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Are Smart Women Less Likely to Have Babies?

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A paper published recently in a social science journal explored the correlation between intelligence and childlessness and determined, “One standard-deviation increase in childhood general intelligence (15 IQ points) decreases a woman’s odds of parenthood by 21–25 percent. Because women have a greater impact on the average intelligence of future generations, the dysgenic fertility among women is predicted to lead to a decline in the average intelligence of the population in advanced industrial nations.”

Naturally, in the popular press, this was boiled down to the headline: Smart Women Don’t Have Babies.

When I sent the link to my husband, I wrote: “Duh. It’s a very unpleasant process.”

Seriously, I am not a fan of the whole pregnancy and childbirth thing. I don’t enjoy day-long vomiting or excruciating pain. On the other hand, I really, really like kids. And so does my husband.

I can’t give you an intellectual reason for it. Or even a practical reason. Why does anybody like anything? A combination of brain chemistry, physiology, environment, upbringing, life experience, and… pixie dust?

Though my husband and I both technically have two standard deviations above average IQs (which means we’re smart enough to know IQ scores mean very little in the great scheme of things), we did not have three children–above the necessary replacement rate–in an attempt to stave off the coming “Idiocracy.”

We did it because we really like kids. My husband quit his (better paying) corporate job in order to become a teacher. I write about education and parenting because I find both topics interesting. (To be fair, I also write romance and mystery novels because I find them interesting, too.)

On the other hand, every once in a while, a friend of my parents will ask me to speak to her childless daughter to tell her how great motherhood is and why she should hop right onto that bandwagon. She probably thinks that, with three kids, I must think motherhood is pretty darn great.

Here is what I tell those daughters (sorry, friends of my parents): If you are not absolutely, positively, totally certain that you want kids, DO NOT HAVE THEM.

Parenting is hard enough when you are absolutely, positively, totally certain that you want kids. If you’re ambivalent… I can see how it would suck (no matter what your IQ).

I suppose another question brought up by the study (which, by the way, merely offers a quantitative analysis, not recommendations), is whether educated women “owe” it to society in general to reproduce in order to keep average intelligence from declining.

In my opinion, that, like anything else having to do with raising children, is a personal choice. (And yes, that includes breast vs. bottle, co-sleeping, baby-wearing, playpens, education, ADD medication, discipline, diet, religion, and any other issue that’s been debated in these pages.) However, when people ask my husband and me why we stress education so strenuously (many have used the word “excessively”) with our own kids, the answer is usually, “because we don’t want to raise idiots.” Not for society’s sake, but for our own sake. Who wants to spend their golden years surrounded by idiots?

Then again, what do we know? It’s been shown repeatedly that childless people are happier, and that childless women, in particular, are more successful in their careers.

That would be another “duh.” Before I had kids, I was a network television producer who traveled all over the world, went to awards shows, and published novels on the side. Now I’m… not.

But even when I was all those things, I knew that I couldn’t be completely happy in my life without children. My husband felt the same way. Not because we’d been brain-washed by society about proper gender roles or felt obliged to keep Social Security from collapsing into an unsupportable mess due to there being more older people than younger, but because–say it with me now–we really like kids.

And that’s all it comes down to in the end. The smart woman (and man) is the one who knows what’s best for them.

Maybe if we breed for that sort of intelligence, we won’t all end up completely doomed.


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