Do Smart Women Have A Duty To Reproduce?


A friend of mine brought a news article to my attention recently and it made so many people so furious that I felt I should probably explain why it p***ed off so many people.

The article pointed out that a researcher at the London School of EconomicsSatoshi Kanazawa, who “found that a woman’s urge to have children decreases by a quarter for every 15 extra IQ points” seemed to come to a disturbing conclusion. I would take that as a sign that intelligent women may have just chosen a successful career over having a family (which women won the right to a stupidly long time ago for this to still be an issue!), or that maybe they just never felt the need and therefore had more focus on the educational areas of their life. Instead Kanazawa’s conclusion was that “intelligent women’s failure to reproduce is bad for them because they are flying in the face of their biological destiny and it’s also bad for society because fewer intelligent moms means fewer intelligent kids and that may have drastic implications for the nationwide IQ.” In other words, intelligent women are either too stupid/wisdom-less to realise their mistake or just plain selfish.

I do take into consideration that reading about the research is never going to be as accurate as simply reading the research but the public statement that “Reproductive success is the ultimate end of all biological existence” does seem to put life as we know it into very narrow concepts.

Have babies. Die. Hope they have babies. Great!

There are a number of reasons that you should take Kanazawa’s opinion with a pinch of salt and instead perhaps just look at the data (and the methodology used to get it), for example, his claim that black women are simply less attractive… as if that could ever be anything more than a subjective viewpoint at best. However, taking the article at face value I have to ask some questions and challenge these infuriating statements.

Even if you have no faith/belief system and instead have a very biology-focused view on life, I still hardly imagine that every women with such belief simply bows to the species requirements and settles down to procreate. If anything it seems that there is far more emphasis on “go forth and multiple” than in other non-faith models. So where in biology-focused-morality does it suggest anyone, and women in particular, have a duty to reproduce, and to who? If anything surely “survival of the fittest” would suggest that those that are more attractive/have positive qualities are more likely to find a mate and reproduce naturally? Therefore intelligence isn’t necessarily part of those “natural biological” needs.

Either way, a duty to who?! Our society is constantly changing and our species is hardly dying out. If anything an intelligent woman may well be considering the financial implications, the food needs, the space, the education, etc of the child and realise that they could not provide the best life for them. Or they might consider the 4000 children needing homes in the UK alone and conclude that if they ever did want a child, there may be one waiting for them other than in their own uterus. In a society that is struggling to educate all our children, struggling to feed families across the country, many of whom have jobs, and having healthcare cut left, right and centre, who is calling for women to have more children?

Secondly, why does every women need to have children? This assumption is the exact rubbish that makes any single woman feel shamed as they are constantly asked if they have met anyone yet, as if they are somehow incomplete and their lives worth a little less until they find someone to “put a ring on it”. The truth is that some women (and I believe this to be true of “non-intelligent” women too) just don’t feel the need to have children. Some have other priorities. Some go back and forth and eventually settle on a decision. In an age of increasingly normal no-attachment sex, some may even find themselves pregnant, having not wanted kids, but decide to keep the child anyway – as is their choice. Others reproduce like rabbits and adore every second of it. Personally, despite wanting a large family I am certain they will not be all mine, that I will adopt, and that I do not enjoy pregnancy. A ton of experiences can effect a women’s choice. It may be career, it may be health, it may be their previous experiences of families and children. All of this is OK. What is not OK is to give women the choice and then judge them as selfish or stupid when they don’t do what you’d like them to.

This brings me to another question. Was adoption, or fostering, taken into account or did only giving birth through your own vagina count as “maternal” instinct? As I pointed out it is perfectly clear that children need homes around the globe and plenty of women (and I definitely include fertile women here – adoption is not and should not only be a second choice!) decide adoption is a responsible way to start a family. There is also an increased likelihood of a single woman doing just that – starting a family without the concept of the nuclear family or a partner/husband. Did this get taken into account? If not I really believe it should. I remember trying to complete a study as a student to see if a higher level of intelligence (that was measured by educational level) led to a higher “niceness” or social responsibility. I found no correlation myself (it was an A level project), but I feel like adoption is a wonderful thing for those who feel they don’t need to add to the population but want a family.

There are so many issues with Kanazawa’s conclusion particularly because it basically sounds extremely sexist. Why is “smart women making smart decisions for themselves” not the conclusion? Even if it is true that IQ points (which are notoriously unreliable anyway) correlate with less maternal instinct, why is the conclusion selfishness or stupidity? Personally I feel that if any woman is thinking through their life carefully then no-one has any right to butt in. The article fuelled the anger at the ideas by quoting Tucker Carlson: “Having children means less time for vacations and spin class, where the real meaning in life resides, right? I mean, have you ever seen anything more selfish, decadent and stupid?” The assumption that it could only ever be such material reasons for women not having children was just painful. How dare they put anyone into such a boxed category!

What about men’s paternal instinct? Does their intelligence impact their need for children? There is no statement about this and I have a feeling I know why: it’s been a common idea that it’s mens job to spread their seed, in as many women as possible, and monogamy is honorable but not necessary. Nor do men really need to stay around for the childhood of those babies they do produce. Of course, some of this has changed and their are some incredible dads and stay-at-home dads, but the attitude of a man being a stud and woman being a slut is still prominent. The idea of an intelligent man deciding not to have children is less likely to be called selfish, and instead might be ambitious, focused, a bachelor.

I’m going to now add a little bit of my faith and biblical perspective into this. Of course, one of God’s first command was go forth and multiple, but I do believe context is a big thing. At that point God’s people were few, they were nomads being led across a desert, a people alone in a sea of sand. They also had the responsibility to spread the word of God to other people and the only way you do that is through people. The culture was also different, sons and daughters were the protection plan of their parents; to not have children was upsetting (to say the least) because it means that they were more vulnerable as they grew older. Of course having children was important, but in a way it was a selfish need as well as a societal or religious need. When you add the commands to protect the widows, the orphans and the poor, it opens up the idea of family and children far wider than just your own genetic codes. With all of this I honestly believe that in our world of over-population, lack of food, lack of health, and a lack of parents, particularly in war torn countries, I honestly feel we have other duties to society than simply having children. Adopt those orphans without homes. Love those who seem unloveable. Take in those people that are all alone and make them your family. Surely this is just as much “multiplying” as the original.

My conclusion: leave women alone. Stick to the facts if you claim you’re a scientist, don’t jump to pseudo-morality to shame those women who decide not to have children. It’s their choice not yours. You think you are intelligent and need to fill the earth with your children – go for it, but if you bring them up with the same idea, Mr Kanazawa, society will not thank you for it.

I once read a book called “The Handmaid’s Tale“; this dystopian fiction portrayed a society that believed if you were female and could have children you should be shipped off to provide other women with children (by their husbands performing ritualised rape on you), and then move on again. It cleverly picked up that even the women who originally believed this didn’t seem happy with their stay-at-home-mother role. By putting “duty” onto intelligent women’s shoulders you assume that is their primary role. It is not. This is the 21st century and each woman decides that for themselves. If you want to make it easier for intelligent women to have children, how about looking at the ongoing inequalities felt by those mothers who try to continue working only to be shelved as “having other priorities”. Do something to make it easier, but do not expect something of them.

I am warning you as a pregnant woman deep in hormones – do not expect women to have children. Celebrate with them when they choose to. Mourn with them if they can’t but want to. Support them anyway if they don’t. It is their body and their life. A child can be an amazing thing, but their are children out there abandoned by people (men and women) who did not want them. Sort that out before you judge anyone for not adding to that number…

OK.. rant over.

One Comment Add yours

  1. Bec Wilkinson says:

    Lovely work Elle!

    I would add, the assumption that intelligence is genetic is something I would challenge. I think whether someone grows up to be ‘intelligent’ is far more based on the environment they grow up in and what they are taught to value.

    If you want a nation with a high IQ, then unfairly reward those who do best in IQ tests into old age such that it is something people aspire to. One imagines that if a person has a high IQ they will extend that value, that having a high IQ is important to their dependents, biological or otherwise. And what has IQ got to do with successful society anyway. Using IQ as a measure is an incredibly sexist decision. What about the emotional intelligence, or creative and critical intelligence which creates some of the worlds most successful people.

    I am a fan of the comment re: paternal contribution – apparently their sperm don’t contribute to children’s IQ!


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