Are smarter women less likely to want children?

August 7, 2013

(Olga Bogatyrenko/Bigstock)

Satoshi Kanazawa firmly established himself as one of the most controversial evolutionary psychologists on the planet when he used research to make the case that black women are inherently less attractive than non-black women. Needless to say, this black woman did not accept those findings at face value. But as controversial as that research may have been Kanazawa’s latest research may prove even more so.

According to reports, his latest findings allege a direct correlation between a woman’s intelligence and whether or not she chooses to become a mother. More specifically, his findings indicate that women with higher IQs are statistically less likely to become mothers. Kanazawa, who is based at the London School of Economics, analyzed data from the United Kingdom’s National Child Development Study and found that even controlling for variables such as economics and education the findings still indicate that the higher a woman’s intelligence, the less likely she is to have children.

While there are accomplished, brilliant women who do not have children (among them Oprah Winfrey, Sen. Elizabeth Dole, former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Supreme Court Justices Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor), there are also accomplished, brilliant women who do (Sheryl Sandberg, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Supreme Court Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sandra Day O’Connor all come to mind.) So is Kanazawa just trolling for publicity like many of us theorized he was with his black-women-are-ugly media tour, or is there something substantive women can take away from his findings this time around?

Pamela Smock is a Research Professor affiliated with the University of Michigan’s Population Studies Center. When asked for her reaction to Kanazawa’s findings she replied in an email, “I know this area of research and teach [the class] Women and Work to undergraduates who do not want to believe this is true. But it is.” Smock went on to explain that while women’s lives have changed substantially in recent decades, with more entering the workplace, the workplace has not changed enough accordingly. Even in workplaces with so-called family-friendly policies, “the CEOs are not leaving the office, by and large, early afternoon to see their daughter or son act in a 2nd grade play.” Many highly intelligent and highly educated women who enjoy their jobs and careers see the hours and effort required to successfully climb the ladder at the office, and ultimately determine, “something’s got to give, and for many highly successful women it is children.”

Linda Hirshman, a scholar who writes extensively about women’s issues questioned how applicable Kanazawa’s methodology is to a conversation about choices about modern American motherhood. “Reproducing is a tremendously culturally inflected decision,” she said. Variables regarding racial and cultural diversity are crucial to insuring an accurate analysis of such findings, so she cautioned extrapolating too much about American women from a limited study of women in the United Kingdom. Hirshman pointed out that there are fundamental changes occurring in American society that are having a direct impact on the increasing number of women bypassing marriage and motherhood, such as the impact of income inequality on child-rearing. So of Kanazawa’s research she said, “I think the story is a much bigger story than a bunch of brainy women sitting around in earth shoes with their legs crossed.”

She noted that often there is not enough nuance in the conversation about correlation versus causation when it comes to subjects like this. “The easy answer is if you’re smart you don’t want to have children but I’m not sure that’s the right interpretation of this data. But he isn’t controlling for another factor which is if you’re really smart and accomplished you have a tough time finding a worthwhile partner.”

Hirshman’s critics might be surprised to hear her challenge the idea that more intelligent women choose to be child-free. She is the author of the controversial book, Get to Work…and Get a Life, Before It’s Too Late, which chided stay-at-home mothers to return to the workforce. She also championed the notion that working women should have fewer children. Hirshman, who is a mother, got labeled anti-child and anti-mother but as she explained in a phone interview, “I’m in favor of people having children. They are a really wonderful and rewarding part of the human experience. But have one child. Don’t have two. Having more than one makes it more than twice as hard.” She explained that the financial costs, energy and time required to raise multiple children makes it much tougher for women to keep up in the workforce. “So I actually said what I said to encourage women to have children and have career ambition. I think people who say don’t have children are trying to scare women into not being ambitious for themselves.”

Like Hirshman, Janice Crouse, a Senior Fellow with the conservative think tank Concerned Women for America, questioned the study’s methodology. “I could list very quickly a handful of genius IQ women that I know personally — some are wonderful mothers and some are awful ones,” she said in an email. “I seriously doubt the results of this study and guess that a thorough analysis of the methodology would result in some major disclaimers.”

But Crouse did expound on one question that the study ultimately raises: Are more intelligent people more thoughtful about the choice to procreate? We know that more educated people are more likely to have fewer children. So could this study simply be an extension of this reality? Are more intelligent people more likely to consider the financial and emotional realities that parenting requires in advance resulting in more of them deciding against parenthood? Crouse wrote, “I think it is great that women are questioning whether they have what it takes to be a good wife and mother. I made deliberate choices in terms of education and career so that I could have a meaningful personal life as well as have a satisfying career.” She also wrote that, “I think it is fortunate that some women choose to not have children and they have that right,” but, she added, “My, what joys they are missing.”

Someone who would beg to differ with Crouse that forgoing motherhood means missing out on meaningful joy is comedienne Henriette Mantel. Mantel is an Emmy Award winning actress and producer and edited No Kidding: Women Writers on Bypassing Parenthood, a collection of essays by her famous friends and fellow comediennes, all of who have chosen to remain child-free.

Mantel was compelled to write the book as a response to media becoming overrun by mommy blogs, mommy bloggers and kid-obsessed culture in general. She laughed upon learning of Kanazawa’s study saying with a chuckle, “Sounds right to me!” When asked if she believes there is a connection between intelligence and her choice, and her friends’ choices to remain child-free she said, “For me I never thought about it and that’s what I realized about a lot of women who don’t have kids. It just wasn’t on their priority list or was way down on it—if it made their priority list at all.” Mantel said women who choose to remain child-free still face stigma, but that is changing with younger generations, she believes. She still receives letters from women who read No Kidding and say they now know they are not alone. Asked what she hopes readers will take away from No Kidding she says, “That it’s okay for people not to have kids.” She added, “I dedicated the book to my nieces and nephews and my godchildren. I love kids. I just chose not to have one.”

Keli Goff is a Special Correspondent for The Root. Follow her on twitter @keligoff.

Keli Goff is a columnist for The Daily Beast and The Root. Follow her on Twitter @keligoff.
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