are probably a combination of genetic, neurological, cultural, environmental, and other factors which shape this, but the group, on an ultimate, evolutionary level, is the family. Humans have no reason to sacrifice themselves for people who don’t carry their genes.

    Rambly version: “Group think” is a morally-judgy loaded term. There is a certain clear evolutionary advantage to doing what other humans are doing–if all of your troop mates suddenly start running really fast, it’s probably to your advantage to run, too–and there is an advantage to being able to think up new things–all progress and technological advance. All functional, neuro-typical humans do both of these to some extent. The question is how much.

    Conservatives and liberals both have ‘groups’ they identify with, but conservatives do so more strongly–they are more into sports team identities, for example, and they fill the ranks of the military, willing to DIE for their country. Liberals who are willing to kill or be killed for their group are so rare (in the US, at least) as to be generally considered pathologically mentally ill, even by other liberals. Conservatives receive widespread mainstream support for going to war against ‘America’s enemies’.

    Liberals engage in a LOT of in-fighting/fractioning. Their ‘group’ may be broader, as they are less likely to be xenophobic and identify more with society at large, (xenophobia being the flipside to strong in-group identity) but their ability to subsume individual short-term interests for the long-term interests of their group is limited–hence few liberals in the military. And why should liberals being to sacrifice much for a society in which their DNA is thinly spread? Self-sacrifice only makes sense if it ensures the survival of people who share your DNA (people with big, closely-related families.)

    In politics, it seems much easier to get conservatives to rally around a single candidate for ‘the cause’ than to get liberals to unite. Liberals are continually running off on their own agendas.

    On a practical, environmental level, it seems much easier to identify with a ‘group’ when there is a ‘group there to identify with–people in small rural communities or who live around close family members will be exposed to fewer kinds of people and ideas than folks in cities who interact with hundreds or thousands of different kinds of people every day. And we know the negative correlations between diversity and ‘community’.

    In my observations of kids (I have three of my own, who interact with plenty of others,) herd-instincts are really useful. On a practical level, it keeps kids from getting lost by keeping them with the other kids. My eldest has, as I call it, deficient-herd-instinct. (Since the other two do not–at least not to the same degree,) I can’t just chalk it up to bad parenting.) He doesn’t go along with other kids. We head off with a group to the playground, and he somehow ends up two blocks away at a different playground. The other kids are playing a game together, and he’s a dinosaur.

    Don’t get me wrong, I’m not criticizing, just observing. There are advantages to who he is, and he obviously gets it from his parents. But there is clearly something different going on in his brain where he doesn’t get the same feedback as other kids to make him conform and go along with the group. Group identity is unlikely to ever be a big thing on his agenda.

    We know it’s the conservatives who are most inclined to have children. Stupid liberals have kids, but that’s partially because they’re just more likely to have ‘oopsies’. Smart liberals are more competent at achieving their goal of not having children. Smart conservatives, by contrast, are more competent at having children than less-intelligent ones. Indeed, I have difficulty even imagining some of my more radical-feminist peers enduring the levels of self-sacrifice necessary to care for an infant–a kind of other-orientation my conservative neighbors seem to undertake with ease. Hence why some of these folks will never have “kids” other than cats.

    Obviously, anything so broad as ‘conservatism’ or ‘liberalism’ will be complex and have multiple factors–many folks self-identify as ‘conservative’ because they come from conservative areas of the country, but are actually pro-gay marriage, have favorable attitudes toward contraception, and other attitudes generally associated with liberalism. Likewise, there are ‘liberals’ who are very conformist and hate change. I would not claim that group conformity and openness to novelty ought to be considered a dichotomy–heck, conservatism even seems to manifest differently in men and women–men seem more interested in forcing conformity on others, women on themselves, leading men to homicide and women to (attempted) suicide. But, I think we can still speak broadly about some basic personality-type dispositions which underlie political identities/orientations.

  8. Staffan / Mar 7 2013 8:16 AM

    Yes, conservatives have a stronger tribalism, perhaps because it’s rooted in blood rather than ideas. This makes more sense from an evolutionary perspective. I just wanted to point out the liberal kind (as shown in the clip) because there is such a denial about it.

    Whether group conformity and openness make up a dichotomy is uncertain, but there is plenty of evidence that those who identify as liberal score higher on openness. I guess openness and tribalism, even including the liberal variety, are inversely linked.

    And while concepts like liberal and conservative are complex they may still largely be about evolutionary strategies. I’m thinking a group with a certain admixture of high-openness members could have an edge in times when intergroup rivalry is less important than finding resources, something like that.

    • e / Mar 8 2013 2:20 AM

      If you look back at Jayman’s posts about his Pioneer Hypothesis and about out-breeding in European societies which developed liberal democracies, vs more in-bred societies where people have retained more nepotism and less effective management/gov’t., it seems that liberals tend to be weakly related to large #s of people, while conservatives are strongly related to a smaller kin group, but less related to their societies at large. Liberals therefore have a mild interest in the well-being of lots of people (and are more willing to expand group membership to non-kin–despite their dislike of conservatives, it’s liberals who decided that people of other races, women, homosexuals, etc., ought to be treated as human beings equal with everyone else. Heck, a liberal friend was going on yesterday about how dolphins ought to be considered ‘people’. My conservative friends, by contrast, raise animals for the purpose of killing and eating them.) Conservatives have a strong interest in a smaller group. It makes much more sense to die for someone who shares 25% of your DNA than for someone who shares 2%.

      I suspect that to some extent, openness to novelty will simply be predicated on the amount of novelty one has already experienced–brains may need some kind of consistent experiences to build up an idea of normal–and to some extent, it will be affected by one’s underlying brain function (genetics), where some folks are just more ‘in tune’ with others. People who are ‘face-blind’, for example, will have a much harder time learning and conforming to certain social norms. By contrast, an over-abundance of mirror neurons might make someone too in-tune with others, sacrificing their own good because they experience the distress of others too strongly.

      I think you are right about openness and conservatism being advantageous under different circumstances; in Diamond’s *Collapse*, he discusses Icelandic society, which is apparently fairly conservative, not just because it’s a very small closely-related island population, but also because the environment is unforgiving–with such short growing seasons and slowly replaced soils, any experimentation could easily end with everyone involved dead. In the Greenland colony (Norse), however, a little more experimentation might have saved the colony from total collapse. (Oddly, it appears that the Greenland Norse never ate fish, a massive resource oversight for a people who seem to have starved to death.) In many ways, the Greenland colony clung too strongly to European ways of doing things (like European fashions and cattle,) which just weren’t suited to the Greenland climate. Hmm. Perhaps such a small, in-bred population simply couldn’t open themselves to the innovations they needed to survive.

  9. panjoomby / Mar 7 2013 11:05 AM

    for high IQ folks, 50 years ago they’d say they wanted kids if you asked them at age 20 –
    now they don’t want kids… until they hit their mid 30s, then they start changing their tune…
    (at least that’s what i’m hoping – my kids are in their late 20s & still don’t want kids!:)

  10. Staffan / Mar 8 2013 7:49 AM

    “Liberals therefore have a mild interest in the well-being of lots of people (and are more willing to expand group membership to non-kin–despite their dislike of conservatives, it’s liberals who decided that people of other races, women, homosexuals, etc., ought to be treated as human beings equal with everyone else.”

    This is no doubt a major factor along with some individual differences in how people are wired. And as a relatively conservative person I appreciate their achievments too. But in the modern environment I believe liberalism is becoming increasingly suicidal. When you welcome tribalists into your group they will exploit it and introduce their own system at your expense. Then they will vote away all what the liberals built up. Maybe this is just like population genetics; liberalism has expanded over its limits and is now to be adjusted?

    Interesting about Greenland, hadn’t heard of that before. It seems odd that their was no variation in behavior. Surely, they must have been aware that fish could be used for food. Perhaps this population was very small?

    • e / Mar 8 2013 6:35 PM

      For whatever reasons, liberals are literally dying out. So I try not to get too distracted by debates between different factions. We’re like Indians, arguing about what to do about white folks. The conversation is moot.

      The Norse colonies in Greenland were always, by necessity, small, but they managed to last a few hundred years–longer than the US so far–before they disappeared for not-entirely-clear-reasons. The fish issue is disputed among archaeologists, but even if they’d fully adopted fishing, they still clung to many aspects of their European heritage which did not help their survival–they tried to wear European fashions, which weren’t suited to the climate; they tried to raise cattle, which were European status symbols, but not practical in Greenland; they never adopted Inuit-style leather kayaks, but couldn’t build wooden boats because of the lack of trees on Greenland, so when political/economic troubles stopped trade ships from Norway/Iceland, they were just cut off. Whatever the reasons for the full, eventual collapse, it’s clear from the evidence that the colonies suffered long-term quality-o-life degradation to which they simply couldn’t respond fast enough.

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