More children please: men or women?

By Razib Khan | June 28, 2010 1:49 am

In the post below on Bryan Caplan’s arguments for why one should have more children there was an “interesting” comment:

As if we’re harmless little creatures at one with our environment and put no toll on the balance of nature around us. Funny how we humans act like mindless rabbits and lemmings and put the sole unintelligent directive of our DNA as the mouth of god. Men most interestingly in power or self described intellectuals after sitting around picking belly lint and jerking off in praise of their penises find clever monkey justifications (patriarchal religions mostly) for more more more babies and women must be subservient to male sexual needs and demands of more babies. See a huge male god said so.

Funny how women mostly never jump on the soapbox bandwagon of wanting to pop out tons of kids, just male spermatozoa fed rants formed by the human male organism to insist his natural inclination is the word of gawd. If you can’t use holy massive penised Jehovah to instill this dreck then dream up socio-biological propaganda for the atheist hip guys needing a good shagging with their female cohorts.

Ignoring the weirdness of much the comment, is it true that men are more pro-natalist than women? I have shown that there seems to be a trend within the last 10 years of preference for larger families. What’s the sex breakdown for this?

The correlation between men and women is 0.65 year-to-year in their mean for ideal number of children. About 43% of the variance of the trend over the years can be predicted from one sex to the other. Is there is a systematic difference? Here’s a chart:


The period before 1998 is rather noisy overall. The correlation actually increases after ’98 because of the concurrent upward trend. That being said, it looks like the pro-natalist bias is more accentuated among women than men. If I constrain the years to the 2000s, and age range to 18-30, the mean ideal number of children for men is 2.88 and for women it is 3.03.

These data indicate that in fact Bryan Caplan marches with the sisterhood on this issue.

MORE ABOUT: Feminism, Pro-Natalism
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  • “Shecky Riemann”

    Why would you constrain the age range to 18-30? What I’ve witnessed in friends and colleagues is a lot of females in the 31-40 range who, even after long professing no desire for kids, suddenly experiencing an overwhelming (hormonal?) impulse to bear children. (though possibly the desire to have or not have children at all, and the number of children wanted are two totally separate questions).

  • Razib Khan

    the age range is not constrained for the chart. i did so to eliminate the impact of men and women who put off having children in the 1990s. even in the younger age cohorts the sex difference holds (also the tendency toward pro-natality more recently).

  • coldequation

    I have a hunch that the amplitude of the desire to have babies is stronger among women. Men may say they want x kids if you ask them, but do they really get baby rabies like many women do?

  • Razib Khan

    CE, sounds plausible. i’ve been told that women are also the most vocal of the ‘childfree.’

  • John Emerson

    “Makes you only slightly unhappier” is not a strong selling point.

    Kids are big money-loser, especially when opportunity cost is considered, and in a world of rational actors only the very rich would have kids. Freemarketers and libertarians often advocate altruism when childbearing is the topic.

    When economists try to analyze the family, either they come up with bizarre weirdness like Gary Becker’s (where the couple is the firm and the baby the product, or something like that), or else you come up with feminist conclusions (wives are far underpaid.)

  • Neil

    I imagine many parents are driven to have kids because they want to live vicariously through them. A “do over” of sorts…

  • ziel

    “Freemarketers and libertarians often advocate altruism when childbearing is the topic.”

    I wish they did more – but they seem a lot more enamored of open-borders as a way to solve the so-called “demographic time bomb.”

  • Katharine

    Perhaps because many of those men would not ultimately be saddled with the kids if they suddenly wanted to split up.

    It’s definitely rarer that men take the kids and women don’t when an opposite-sex couple with children splits.

  • Katharine

    Is it also possibly because men HAVE to rely on a woman to carry their child, whereas women can just pick up some sperm if they want one and carry it themselves?

  • Katharine

    Women do ultimately control reproduction.

    Which makes me pretty glad in this respect that I was born female – if I was a guy and I was having sex with some woman and the condom broke, it would ultimately be up to her to have the child or not and I wouldn’t have a choice about being saddled with child support.

    But I’m a woman, and quite frankly, I don’t want any kids. Ever. And I can control that.

  • Razib Khan

    It’s definitely rarer that men take the kids and women don’t when an opposite-sex couple with children splits.

    yes, but it’s still the legal presupposition last i checked that the mother is the primary care giver. so women will win ‘tie breakers.’ doubt that explains most of the disjunction, but it does some.

  • pconroy

    if I was a guy and I was having sex with some woman and the condom broke, it would ultimately be up to her to have the child or not and I wouldn’t have a choice about being saddled with child support

    I firmly believe that in these situations, the guy should have the right to opt for termination of pregnancy, and if the girl does not agree, then she supports the resultant offspring herself – any thing else denies him his rights.

  • Katharine

    pconroy, I’m talking about the biological issue. Say it was the other way around and a man wanted his partner to keep the child but she didn’t. I would say she’s under no obligation to give birth anyway.

  • Tom Bri

    That quote was hilarious. This guy seems to have little to no knowledge of any religion. I wonder how he would feel, going to Japan and seeing a living and vibrant (!) pagan fertility cult, with giant penises that little girls ride on in parades.

    Kids are great. Glad I got some.

  • Razib Khan

    she was female.


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About Razib Khan

I have degrees in biology and biochemistry, a passion for genetics, history, and philosophy, and shrimp is my favorite food. In relation to nationality I'm a American Northwesterner, in politics I'm a reactionary, and as for religion I have none (I'm an atheist). If you want to know more, see the links at


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