Thursday, September 27, 2007

The Biology of Breeding

If you've played Breeder Bingo, you have probably come across the odd idea that the childfree will "non-breed ourselves out of existence". Now that very notion is being endorsed by a scientist at Queens University.

In Is there really a ‘mommy’ gene in women?, Lonnie Aarssen advances the theory that there is a biological cause to childfreedom, brought out finally by birth control and real choices for women. But instead of considering this a trait that will continue (through recessive carriers, or continuing social changes) he hypothesizes that:
The women who leave the most descendants will be those with an intrinsic drive for motherhood. . . . Over time those genetic traits that influence women away from motherhood will necessarily be ‘bred out.’
. . .
In this way future generations of women will inherit a stronger genetic predisposition for mating and having children as a priority in their lives. Dr. Aarssen predicts that an increased desire for marriage and having children, in both men and women, will be an inevitable product of evolution within the next few generations.
On one hand, a genetic or other intrinsic source may be a boon to childfree people; it may indeed lessen the social pressure we face, and the accusation that childfreedom is unnatural. It can also rebut the assumtion that we are going through a phase that will end in regret later in life.

But on the other hand, I can't help but cringe at his view of the future; one in whch pronatalism runs even more rampant, childless (either infertile or the few left) will be further left out of society, and population problems will escalate. But of course, disliking that view of the future does nothing to debunk it.

There is another possibility. Just as many believe the nature vs. nurture dilemma has been resolved in favor of "a little of each", the truth on this specific tendency might be somewhere between the two. The various environments in which we are raised and mature may continue to influence our drives and choices, perhaps even as much or more than our DNA.

Furthermore, our society is by no means a childfree paradise: many with the "childfree gene" may nonetheless have children because of family or societal pressures, or simply because they never question the assumption that they'll be parents. Birth control is not perfect, so many with the gene will get pregnant accidentally. For these reasons alone, the gene may be passed on for generations, postponing the effect Aarssen predicts.

Lastly, the biological contributors may not be a single gene with an on-off switch; there may be a continuum of people from the most child-averse to the worst case of baby-rabies. Those in between will still ultimately be making a decision based on individual circumstances, not on biology.

But perhaps my hesitance is based less on my bleak view of his future or criticism of his conclusions, perhaps it is because his final quote does not inspire confidence:
“The bottom line from a biology viewpoint is: in order to have your genes live on, you’ve got to have kids. If you don’t, then they’re going to disappear,” says Dr. Aarssen.
Technorati Tag:

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Why are people so obsessed with "passing on their genes", anyway? I have never understood this concept (much like I have never understood "new baby smell").