Is the ‘smart women don’t want kids’ argument valid?

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Chancellor's Postdoctoral Research Fellow, University of Technology Sydney

View more articles from Alecia Simmonds

Happily child-free: Actress  Eva Mendes.

Happily child-free: Actress Eva Mendes. Photo: Dominique Charriau

Certain women’s brains are too big for their evolutionary boots. Too clever to feel clucky yet not wise enough to see that breeding is their primary function, these women should be pitied for their stupidity and chastised for failing to pass on their smart genes. Or so says Satoshi Kanazawa, an psychologist based at the London School of Economics. 

In an article published earlier this month  in the Daily Mail Kanazawa was reported to have found that a woman's urge to have children decreases by a quarter for every 15 extra IQ points. Based on data from the UK's National Child Development Study, Kanazawa found that the more intelligent the woman, the less likely she was to have children. In his 2012 book The Intelligence Paradox: Why the Intelligent Choice Isn't Always the Smart One he made similar claims, concluding from this evidence that ‘intelligent people are the ultimate losers in life’, they are ‘stupid’, ‘lack common sense’ and are committing ‘the greatest crime against nature’.

The UK Guardian’s Sadhbh Walshe wrote an excellent response to the research asking whether we should care. I’d like to go further and give you five reasons why this kind of pseudo-research is more barren than my bookish womb and more arid than all the fruitless femmes of Christendom.

1. Women are not just walking wombs

Although this kind of research often begins with words like ‘people’ it doesn’t take long before the primary culprits are identified: women. As Kanazawa says ‘Intelligent people – especially intelligent women – make the worst kinds of parents, simply because they are least likely to be parents.’ In fact, no reporting on his research has questioned the correlation between educational status for men and childbearing urges. Peer through the crosshairs and you’ll see a vacant womb. Why? Because maternity is still seen to be at the core of what it means to be a woman. It’s precisely because it’s so ‘natural’ that we need to ask what psycho-social reason could lie behind a woman’s decision to not reproduce. We usually conclude that these women are materialistic, selfish, decadent, clever and mannish. If childbearing is natural then being child-free is deviant. And if childbearing is natural then we don’t need to see it as work and nor do we need to listen to the women who have realised, after the fact, that they don’t like being mothers. Shut up and multiply!

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2. Mothers are not docile lackwits

This kind of research almost seems designed to divide women. Ladies who don’t lactate say the figures show ‘smart women making smart choices’ as Walsh put it, which necessarily implies that if you’ve decided to have kids you’ve made a dumb decision thanks to your low IQ. As I discuss in point 4, Kanazawa’s methodology is flawed. An IQ test is about as flimsy a foundation for research as my own anecdotal experience, which, I might add, suggests that terrifyingly brilliant women do in fact reproduce. Putting childbirth down to irrational evolutionary forces negates the years of reasoned discussions that many couples put in to deciding whether to have children. It’s eugenicist in its suggestion that cognition is a product of good genes and not socio-economic class and it denies the intelligence of multitudes of women through using an outdated method.

3. You can be an adult without experiencing an epidural

Kanazawa sees breeding as marking the difference between cleverness and wisdom or intelligence and common sense. This is a subtle way of saying that childfree women have not socially developed as they should have. You can learn to be clever, but only the passage of time will give you wisdom. In deviating from their evolutionary function, childless women are pathologised as suffering from a kind of arrested development. A perfectly legitimate life choice is diagnosed as severe immaturity. In a world where women’s life paths are mapped out so as to inevitably arrive at motherhood - the pinnacle of feminine achievement - we simply cannot attain adult status without having children in tow. An obvious example here is the suspicion that greeted Gillard’s childlessness.

4. Kanazawa should be fired

IQ tests, according to the largest single study of human cognition, are ‘fundamentally flawed’ and a ‘fallacy’. This is because they fail to take into account the complex interaction of the three main areas of cognition ‘verbal agility, short-term memory and reasoning.’ Poor Kanazawa. There goes the entire foundation for his study. Aside from that, Kanazawa has proven himself over and again to be in scholarly wrongtown. In fact, he’s the mayor of scholarly wrongtown. Being a barren nerd I actually went to his book and read it.  There I found the delightfully homophobic line: ‘More than exclusive homosexuality… voluntary childlessness is the most unnatural thing that any living organism can do.’ Charming! He has also produced a study to suggest that black women are less attractive and was fired for doing so. Why he is still employed at LSE is quite beyond me.

5. Wombs are social creatures

There are abundant reasons why women would choose not to reproduce such as the lack of affordable childcare, an unequal division of labour in the home, inadequate maternity and paternity leave, inflexible work conditions, a rejection of the model of femininity associated with motherhood or a prioritisation of one’s career. There are people out there who would love to have children but can’t afford it and are not so selfish as to put their own desires above that of the welfare of their kids. And then there’s just the plain old fact that not all of us experience the urge to merge then breed. Cameron Diaz loves her life and knows it’s ‘because I don’t have children’, Helen Mirren loves her ‘freedom’ and personally, I relate to Eva Mendes: ‘I just love sleep.’ But even more than sleep I would love it if this infinitely banal question would just go and play hide and not seek… forever.

There are abundant reasons why women would choose not to reproduce such as the lack of affordable childcare, an unequal division of labour in the home, inadequate maternity and paternity leave, inflexible work conditions, a rejection of the model of femininity associated with motherhood or a prioritisation of one’s career. There are people out there who would love to have children but can’t afford it and are not so selfish as to put their own desires above that of the welfare of their kids. And then there’s just the plain old fact that not all of us experience the urge to merge then breed. Cameron Diaz loves her life and knows it’s ‘because I don’t have children’, Helen Mirren loves her ‘freedom’ and personally, I relate to Eva Mendes: ‘I just love sleep.’ But even more than sleep I would love it if this infinitely banal question would just go and play hide and not seek… forever.

106 comments

  • There's yet another reason that smart women (of whatever IQ) may choose not to reproduce: some of us have genetic illnesses; and choose not to pass them on.

    I am proud of my decision, and I feel that I have made the right choice for my society. Yes, I am personally an evolutionary dead end; but I can help raise other children, who are genetically better than mine could ever be.

    Commenter
    JennV
    Date and time
    August 26, 2013, 7:44PM
    • I'm in the same position. I was always a bit ambivalent about having kids but with the hereditary conditions I have, I think the decision has been made for me.

      Commenter
      Cimbom
      Location
      Real World
      Date and time
      August 27, 2013, 10:25AM
    • I do not see how genetic problems or illness are related to intelligence.

      As for making a choice for your (potential) child... isn't it more related to risk taking rather than intelligence?

      Always great to have a scape goat though... the decision was made for me!

      Commenter
      cranky
      Location
      pants
      Date and time
      August 27, 2013, 12:04PM
    • "I do not see how genetic problems or illness are related to intelligence."

      Then you don't understand the full range of genetic problems out there. There are a number that can have a significant impact on intelligence levels.

      Commenter
      DM
      Date and time
      August 27, 2013, 2:40PM
    • Thanks DM. Are you also referring to Syndrones?

      Commenter
      cranky
      Location
      pants
      Date and time
      August 27, 2013, 3:24PM
    • Wow "cranky", really living up to your name, eh?

      This is an extra reason these women have decided to not have children as an argument against that it is only a woman's IQ that results in her not wanting children. Doesn't seem like you read the article or comments properly.

      I have male friends who have made the same decision to not have kids as they dont want to put their kids through the same suffering they went through with their illness.

      If someone doesn't want kids I dont see why anyone cares why or requires these women and men to justify their decision.

      Commenter
      Mynx
      Date and time
      August 27, 2013, 3:34PM
  • Perhaps the correlation is more in the other direction...those less gifted are more inclined to reproduce. That certainly appears to be the case from my observations.

    Commenter
    Nitya
    Date and time
    August 27, 2013, 7:53AM
    • Or to put it another way, those with a lower opportunity cost of having children are more likely to do so. If you're highly educated in a good job that challenges you and pays well allowing you financial security, do you really want to give that up to be a stay at home mother? Some do, some don't but you are definitely giving up more to have children than someone in a boring menial 9 to 5 job that they don't enjoy.

      Commenter
      Hurrow
      Date and time
      August 27, 2013, 11:04AM
    • Which is another way of saying exactly the same thing, no?

      However you phrase it, (and accepting for a moment that IQ measures some biologically inheritable trait), the conclusion would be that humanity is doomed to become evermore stupid. Not an appealing thought.

      Commenter
      James K
      Location
      Sydney
      Date and time
      August 27, 2013, 11:25AM
    • That is a valid point...Lots of intelligent people do reproduce, but it does seem that a higher proportion of women of lower IQ reproduce as a matterof course, even when they patently can't give their kids a good start in life

      Commenter
      Lady
      Location
      Melbourne
      Date and time
      August 27, 2013, 11:33AM

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