Child-Free Women Myth #1: We Are Smart! Yet Stupid

Roughly 1 in 5 women in the U.S. ends her childbearing years without children, according to PewReseachCenter, compared with 1 in 10 women in the 1970s. To me, this speaks of freedom, choice and progression, when the decision is optional. Many others beg to differ…

Not all women dream of having children.

Not all women dream of having children.

Moms are awesome! Kids are awesome. I have endless respect for anyone who lovingly raises children, which I believe is one of the toughest and most important jobs on the planet.

As much as I admire parents, I’ve always known, or at least strongly believed, that I’d never become one. While my sisters and girlfriends were dreaming up children’s names and careers that might allow parenting plus professionalism in the schoolyard, I saw myself traveling around with a microphone and helping people in the public. While the specifics of my desired future continues to evolve, I’ve always sensed a purpose involving passion, creativity, outreach and love—but in ways unrelated to parenthood.

I feel blessed to live in a time in which deciding against motherhood is largely acceptable by society’s standards, and to have loved ones (including my own awesome mom) who respect my less conventional aspirations. That said, there’s still a fair amount of stigma when it comes to women who opt out of motherhood, and heap loads of myths.

People seldom ask a woman why she decided to have children, but for women without kids, the “why” question is common. I can’t speak for all of us, of course, but I have to say—the notion circulating the media that it derives from some level of stupidity is, well, stupid.

Child-Free Myth #1: Child-free women are smart, yet stupid.

A recent study conducted at the London School of Economics revealed a strong link between women with high IQs and a disinclination toward motherhood. A woman’s urge, according to the research, decreases significantly for every 15 added points of IQ she has. There are obviously countless brilliant women who have children, and less sharp women without. What bothers me about the study is the reaction of Satoshi Kanazawa, one of the psychologists heading the research—and the folks who agree with him.

Kanazawa finds it paradoxical that intelligent women don’t desire what should be the ultimate pursuit of their biological existence, according to an article published in The Guardian—reproducing. Because women can have babies, he presumes that we should, and that opting out is an unintelligent decision brilliant women are making.

It remains unknown, he says, why intelligent women are reproducing less but believes it’s not the reason most people assume: that women with higher IQs are more likely to go to seek higher education and have demanding careers than mothers. He concludes that intelligent women’s failure to reproduce works against them because they are resisting their biological destiny, and that it damages society, because fewer smart moms results in fewer smart kids.

Here are some of the reasons I disagree:

1. The lack of sound, wellness-promoting, sex education leads many girls to become mothers. I live in Los Angeles, where the combination of poverty, early motherhood and limited education runs rampant. Throughout the U.S., girls and boys continue to learn extremely little about their bodies and sexuality in our largely abstinence- and fear-based/disease focused sex education system—the setup for unwanted pregnancy. In 2011 alone, 323,797 babies were born to teen girls ages 15 to 19, according to the Centers for Disease Control. While some of those girls-turned-parents are able to thrive, most face challenges even full-fledged adults would find unmanageable. Their chances of furthered education and nurtured intellect are dismal compared to teens without kids. It’s unfair to compare these girls and the women they become to women who’ve made informed decisions about education and parenthood later on. If the sex education system were smarter, women and children would be, too.

2. High intelligence in a woman doesn’t necessarily mean she’ll be a spectacular mother, or that her kids will be geniuses. If a mother bears children with or without taking a job she’s unfilled by instead of a more demanding job that suits her passion, she could end up somewhat resentful or unhappy—not ideal traits for a parent. Strong mothering skills have been linked with the ability to take things in stride and not hold oneself up to ultra-high standards; overachievers, who tend to be intelligent, are prone to the opposite. I’m sure there are plenty of women with closer to average intelligence and exceptional hearts who make fantastic parents, setting the stage for kids to grow up healthy and bright. And since IQ is only about 50 percent inheritable, children of a super sharp mom are more likely to inherit her hair color or height than her IQ score.

3. Many women without children are smart and conscientious enough to know that they couldn’t properly nurture a child. Many of the most influential, good-doing women in the world don’t have kids. As of August 2010, the last three male judges nominated to the Supreme court were married, with a collective seven children. The last three women were single and without kids. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Oprah Winfrey are also child-free. I can’t speak to whether they chose professional desires over maternal* (though Oprah has professed to never having the urge), but I doubt these women would’ve excelled to the degree that they have and raised children to the best of their abilities simultaneously. Other women opt not to have kids for financial reasons, realizing that they couldn’t afford to support children, or because they know instinctually that they aren’t cut out for parenting. It takes smarts to recognize whether one is well-suited or not to such an important role.

*For women who desire children but choose career aspirations instead, improving childcare and maternity options in the workplace throughout the U.S. seems vital.

4. Some women parent in other ways, nurturing others and bettering the world through outreach in lieu of childrearing. My friend Julie is one of the most maternal, nurturing women I know. Rather than have children of her own, she teaches and formulates curriculum for children with special needs—giving her all and then some routinely. Just as children are blessed to have wonderful, loving parents, the students Julie reaches are blessed to have her to such a full extent. Women don’t have to have children to increase the overall intelligence or integrity of society. Whether we have children or not, we can contribute in countless alternate ways.

Do you believe highly intelligent women choosing not to have children could damage society? Have you struggled with the career versus parenthood decision or balancing act yourself? Any points of argument to add to my list? I’m always thrilled to hear from you!

If you enjoyed this post, I hope you’ll join me as we explore additional myths about child-free women soon. You can also interact with me and the #GirlBoner community on Facebook and Twitter. ♥

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25 Comments

  1. Great post, and hahahahaha…I was going to say something like “Kanazawa sounds more like a stereotypical economist than a ‘researcher,'” and then I click over and see that he’s ”
    a researcher at the London School of Economics.” Of course! (Though he’s not actually an economist, and nothing against economists generally, this is just the kind of a-rational-human-being-must-do-this nonsense they sometimes fall into.) I also found this (warning, it’ll make you stupider, and that’s a hilariously misleading URL): http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1388313/LSE-psychologist-Satoshi-Kanazawa-claims-black-women-attractive.html Google will also lead you to a post on ScienceBlogs that collects a list of sources on what a right-wing crackpot and bad scientist he is.

    Anyway, unexpected tangent, but wow, what a loon. Great post. I’d just add that “by choice” is kind of a slippery concept, given how long life is and how many things change and everything. I imagine that many people, men and women, may have chosen to have children if they had happened to meet exactly the right person at exactly the right time, but didn’t and are just fine with that, and that many others never really wanted to, but then DID meet exactly the right person at exactly the right time (or “wrong,” I suppose) and are just fine with that, too. AND, of course, that others (like you) just were or weren’t going to come hell or high water. Another problem with doing crap like what Kanazawa did is painting everyone with the same brush without any consideration of all the thousands of individualized things that went into each of those brilliant women’s decisions.

    Regardless, pretty great that women HAVE enough other choices now that this is a thing that backward-thinking loonies get to worry themselves about. 🙂

    Reply
    • Good point. The choice issue can be complex, though women who change their minds are still making a decision to have, or not, have kids; their choice/outcome simply changes. It’s a lot more common for women with intense passion for time and energy-consuming careers to opt out and stick with that than to change their minds.

      At least Kanazawa’s opened up some arguably necessary discussion. I’ve been amazed at the fact that many folks are in agreement with his data interpretation… Extremely great that women have more choices than ever. Cheers to that!

      Reply
      • Of course. Totally agreed. I have known several in more of a gray area — just constantly don’t choose to, more than explicitly choosing not to — but even that string of choices becomes one big choice not to eventually, I suppose, even if it’s not really final until time makes it final. 🙂 I think the key is that (as with so many things) it’s nobody else’s business, and if you care about another’s choice that much — especially to the point where you’re worried about our future because smart people aren’t procreating — you’ve got a whole bunch of serious issues that have nothing to do with this one. Just have to make all of those choices as freely available as possible (especially the choice to BOTH be a mom and have a career, as your * deals with — can’t even imagine the stuff working-professional mothers of young children have to go through).

  2. August, I support your right to have neither children nor any stigma for not having them. That said, I would urge you to form close relationships with nieces and nephews. Most of us, as we grow older, find ourselves needing family support in one way or another, and your nieces and nephews will be your family when that time comes.

    I’m not saying people should have kids just so they’ll have someone around to visit them in their nursing homes – just that family can be a great comfort.

    Reply
    • Great points there, David. I have 8 nieces and a nephew on the way, for whom I’m crazy grateful. 🙂 Family definitely is a great source of comfort.

      Reply
  3. I’ve never understood why society finds it so unnatural for a woman not to have children. I don’t think the same sentiment applies to men (maybe it does, I don’t know; I guess I’d need childless men to answer that question). Regardless, it seems the burden falls more on women, as if there’s something wrong with them. I think the bigger focus should be on assuring that men and women who do have kids adequately care for them. Sadly, all too often the opposite is true.

    Reply
    • Agreed, Carrie. And there is absolutely more pressure on women to mother than on men to father. I’ll be addressing those issues in upcoming posts. I’ve learned a great deal about the topics lately—fascinating stuff.

      Reply
  4. Hi August! I’m going to disagree with your point #3: “Many women without children are smart and conscientious enough to know that they couldn’t properly nurture a child.”

    Many women who don’t THINK they’d make good mothers (nurturing, etc.) end up being wonderful mothers. It’s a biological fact that a good portion of that mothering instinct is hormonal, and many of those hormones aren’t produced until pregnancy or after child birth.

    So I don’t think a woman can usually KNOW whether they’d make a good mother or not until they try. (Exceptions for the obvious drug abuse, etc.)

    That’s not to say that I think every woman should try it just to find out if their hormones trigger those nurturing urges. If the “experiment” fails, an unwanted child is the unfortunate “side effect” and that’s not a good situation for anyone.

    However, what I DO think this means is that intelligent women are cutting themselves off from the possibility because they’re OVER-THINKING the issue. 😀 That over-thinking tendency IS something more likely to be found in intelligent women, and I’d guess that’s a big part of the difference in the numbers.

    So if a woman decides not to have kids because she’d RATHER do xyz, that’s a valid choice I wouldn’t question in any way. However, if a woman decides not to have kids because of some over-thinking analysis about why she’d be no good at it? Eh. While I’d still fully respect her right to make that choice, inside my head, I’d be more likely to think her reasons are…er, misguided. 🙂

    Reply
    • Good point, Jami! You’re right about hormones kicking in for most women after pregnancy. I recently interviewed a psychologist about that very thing – the “mommy gene,” as it’s been coined—and most women indeed become more skilled at nurturing and such after childbirth. If a woman desires children but fears she won’t be great at it, and that keeps her from pursuing it, I imagine therapy and such might be a useful option. Fear and insecurity certainly shouldn’t hold us back—from anything. 🙂

      Reply
  5. I laughed years ago when I found my original job application in financial services. Paraphrasing, it said: I plan to approach this job as a career for as long as I choose to work. However, my long-term goal is to have children and stay home to raise them.

    When I was in college, I had a collage of BABIES! Not hunks. Not stars, Not postcards about far-away places. BABIES!

    And, then life happened.

    I never set out to not have children, it simply moved lower on my priority list as I kicked doors open in the male-dominated corporate world. I met my now-husband when I was 32 and on my way up in my career. I learned he’d had a vasectomy. He had two grown children. Yes. It took some soul-searching to make sure I wouldn’t look back with regret.

    So! I married two wonderful, well-adjusted step-children (17 & 22 at that time) and have two never-call-them-step grandchildren.

    Regrets? A snick every now and then. But, I made my choice. There’s no benefit in looking back.

    As for this study, the conclusions drawn sound like someone had a personal agenda to promote selective reproduction, survival of the fittest/smartest as in: Smart women have an obligation to reproduce & they’re stupid not to understand the implications to humanity.

    Reply
  6. Wow! You sure don’t veer away from those controversial topics, do you girl? 😀

    Several points:
    Yes, there is a hormone that increases dramatically during childbirth and it does ‘promote affiliative behavior’ (psychobabble for makes you want to be with people, give and get hugs, etc.) However, involved fathers-to-be also have a rise in this hormone, and everyone has a spike in it every time they hug someone (a true hug). This hormone improves new mothers’ ability to stay calm and loving with a squalling infant but it most certainly does not make them good mothers all by itself. So much goes into that, including personality, past life experiences and role models, conflicting goals (such as career) and whether or not the child is truly wanted. If these factors work against being a good mother and a smart woman realizes this, all the hormones in the world won’t make her a good mom (I’m a psychologist, btw, folks).

    I do agree, however, that women (and men) can only speculate about how good they will be beforehand. It is a task so different from anything else we do, and so wrapped up with our emotions, that predicting how good a parent we will be is very difficult. My brother resisted having children for a very long time because he thought he wouldn’t be a very good father. He ended up being one of the best dads I’ve ever seen.

    I, on the other hand… I wanted babies, badly, ever since I was six! I laughed when I read Gloria’s comment. That was me, too. When I got pregnant I was so happy. I love my son dearly and I feel I was a decent mother to him; I certainly improved on my own parents’ track record. But I realized I didn’t have quite enough patience to be a truly great mom. When it was homework time or time to teach him to ride a bike, I stayed out of the way and let my husband handle it, because I knew I would lose it at some point.

    My husband only wanted one child because he wasn’t sure how good a parent he would be. I went along with this only semi-willingly. Later he waffled on this decision and I stood firm. I knew I did not have it in me to juggle the demands of two children plus my career. Hubs turned out to be a better parent than I was!

    And all of us, btw–me, my brother and my husband–have advanced degrees and are on the high end of the IQ curve.

    Reply
    • Hmm… Nope! 😉 Thanks so much for sharing your expert insight, Kassandra — brilliant, as always! You are living proof that sharp women become moms, and that rolling with the punches is key to emotional fulfillment, regardless of our choices.

      My own parents were equally nurturing to me and my siblings. Like your husband, he’s a great example of the invaluable childbearing roles men can play. Thanks for highlighting such an important point!

      Reply
  7. Catherine Johnson

     /  October 10, 2013

    Great debate, August. I was in the couldn’t imagine myself with kids crowd and no one else could imagine it either but some people are meant to have them later. You lose a lot of braincells so I don’t know where that study came from 😉 I respect women whatever path they choose.

    Reply
  8. Great post August. Economists may not be the best people to look to for an interpretation of the findings. 🙂
    For a sociological slant check out Dr. Amy Blackstone’s research on we’re {not} having a baby!

    Reply
  9. Raani York

     /  October 11, 2013

    Thank God I never had to make a decision between career and child. Even though I was very close to getting married and even planned, together with my former fiancé, that we’d have children as quickly as possible, I didn’t get pregnant.
    I figure I was lucky. I would have loved to have kids. With a wonderful loving, caring and protecting husband. (which he was not, and which was why I cancelled any plans and took off)
    By now I have decided I don’t want children anymore. For several reasons including my health and the health of possible babies. The risk is too high.
    I figure, there must have been a reason why I never had children. And I wouldn’t try to have a kid only to “have one”, and/or because older ladies in my family (Mom, Aunts, and so on) can hear MY biological clock ticking as it was church bells.
    I think: There must have been a reason, why I never had a baby, even if it was planned at one point.
    And I do refuse to accept I’m less “woman” just because I’m not a mother…

    Reply
  10. August, I’ve always felt this is up to the individual. There are so many variables to consider with this subject. If a woman feels that she does not want to have children, that’s her prerogative. It’s really not for others to say. Just as if a woman desires to have children. That’s a personal decision. I, for one, did not plan on having children. I loved them, babysat on a regular basis as a teenager and knew how much work it would be and after you have them, they never go away. lol. But, after several years of marriage, I got pregnant. For me, the decision was made and I never looked back. It turned out to be the most amazing years of my life. I look back upon that time with cherished memories. And if it were possible, I would relive those times over in a heartbeat. 🙂

    Reply
  11. All we have in life is our free will.
    Personally, all I want for my daughter is a life filled with happiness and fulfilment. Period.

    Reply
  12. I can say that I am not overly-willing to read the article you mentioned. I find it somewhat low-level thinking to imagine that a woman will damage society by not having a child. If we were in a position in which the population had suffered drastically and was still going down, then perhaps, but to just state that opinion is rather ludicrous to me.

    Men don’t have to be fathers and nothing is thought much about that. In fact, those that don’t are often thought to be intelligent for understanding that they wouldn’t be good fathers. No matter how far we come, it seems, we are still rather prejudiced.

    Scott

    Reply

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