Jordan Peterson and the Epidemic of Unplanned Childlessness
Declining birth rates may not be caused by women wanting to have fewer children. The culprit may be a combination of misinformation, inappropriate educational arrangements and hard-wired female mating preferences. The result is unplanned childlessness.
This is another post encouraging readers to listen to thought-provoking material from alternative analysts. This time it is an interview by Jordan Peterson with British demographer Steven Shaw about his work explaining the fall in birth rates around the world, especially in the West, over past decades.
The interview is a YouTube video lasting over an hour and a half. You may need quite a long car trip to listen to it. But it contains a wealth of fascinating detail as well as a startling explanation for modern women’s supposed unwillingness to have children.
Falling populations are already undermining political arrangements, especially welfare states relying on expanding populations to pay for past promises, so it matters. Here is the link:
For those who, quite understandably, can’t spare the time to listen, I will attempt to summarise the main argument. In a nutshell it is not true that women (and indeed men) want to have too few children to maintain stable populations. And once women have the crucial first child they are, apparently, equally as likely to have more, maybe a lot more, as they used to be.
Government financial incentives, and the provision of child care, to encourage women to ‘want’ more children typically don’t work very well. The problem is not what it seems.
Modern women are expected to follow an academic and then career path designed for young men generations ago. The men used their studies in their late teens and early twenties as a launch pad for a sustained effort to build careers, or at least earning capacity, so as to be able to attract a mate and support a family. By their mid to late twenties, reasonably diligent men could settle down with (usually) younger women and start a family.
Women are behaviourally (presumably in some degree genetically) ‘hard-wired’ to seek out taller, higher status - more educated and prosperous - men. They seek to ‘marry up’. It makes sense. Such mates have resources to devote to their children. Men used to benefit from greater educational opportunities, and downright positive discrimination in employment. Therefore, they would generally be ‘higher status’ and prosperous enough to be acceptable to their younger, less educated potential partners.
This system worked. In a society where young motherhood is regarded as a good thing (which is most societies that have ever existed), women who want to have children (almost all of them, then and now) generally do. I won’t dwell on the drawbacks of this traditional arrangement, but instead will summarise the biological and behavioural arguments in the attached YouTube discussion linked above.
The basic idea is that expecting women to follow the classical male pattern of more advanced training into the early twenties and then focussing on employment and careers for a decade before having a family doesn’t work for women. It results in many women who really want a family being unable to do so.
A particular problem is deferring childbearing into the thirties. It seems that half of women aged 30 who haven’t yet had a child won’t ever have one. There are two main problems.
Firstly, modern women are misinformed about the brevity of the period during which they can conceive without much difficulty. In the interview, this period is identified as being between the ages of 17 and 30. It seems that that a third of women over thirty have trouble conceiving. ‘Trouble’ is defined as trying to get pregnant for a year and not succeeding. The fashionable notion that childless thirty year old women have plenty of time, and that IVF and egg harvesting are generally successful backstops, are wrong. Women are being misled by medics and media.
The next problem is a shortage of acceptable mates for the thirty something girl about town. Apparently, women on dating sites agree that 80% of men on such sites are ‘below average’. Successfully employed women are, as discussed above, interested in men that are more successful and higher status than them.
Men who are basically on the same level won’t cut it, still less men who are clearly lower down the pecking order. (And apparently marriages where the woman is clearly higher status/more successful are more likely to be unstable and even violent.) So many men won’t count as viable partners in the eyes of many 30 something women. They won’t count as possible partners in their child bearing ambitions. Which will then go unrealised. The result will all too often be lonely decades, plagued by regret about childlessness.
It's still worse when you consider the incentives facing the more successful and presentable men to avoid unmarried women in their thirties. Why marry someone who will want you to assume the joys of fatherhood as soon as possible and may well be a challenging and independent-minded partner? Men have a lot more time to start families. Those in higher paying jobs can afford to choose younger women instead – and those women are hard-wired to accept them.
UNIVERSITY EDUCATION AND POSITIVE DESCRIMINATION MAKE THINGS WORSE
The interview touches on the way that the educational system’s emphasis on university education for both sexes in their early twenties makes the problem worse, especially as more women go to university. There are now one and a half times as many women students as men in the USA. Two generations ago women were in a clear minority. This has drawbacks in terms of the risk of later childlessness.
Firstly, there used to be a pathway to becoming a young wife and mother by going to university, or associated teaching or nursing colleges. There were plenty of potentially higher status attractive men who might pop the question. Now law and medicine faculties (studies leading to high incomes) have more women than men. More graduates are women than men. And there is official discrimination in favour of hiring young women (especially for ‘minorities’ where the equivalent men are much less likely to be preferred).
Women are now more likely to devote their twenties to achieving success in employment, instead of marrying. Their most fecund years will pass them by. In their late twenties they will suddenly want to have children, apparently a common occurrence. They will lose their intense interest in work. This is a problem for many organisations. They lose carefully mentored female professionals who were expected to hold the fort for decades to come.
These women, however, find there are fewer acceptable, higher-status men than there used to be. To the extent that better paid positions are now held by women, men who might previously have occupied them no longer can. Universities are less likely to have educated the men, or organisations to have hired them. This would account for the assumption that female graduates want fewer children (they certainly have fewer). They may want them just as much as anyone else, but get wrong-footed by biology and by behavioural imprinting.
IS THE STATE TO BLAME?
To what extent is the modern worship of the all-powerful State to blame for this problem?
The state always makes everything more difficult. It is a less than zero-sum game which uses robbery and coercion to drain value from productive people to maintain unproductive but politically influential people. Therefore, incomes are generally lower and costs higher than would otherwise the case. In particular, housing costs are always pushed up and its supply is always reduced by state intervention.
In Britain housing costs are massively increased by restrictive planning laws as well as out-of-control credit creation. Two incomes may be needed for a long time to afford somewhere to live. The result can be a fatal delay in having the all-important first child.
The state is not just a parasitic growth. It is also hostile to innovation and change, which are vital to long term wellbeing. Instead, it defends established but often failing vested interests, and certainly vested interests in education or the media. The State depends on them to uphold its legitimacy and its claim to be a necessary and even useful institution. The result is to divert resources to established systems and away from innovative newcomers. It is a big reason why state intervention is inevitably counter-productive.
Governments subsidise the traditional pattern of academic study concentrated in the early twenties – which on this analysis is fatally mismatched to the needs of women. The emphasis on promoting and discriminating in favour of twenty-something female employment is also a problem. The results, cruel and unintended childlessness, and decades of inevitable loneliness are not laid at the state’s door, but apparently should be.
It doesn’t help that Western states are promoting bogus ‘Climate Change’ and woke ‘White Patriarchy’ narratives. Men of moral sense and concern are particularly easily misled. Thus, they may suppress their childbearing instincts and their innate ambition. Without them, however, fewer men will be of any use to women seeking effective partners.
WHAT IS TO BE DONE?
What is needed, in effect, is something of a reversion to more traditional arrangements, including restoring the prestige of being a young mother as a core archetypal figure in our culture. In the interview there is a suggestion that such mothers could benefit from further education and training after child bearing, rather than before it. That could form the basis for successful employment in the emptier nest decades from the forties to the seventies.
Is this ideal? We are, contrary to rationalist fantasy, creatures driven by (often genetically determined) differences in aptitudes and priorities which admit of no perfect solution. What is needed is flexibility and liberty to enable people to find what works best for them.
If that is not allowed by the State, depopulation will eventually auto-correct more painfully. The State’s currency, finances and credibility will fail under the weight of declining revenues and insatiable spending on unviable activities. The latter will close down, along with their associated unviable ideologies. The future will presumably belong to a population dominated by higher-reproducing, traditionalist immigrant and indigenous groups.