Sunday 8 May 2011

Young women - Why not get married, have children?


Why should young women at the peak of their reproductive potential aim to get married and have children and care for them?

What are the answers of modern secular society?

That marriage and kids are a big risk - and this is perfectly correct: many things can go wrong, and some of these things are devastating.


So, if you want to avoid the risk of being very unhappy, don't get married, don't have children - and if you do make such choices - then make sure (legally and psychologically) you can walk away from them quickly and easily and without being blamed: otherwise they are is too great a risk.


Or if you must aim at marriage and children - then at any rate wait.

Our society says, implicitly, 'youth is for getting more education - not for marriage and children'.


The secular, psychological, biological arguments for getting married and having children when a young adult are weak and unconvincing to modern individuals.

And rightly so - they are weak and unconvincing arguments.

If your life is defined by optimizing gratification (minimizing suffering, increasing enjoyment) then it makes no sense to have children.


The only compelling reasons to choose to get married, have children and care for them when a young adult are transcendental/ supernatural/ religious reasons: the essence of human life must be conceptualized as other than (and more than) the psychological/ biological/ economic.


Nowadays, the only groups who choose to have more than two children per woman on average, whose women marry and begin childbearing when young, who generally stick by these responsibilities, are devout adherents of orthodoxly supernaturalist religion: whether Jewish, Christian/ Mormon, or Islamic.


Indeed it is either dishonest, incompetent or unfounded speculation to propound a materialist, secular, hedonic basis for having marriage and children as the basis of society.

Because if knowing and understanding the actual world is to have any effect on beliefs and aspirations - then it is crystal clear (as clear as it ever will be, as clear as it ever can be) that the rationality of mainstream modernity implies not getting married, not having children, and making the state of marriage and sustained childcare a matter of choice - a lifestyle option to be discarded (like a house, a car or an insurance policy) if or when they interfere with the main purpose in life - which is to avoid suffering and to increase gratification.


In sum: there is no coherent positive reason to choose marriage and children as an organizing principle in life except on the basis of religion.


[Note: This argument ought to have the force of a reductio ad absurdum against secularism - however, mainstream modernity instead prefers to embrace the absurd as the basis of human existence. Hence the nihilism of the West.]



Daniel said...

Mr. Charlton,

Yes. You have nailed it exactly.

To paraphrase in my own understanding: As long as children are not a holy gift to God, they are merely another lifestyle choice. And a costly, difficult one at that. So why not forego procreation, after all?

The logic of PC is impenetrable on this front, as it is on so many fronts.

Thursday said...

Why not get some research in on this:

1. The boost in happiness from marriage appears to be large and robust.

2. Kids slightly increase happiness, so long as you aren't a single parent.

3. Children boost happiness later in life:

Marriage and children don't seem to be that much of a risk, or at least the upside seems to be bigger than the downside. Exercise some minimal level of prudence and I'd argue the risk all but disappears.

Bruce Charlton said...

@Thursday -

I know all the research - but is it valid, is it relevant, is it true?

Clearly if it is all of these then the message is not getting through - since young women are abandoning/ deferring for ever longer period both marriage and children to an ever-greater extent.

They are choosing short termism and high certainty over long termism and uncertainty - which is perfectly rational.

And I do not believe for a moment that a generation which chooses to permanently disfigure/ tattoo themselves on whim is going to choose long-termist and uncertain deep-fulfillment over today's shallow pleasure-seeking.

Thursday said...

Clearly if it is all of these then the message is not getting through - since young women are abandoning/ deferring for ever longer period both marriage and children to an ever-greater extent.

Well, yes, the message isn't getting through. I was more responding to your argument, as I take it to be, that a case for having children on a purely utilitarian basis doesn't exist, even if we just look at utility from an individual perspective.

Thinking about this, I think the reasons are as follows:

1. Women are just reluctant to commit, especially to anyone who isn't super high status. They tend to want to hold out as long as possible in hopes of snagging an "alpha male." Women used to need a provider, but are not longer under that constraint, so they tend to extend their search for a mate longer than they used to.

2. Significant numbers of women have stronger innate drives towards acquiring status than towards having babies. This didn't used to matter when sex almost inevitably led to babies.

3. People in general tend to be short term thinkers. Since people in properous societies are free from a lot of material constraints, it isn't that surprising that they tend to act in crazy ways based on their short term desires.

Thursday said...

I guess a lot of our disagreement turns on how uncertain the benefits from marriage and children are. I really don't think that is the issue.

Bruce Charlton said...

@Thursday - Have you read Steve Moxon's The Woman Racket?

(Rest assured it a purely secular HBD type book! - libertarian right in perspective - very tough minded.)

Among many other things, it clarified for me that only a few unusual women want themselves to achieve high status.

Tomorrow's post will address another aspect of this question (I hope).

MG said...

Just out of curiosity, regarding two possibilities proposed, "devout adherents of orthodoxly supernaturalist religion: whether Jewish, Christian/ Mormon, or Islamic" on the one hand and "materialist, secular, hedonic" on the other:

Are you referring uniquely to Western Society? (If so, please ignore my question.) If not, into which camp do you place East Asians?

Bruce Charlton said...

@MG Developed East Asian societies have very low fertility on average - much less than two children per woman. I do not know whether there may be any sub-groups within these societies who typically choose higher fertility - i.e. converts to orthodox monotheism.

Anonymous said...

I don't know, but find this discussion interesting.

The short term thinking mentioned and evidenced by tatoos,etc. reminds me of Banfield's divisions of the classes by their forward looking tendencies; the further up the ladder, the more future planning, with the lower class seeking immediate gratification and rewards. In a weird paradox, it seems today's typical secular upwardly mobile young woman is both upper class and lower class at the same time. Could it be a bizarre twist of PC fate, sort of like an Alice in Wonderland existence?

Children aren't much of an achievement until they grow up to an age they can perform as expected, and that is a long time. Until then, they are consumers of the family resources, not major producers contributing to family survival as in earlier times.

Bruce Charlton said...

"today's typical secular upwardly mobile young woman is both upper class and lower class at the same time"

Yes indeed - the bottom lead the top: it took about 4 years for an exceptionally silly (and expensive) hairstyle (of a layer of blonded hair lying on top of an underlying layer of browned hair) to spread from the middle aged 'chav' working class to the young upper middle class students.

"Until then, they are consumers of the family resources, not major producers contributing to family survival as in earlier times."

Not really - children in hunter gatherer societies are allowed to do much as they like - very free - and not working. It is only in peasant/ agricultural societies where children are compelled to work.

Anonymous said...

There are many understandable reasons why women, especially intelligent ones, aren't having children. These include:

1)While pregnancy and childbirth can be joyful they are hugely invasive and can be nauseating and in some cases traumatic.

2)Looking after small children year after year can be hugely restricting, exhausting and mind numbingly boring. Many women are no more keen to spend their prime years talking to toddlers than their husbands are.Intelligent women are the ones most likely to find it unbearably boring.

3) Until fairly recently the vast majority of jobs for men were manual and/or menial(in coal mining, for example) - no more appealing than staying at home doing household jobs.It was obvious which member of a couple should do them because they required physical strength. Now there are more intellectual jobs in better workling conditions and women feel cheated if they have to stay at home doing menial drudgery when their qualifications may exceed their husbands'.

4) Whereas women in the past had no choice but to marry if they weren't to be an economic burden to their parents and left destitute when they died (remember Pride and Prejudice, where the plain Charlotte Lucas marries the clownish Mr. Collins rather than be left a spinister and the bright Elizabeth Bennett is castigated by her mother for turning him down).Many women nowadays (and this is only right)would only want to marry and have children with someone whom they admired and respected but they look around and find that men are generally much less mature than themselves, especially at younger ages. How many marriageable men do you know in their early 20s?It's not necessarily a question of marrying an alpha male but of finding any male who isn't immature! Women are generally happier without men than men are without women and many would prefer a single life to marrying for the sake of marrying.

5) The traditional role as wife and mother tended to mean the woman was pushed into dependency on the man, who then `called all the shots`.Dependency is not a pleasant feeling and many women remember their mothers and grandmothers being unpaid personal servants to their husbands and children. Again, this feels demeaning to a woman who might be at least as intelligent and mature as her husbansd.Also, with divorce rates running at 40%, who wants to become dependent on a husband who might then abandon her for someone else?

6) Many people stop at 2 children because of the negative effect extra children might have on their existing ones. In some people's minds there's a romantic idea of what a big Walton-like family would be like but in reality this often means 3 children crowded into each bedroom with nowhere to study in peace, less financial help through university and therefore more debt per child, restrictions on the cultural activities such as music lessons which middle class parents want for their children but which are hugely expensive, etc, etc. It was much easier to have a large family in the past when children played outside all day and started earning at 14.

7)We must be careful not to glamourise patriarchal societies, which are cohesive but often at huge cost to women.Whatever the claims made, women aren't treated with the same respect or given the same opportunities as men, and often have lives of menial drudgery, looking after the husband and nursing his elderly parents.In the Orthodox Jewish, Muslim and some older Christian traditions women are still treated as impure compared with men (in Orthodox Judaism, for example, a woman isn't supposed to touch men during menstruation and has to go through a ritual bath afterwards to be `cleansed`. Women are expected to go through multiple pregnancies however little they desire to do so and whatever the effect on their bodies - and in less developed countries this includes a high risk of death during childbirth.

Bruce Charlton said...

@Anonymous 11.18.

You have demonstrated very clearly my point as to why secular intelligent women - *whose lives are aiming at personal happiness* (not at salvation of the soul) - are so often unmarried, without children, or have sub-replacement sized families.

Also why this disposition in women will become extinct (given that intelligence and personality are hereditary - and there is also some cultural transmission of lifestyle from parents to children).

(Of course, long before 'extinction' of secular hedonism, the balance of power based on differential numbers would have tipped against secular hedonism - and that lifestyle would become forbidden.)

At the same time, women in orthodox patriarchal religions - especially Islam - are having many children, and are successfully transmitting this lifestyle (not least because it leads to social ostracism - or may even be even a capital offense - for offspring to abandon the parent's lifestyle).

This is not really a matter of lifestyle *preference* (of what you or I or people in general would like for themselves) - since prioritizing lifestyle preference clearly points to extinction (under modern conditions).

What we have is a stark contrast between two lifestyles for women (and of course men too - but women are more critical to the process; being the more-highly-investing sex)- one of which is un-sustainable and the other of which is sustainable and indeed demonstrates a strong tendency to spread and displace.

Brett Stevens said...

One practical argument for early marriage: you will be young(-ish) when your kids fly the coop, and you can then put that time to good use.

If you have your children from 18-22, that means you're 42 when the last one is off in the world. You will have ongoing responsibilities, but more as a head of a family of autonomous members than parenting dependent children.

People are so focused on what they can do outside of traditional life that they ignore how important it is to accept the logical, and get it done in a timely manner.

Sheila said...

A cartoon from the early 1900s clearly illustrates what is being discussed, and particularly the feminist fallacies that the last "anonymous" garrulously wrote about:


Anonymous said...


Not fallacies, I'm afraid, but realities about the demands of motherhood and the justified feelings of vulnerability women have about male-female relationships. Many single or childless woman just don't feel the loneliness and disappointment your diagram shows; they're more likely to be enjoying an expensive holiday with like-minded friends or with a husband who also doesn't want children. That's why it is usually people of faith who have more children - in order to put up with the restrictions this involves, you have to see yourself as part of an ongoing narrative where raising the next generation overrides your own desires.

I agree with you, by the way, about the importance of marriage and motherhood but that's because I see myself as part of a narrative......