Monday 22 September 2014

Why do so many modern women chose NOT to reproduce at all? Mostly pathological, but partly adaptive (specifically, group selection)


Why do so many modern women choose not to reproduce - especially women of high intelligence?

The average woman in a modern society has considerably fewer than the replacement level of fertility, with only one-point-something children per woman.

Probably about a third or more of women college graduates have zero children - and among the most intelligent women (IQ in about the top couple of percent) the proportion is even higher, and average fertility is something like 0.5 children per woman.


The reason why so many women have zero children is essentially pathological, and related to things such as the secularization of society, decline of parental choice and influence concerning women's fertility, the high prevalence of contraception and abortion (allowing sex without fertility), Left wing ideology propagated in the mass media and so on.

But these are amplifiers - and amplifiers must have something to work-on - something to amplify; and if women were evolved towards 'reproduction at any price' then cultural and technological factors would not have had anything like so large an effect.

Therefore, it is probable that women have some baseline tendency not to reproduce at all under certain conditions; in particular not to reproduce when a suitable mate is not available.


In other words, it seems likely that women have to some extent and under some conditions been 'hard wired' by natural selection that it is better not to reproduce at all, than to reproduce with the wrong man or men.

And if this is true it implies some significant degree of group selection - in the sense that women may be safeguarding the integrity of the group gene pool rather than taking a chance on their own specific reproductive success.

In particular, I am suggesting that women have evolved such that (on average) they would rather not reproduce at all than have offspring with a man who has signs (cues) of carrying a heavy load of genetic mutations - which would correlate with very low attractiveness - which comes from very low status, evidence of significant chronic disease, evidence of developmental or congenital disorders, and even very advanced age - and so on.

All of these are correlated with a higher probability of a significant mutational load. This would, of course, reduce the probability of successfully rearing offspring - but for a women confronted with zero reproductive success, even the slimmest chance of bringing up one child would increase here genetic representation in the next generation more than voluntarily having no children whatsoever.


So, I conclude that the very high proportion of women who choose to have zero children in modern society is mostly a product of social pathology (facilitated by technology) - but that this has been amplified from an evolved tendency of women not to mate with men who are likely to introduce a significant mutation load into her lineage, or genetic grouping of relatives.


NOTE: An alternative strategy to not mating, is what might be termed deliberately sterile mating. It is possible, indeed likely - according to WD Hamilton (Narrow Roads to Gene Land, Vols 1-3), that group selection mechanisms would favour varieties of sexual behaviour that eliminate high loads of mutated genes from the relevant gene pool. This might favour self-willed death (passive or active suicide), self-chosen sterility (as described above), sterile matings (with infertile mates, elderly mates, same-sex mates, or non-human or non-living mates)  or alternatively assortative mating in which low fitness/ high mutation load individuals are attracted to other low fitness/ high mutation load individuals - such that either no offspring or only unfit offspring - unfit, that is, under 'natural conditions' - will result; and the mutational load of both partners is eliminated in a single generation. Hamilton suggests that organisms can sense, internally, the problems due to a high load of deleterious mutations, and infer the high probability of group fitness damage from their own survival and/or reproduction - and adjust their motivation and behaviour accordingly. If correct, this would predict a higher mutational load among those members of the population who pursue sterile mating strategies, especially those who choose sterile mating strategies.)


EsotericTrad said...

Interesting post but you are perhaps overlooking social norms that also helped produce children. You seem to be giving women too much agency in their reproductive ability, especially when we consider history.

Arranged marriage being one - this removes the woman's ability to not to reproduce at all under certain conditions; in particular not to reproduce when a suitable mate is not available.

In fact it is hard to think of a period of history except the modern era (last 40-60 years) where a woman would be able to make that choice.

The elephant in the room here is the reality of rape as well.

Bruce Charlton said...

@ES - No I am not overlooking them, I mentioned them and have blogged on these topics already! This is about something else, however.

wrt rape - I don't think one-off rapes would have had much effect on human evolution as such, since almost all offspring of rape would not survive (for many reasons, including infanticide) - not least because very few human offspring survived childhood unless there were especially favourable conditions and they had exceptionally un-mutated genes. Abduction and forced marriage/ concubinage is much more likely to have an evolutionary effect.

Curia Regis said...

I agree with the premise of the article but disagree on the conclusion. I agree that women are choosing not to mate, or perhaps not seeing the potential in modern men to be mating partners, but I do not think this is some sort of preventative measure against bad genes. I think its because feminism has ingrained in women an unrealistic picture of a good mate (or more likely, a confusing picture of a good mate). So when women now see regular men (that for example, third world women will die for the chance of marrying) these men dont stack up to the programmed image of a good mate. In a nutshell, women have exceedingly high expectations nowadays (as a result of feminism) which no men can meet, now or ever - because its impossible.

Bruce Charlton said...

@CR - Yes but the premise of this article is that such mechanisms must have something to work-on - some 'natural' disposition NOT to reproduce in certain circumstances. If you disagree, then you need to critique this assumption.

Bruce B. said...

It's obvious you're a serious Christian but I think your training as a scientist causes you to see so many things through the lens of evolutionary biology. Why isn't it just a matter of modern, secular women being under the evil influence of the Enemy?

Bruce Charlton said...

@BB - What I said to CR.

August said...

I believe I remember seeing a study somewhere about New York versus smaller towns. In New York there are more dating opportunities, so apparently women wait longer to get married. If you look at dating as a market, a woman has the attractive/fertile time period in which she really should get married and have children, but the current conditions encourage her to keep waiting to see what might happen next. This becomes habit, and fertility starts dropping off.

Men are attracted more directly to the female form, and what attracts us tends to correlate with fertility.
Women certainly like the male form, but they are also attracted to social status and wealth. Social status, especially can become quite capricious. Guys just out of jail can get more attention than a lawyer in many cases. For women, the artificiality of the modern world obscures the evolutionary signal in a much more troubling way.

Bruce Charlton said...

@Aug - Oh Kaay - but those are some of the many much-documented Ev Psych factors from the likes of Symons and Buss that I am NOT discussing in this particular post!

August said...

Well, I am trying to present the factors which interfere with the idea that choosing not to have children is in any way adaptive. It would be simpler to conclude mutation accumulation contributes to this problem directly- i.e. the women who don't have children have mutation accumulations that render them incapable, either in a purely mental sense or in a physical sense as well.
It's not like anyone did exit polls with the mice in the mice utopia experiment.

ajb said...

"In particular, I am suggesting that women have evolved such that (on average) they would rather not reproduce at all than have offspring with a man who has signs (cues) of carrying a heavy load of genetic mutations"

Can you say more about what these cues would be?

Bruce Charlton said...

@ajb - For a start "very low status, evidence of significant chronic disease, evidence of developmental or congenital disorders, and even very advanced age" - the physical manifestations and correlations of these.

ajb said...


Yes, but I am wondering if you are positing that cues for these things have increased recently, and if so, then which cues exactly?

For example, 'significant chronic disease' - are you referring to things like obesity?

Or very low status - are you referring to how, relative to women, men as a group have lost status because the 'gender gap' is now more narrow than it used to be?

Similarly, which developmental disorders have increased recently?

Bruce Charlton said...

@ajb - Well obesity, except when gross, is a risk factor not a disease in itself. Chronic diseases would include chronic infections, inflammations, of skin, cardiovascular system, respiratory system, immune system etc,

Low status is relative to other men - people like tramps/ bums - strictly, biologically, status does not exist in women (or between men and women) but only between men.

Developmental disorders are things like some types of mental handicap and other congenital deformities and functional defects.

I think these are more common among adults than ever before - but that isn't the point I'm making here.

ajb said...

Ok, I think I understand better what you're saying. So, the amplifiers are primarily what have increased, and so women are becoming (so to speak) more sensitive to these cues than they would have been in the past?

If that's what you're saying, I was perhaps reading too much of your recent posts into this one.

Anonymous said...

Historically, pregnancy is something that happens to the woman, not something she decides on. The male initiates sexual contact and the woman passively complies. The fact that a woman and her child is dependant on the father/husband for survival means that she must choose wisely. In such a situation it might even be bad to want children since that objective might override the drive to find the most suitable mate.

It might be so that women are normally less inclined to want children than men do. I wouldn't be surprised if it were so. I don't think we have to invoke group selection to explain this phenomenon.

Bruce Charlton said...

@ajb - It is the idea that it may be naturally selected that women (and perhaps other people) would choose not to reproduce which is (relatively) novel. In general, this would be regarded as nonsense in mainstream 'selfish gene' evolutionary theory - but since WD Hamilton argued it, it can't be nonsense. (It may not be correct, but it can't be nonsense). I am taking the idea seriously, and linking it to the need for purging mutation accumulation.

Bruce Charlton said...

@anon (Please use a pseudonym) All that is true, but I am talking about a the origin of a preference not to have children. The idea could be extended to the parents who, historically, would have had a major influence on daughters mating. It is interesting that high status parents seem often to have chosen no mate rather than a bad mate for some of their daughters.

Beware of talking about a 'need' to evoke group selection as if it were some kind of last resort - the question is what mechanism actually is at work in real life.

I think that taking full account of the seriousness of the problem of mutation accumulation in some species means that unless natural selection is 'foresighted' (which means looking-forward to the group fitness of descendants, to ensure they have not been overwhelmed with mutations then life 'naturally' becomes extinct after some relatively small number of generations (varying between species) - from mutational meltdown.

pyrrhus said...

It seems to me that group selection is inconsistent with the fundamental mechanism of natural selection, which is to produce a number of children and let the environment determine which are most fit. Eliminating the genes from very intelligent individuals seems just plain crazy from a NS perspective, so it must be due to a powerful if misplace cultural influence.

Nicholas Fulford said...

xIf it is an evolutionary behaviour for the most fit women to not have children when under-fit men are all that is available; I would be interested to see the results of a statistical analysis. (And IQ is not the only measure of fitness; so we will really need to do a multivariate analysis.) The first task will be to identify characteristics of men that are regarded as highly fit and highly desirable. How strong is the correlation between fitness and selection by the most fit women? How does that vary as we move from the most fit women to the least fit? And what of selection but not procreation?

If intelligence alone is considered there are other factors than selection of a most fit male. For example, the time and resource expenditure to have and raise a child is significant, and given that the weight of responsibility falls largely on the woman, she may not want to invest in children at the expense of her ambitions. (Intelligent people tend to be more ambitious, and those that are ambitious/competitive will resent the impeding effect that having children has on realizing their ambitions.) Even if this sort of woman wants children, she is likely to put off having children to a later point than her less fit sisters to secure her position. Add to that the historic unwillingness to allow women into the most competitive careers, and many who make it are going to put off pregnancy at least until they have paid enough dues to not have to step down several steps on the ladder after returning from mat-leave. Behaving as though she can have children later in life without her own fitness being reduced is another factor. Most women are aware that there is a "best before date" for pregnancy, but the time goes by so quickly that by the time they feel ready, they are not biologically as fit, since the probability of certain genetic defects increases with the age of the parents. Living longer in good health creates the illusion of having more time to have healthy children.

Hence, fewer children are born to the most fit women in developed countries.

Jonathan C said...

Excellent point that "if women were evolved towards 'reproduction at any price' then cultural and technological factors would not have had anything like so large an effect." And I think you're absolutely right that women have some natural disposition not to reproduce in certain circumstances. I think their disposition is to not reproduce with men they perceive as having equal status to themselves. (Or worse yet, lower status.) Female sex drive is hypergamous.

The entry of women into well-paid occupations has raised women's status, relative to men, and reduced their dependence, a lot. So, to a lesser degree, have welfare, alimony, child support, and other measures that ensure that no woman needs marriage to eat. There was a day when any man with a decent job had sexual appeal to a large proportion of women, simply because he provided more than she ever could. When that changed, fertility dropped. I believe this is the most influential driver of reduced fertility. (Stuff like feminism painting an "unrealistic picture of a good mate" has a comparatively trivial effect.)

I don't agree with you that "status does not exist in women." I've been observing the dating market long enough to know with certainty how quickly female sexual desire can ebb and flow with fluctuations in relative status. Women just can't get attracted to men who they don't see as being clearly better than themselves in some way or other (be it earnings, dominance, or even "hotness"). And they have a very strong, visceral, involuntary disgust at the idea of having those men's babies. An improvement in a wife's earnings or career status sometimes turns off her libido for her husband overnight.

Equality of the sexes = women find most men sexually repellent.

It's not the mutational load. Women's instinct to reproduce is triggered by men having power over them. An egalitarian society where men have little power over women is utterly unnatural and does not fire that trigger.

Bruce Charlton said...

@JC - I don't dispute the fact that women are attracted to men of high status, this is basic. Nor that the better paid etc a women is, the fewer men she finds attractive.

But the problem is to explain this biologically.

Have you read Steve Moxon's The Woman Racket? If not, you should. That explains that women (and most female animals) do not themselves have dominance hierarchies in the way that men do. And also, that there is not a natural status hierarchy which contains both men and women.

I suspect that a very major problem is that women have not evolved to make good long term sexual partner choices. There simply has not been the kind of sustained selection pressure for good decision making - because in almost all societies every, parental choice has been at least highly significant, and often extremely dominant.

So, what we are seeing is simply maladaptive decision making - on the basis of irrelevant and partial criteria.

But Moxon's main message is also relevant - in all human societies the spontaneous natural tendency is to rate the large majority of men as less important than women, as indeed disposable and pretty despicable.

Socially, many societies have culturally compensated for this (one very large religious group in particular has reversed the natural tendency to favour women). Indeed, this is probably necessary, since all sustainable societies have been culturally 'patriarchal' as a compensation.

But our society exaggerates the natural tendency - to the point where the vast majority of men are and increasingly seen as despicable, pathetic, dangerous and in general worthless - and all men (without any exceptions) are vulnerable to this evaluation being socially-stamped upon them in very short order.

This relates to the male role in providing a harsh filter against 'bad genes' - men are overproduced, compete; and most are 'discarded'.

Biologically, genetically, it is correct that most men are indeed worse than useless; and this is probably what underlies this deep and universal prejudice - and explains why the lie of feminism has been so quickly and easily accepted, and ruthlessly (and self-destructively) applied.

Anonymous said...

Smarter women have the most accurate senses, and get higher in the search for partners. In societies where natural selection has been disconnected, the mutations increase the variability of men as to their fitness and reduces the chances of the smartest women to seek the ideal partner. As a chef looking for the perfect formula.


Bruce Charlton said...

@S - But the mutations affect both men and women (although men more than women). But there has never before been a society in which each women on her own (guided only by the evil mass media and a peer group competing for the same men) sought a mate for herself - so there is no reason that she would be good at it.

Anonymous said...

Yes, both but i'm talking about phisiological traits like greater sense perception influencing smart women to choice your mate. The global perception of smart woman change drasticaly when the social environment changes. Other probability is the androginous tendences of smarter. Very higher intelligence are extreme, unballanced phenotypes. Smart woman tend to be more masculinized than average pairs. Less feminine, less maternal instinct.


LI said...


Status amongst women clearly exists. To note that it is based on different criteria than male status, and that men care much less about female status than women do is simply common sense, but I do not see why that should imply status amongst women does not exist. If strictly speaking it has no biological meaning, then where does it come from? It is not something girls are taught - it is clearly innate. And female status has consequences for survival and reproduction, both for a woman herself, and for her children.

If the primary reason women reject some men is recognition of high mutational load in men then it ought to be the case that unpopular men can do nothing about their situation. But the facts disagree, since most men can do very much better and well in absolute terms either by acquiring status or by learning to act in ways that make a woman feel more womanly. This often means throwing off the well intentioned but terrible in effect social programming of which a man has been a recipient since he was a boy.

It is a distinct question as to whether you are right about the origin of the mechanism (I think you are) from whether this mechanism is in fact functioning adaptively and that the feeling women have about men today in actual fact reflects the true condition which that feeling was designed to respond to, or whether social conditions have led that feeling to function maladaptively for the time being.

I think it would be a mistake to think that the state of affairs today is a permanent thing. First of all humans do learn, and women in the workforce en masse is a very new phenomenon to which the set of necessary cumulative adjustments has not yet finished unfolding, secondly the appeal of a career at the de facto exclusion of reproduction is a dynamic thing and depends on labour market conditions - not just relative wages, but how satisfying to the female psyche the opportunities available at that time generally are. For this, watch the female labour force participation rate over the years to come.

Bruce Charlton said...

@LI - It seems that there are too many points at which I disagree with your premises for me to respond with any brevity.

In a nutshell, I am here talking about humans biologically and in an evolutionary context - and I see no reason to favour sociological-popular psychology explanations (most of which have near-zero credibility anyway).

To widen the debate beyond the scientific, clearly the abandonment of Christianity has been another catastrophic change.

In combination, we are seeing uni-directional, generation upon generation breakdown in sexual (and social) adaptations - not the kind of 'pendulum swing' you would expect from 'normal' cultural change.