Why Aren't People Having Babies?

Give Them Dolls.

The question of why are people not having babies seems to keep popping up these days. Some people talk about a world wide population crash. Some consider declining birth rates a disaster, some consider it a blessing. This is to provide some understandings of the issue. There are many reasons for declining birth rates, and they will be considered but the point of this essay is to put the question in a context that is different than usual and so can offer new ideas on the problem.

It is interesting that over-population is a crisis but people not having children is also a crisis around the world. Really, there are too many humans in the world based on our ecological footprint but that is not what this is about. A sudden drop off in children can cause social chaos. This is a discussion about why people have children and why not. It used to be pretty consistent and predictable why people had children. Humans have a powerful sex drive and the usual result of that children. Birth control and other factors of family planning have changed that. Having children is now much more a choice than it was. This is to examine the reasons and drives that lead to people having or not having children when it is not necessarily an outcome of having sex. It is also about how to promote them having children based on reasons and instinct.

There are rational reasons to have children and rational reasons not to. There are instinctive reasons to have children but evolution should rarely provide reasons not to. This examines those reasons to provide understanding. Different reasons may apply to different people, but since having children is now a choice, the reasons need to be known so that a considered choice can be made. The problem is that if you asked someone why to have children, they are not likley to have much in the way of an answer. Nature has always taken care of the matter but does not now so humans need to. In places this discussion bounces back and forth between the rational and instinctive reasons.

In discussions that consider declining birth rates to be a disaster, the consideration seems to be mostly about the economics of the situation. Less people means less productivity. Too much it sounds like it is really about less wealth creation and less war making capability. They seem to simply ignore the real reasons to not have children, probably because they do not want to deal with them anyway. Besides the inherent difficulty in raising children, the current economic structures can make raising a family a daunting proposition. Questions about the condition of the world for our children now and moving forward tend to just be ignored as irrelevant. The biggest problem to me though is that those discussions naturally just don't seem to include reasons to have children. There are biological, natural, existential, philosophical, and logical reasons that a person might want to have children. The people complaining about population crashes never seem to try to offer those reasons. Since I study human survival, they may be more apparent to me.

Since part of this discussion is about instincts, that needs to be clarified. It is the old nature-nurture question. Are we a product of our environment or a product of our genes? It is obviously both. That is how things generally work. It might not be as simple as some people want, but it is the truth and there are complicated balances between the two. Really, it is not that complicated. Conrad Lorenz explained it very nicely with the term "Behavioral Releases". Events in the environment bring out or release instinctive behaviors. A person is unlikely to exhibit "fight or flight" behavior unless they are threatened. It can be quite an experience when a person experiences an unexpected behavior like jealousy. It can be sudden, powerful, and very unexpected, but it is quite natural.

Now there is a real question of generational and intergenerational economics. All wealth is created by people. Less people generally means less wealth. That isn't necessarily true either though since a more educated population using more efficient tools are naturally more productive. It is that quality verses quantity thing but so often an older mindset just looks at quantity as the solution. There are moral factors but that can get complicated. I will not even get started on the Genetic Factor which is a main part of my larger study though when giving reasons to have children, I will include instincts since my bias is about biological perspectives, they are important and also because no one else really seems to explore that perspective.

Do humans have instincts? If your answer is no, it is likely because instincts are subtle and hard to describe. Biology is just not a highly familiar subject to most people these days. Also, in Western culture there is a strong bias, that comes from Catholic teachings, that humans do not have instincts because that would mean that we are animals rather than divine. We have instincts and they are powerful. The next question would be do we have instincts to have babies? That is more complicated but is a main point of this essay.

A lot of people do not believe that humans even have instincts but that is basically a holdover from the teachings of the Catholic Church and a lack of knowledge of biology. The Catholic Church always taught that humans do not have instincts because that would mean that they are like animals instead of divine, something made by and similar to a God. It is an idea that was taught deeply for a long time and has become a part of our culture. Really, that belief does have a certain appeal, but even a superficial examination shows humans have inherited behaviors. We actually do have an overwhelming instinct that leads to having children, it is just that it got short circuited. While humans only have limited direct instincts to have children, they do have powerful instincts to have sex. Normally, sex leads to children and that process releases a slew of other nurturing and child focused instincts. Think about it. Does sex seem like a powerful drive? We tend to forget though what that drive is about, children, or it was before there were effective birth control methods. Because of that there are other instincts than sex that need to be considered. Biology is subtly complicated and has never generated the profits of chemistry or engineering so it has been studied less. To those that do study human biology, it is clear that humans have strong instincts. Most people simply do not think about it though.

Think about it this way. There are a lot of rational reasons not to have children but basically no instinctive reasons not to. That would usually just go against all principles of survival and evolution. Human strategy has mostly been for maximum child count though we have occasionally tried for quality as well. So what are the rational reasons not to have children? That is the easy place to start. They are physically, mentally, emotionally, and resource demanding. Your life changes. All the things you enjoyed growing up become far difficult to do. Our society prizes wealth, beauty and youth. They are often the prices of having children. For the working class they can become unaffordable as the cost of housing, food, medical care, education, etc. has continuously risen. Our most valuable possession, our time, is stolen from us by the needs of living and by the many kinetic distractions of the internet and other marketed entertainment. Boredom is not the problem it used to be. Raising a child to maturity and independence is about a long, challenging process.

Any way you look at it, raising children is difficult and sometimes quite painful, so why do it? In a way, the answers must be similar to those of the Existentialist question of why go on living. The first answer is that it is what you are designed for. It is certainly what nature has designed you for and if there is a God, that is what that God designed you to do. Look at your body. It is your nature. Survival, in terms of nature though is not just about you. In evolutionary terms it is about your children and theirs. It is about the survival of the species. If you wonder about the big "why do I exist", all evidence is that it is to survive and that means in the evolutionary sense of the species, not just the individual. That reason may or may not be a good enough reason for you to live or to have children but it is your purpose of existence.

It seems that the commonest reason the Existentialists came up for as to why to keep on living was that it seemed fairly enjoyable. That seems rather shallow to me and the exception to the rule in history. The natural world is very often brutal, red in tooth and claw. (We can improve on that, but that is part of the alrger story.) Common existence has usually been a challenge but then that brought out or "released" another behavior, our survival instinct. The second reason is survival which is an instinct but also a choice. You would think that our most basic instinct for survival would be very powerful and obvious, but it seems sort of hidden. They talk about animal survival instinct will make an animal in a trap chew off its leg. We know now that a person may cut off their arm if it is trapped under a rock. Still there is something missing and part of that is that in civilization we tend not to rarely face challenges to our physical survival. In most people, the instinctive responses are not well developed. In some they are but they can still be hard to see. Again, this is partly a case of it being obscured by the Catholic Church. They hid it by taking its name. The name of human survival instinct in a person is "Faith". Faith is an unsupported belief. The Church claimed that it was an unsupported belief in God but it is actually a belief in self. This is an observation that is meant to convey an understanding. It is not a critique of the Church. That distortion of belief might be even beneficial to survival but the point of this is that to know about your own instinct for survival. Consciously knowing how birth control short circuits the outcome of your primary reproductive instinct, sex, reveals why having children is now a choice rather than just a given. Consciously knowing about your survival instinct and knowing its name allows you to recognize and explore it in yourself and others. Like most things, it can be taught. So another reason an Existentialist could the give for why to go on living is because of my survival instinct or my faith in myself and species.

The same story is true about your moral instinct. Morality is the survival strategy that comes from the combination of moral instincts and moral learning. Morality is how you choose right from wrong. That right and wrong is in the context of survival. While morality is how you choose right and wrong, your basic survival instinct, Faith, is why you choose. It is just about as hard to go against your moral instincts and training as it is to go against your survival instincts. An explicit knowledge of these instincts allows you to see them in yourself and in others. It allows you to strengthen them, learn more about them, and use them more effectively. All your instincts are associated with behaviors in neural nets in your mind. They are for problem solving and if well-developed they can be used for solving problems just like your "intellect" can, but they are older so they are not well integrated into language. They tend to give answers in terms of what are called "gut feelings" and cautions. Again, those cautions can be very difficult to get past but while your instincts cannot "talk", they can listen and understand. Your morality is about survival. Survival usually includes having children though for some it can be focused on survival of the larger family, the society, the nation or even the species.

Quantity vs Quality. In a broader context, this choice about having children is only one among many that changes humans need to adapt to. Another change that is related to this is that humans have mostly changed their basic reproductive strategy from a quantity strategy to a quality strategy. It used to be that the best strategy was for humans to have as many children as possible and hope that some survived to maturity. Individual human development occured much faster and what we needed to learn to survive was far less. Now it takes far more time and resources to raise a child to be able to function in our far more complicated society. In a still larger context, just about everything humans deal with or act upon has changed. The alrger picture of my main work is to look at human genetic and strategic adaptation in terms of changing from the hunter-gatherer ecology we came from to a new ecology we are still building and adapting to. It presents great opportunities and dangers. Ecology is an excellent tool for organizing all the factors and strategies that need to be considered. It offers a great deal of understanding. If you are interested, look for "Genetics For A New Human Ecology". I think it would show you something new and amazing.

Now back to the Existentialist questions, why to survive or here, why to have children? Life usually is enjoyable though if it is not, it is even more likely to release survival instincts. You have the survival and moral instincts that provides drives and hopefully, choices. I would offer another reason that in the West, that came from the Greeks. Humans naturally have aspirations. We are creative and have powerful instincts for that. Obviously having children is creative and can fulfill that drive quite well. Really, our whole civilization is oriented around our non-personal continuation. Civilization serves us at the moment, but it is perhaps even more about continuity. Civilization is not easy to build or maintain and naturally is created to serve multiple generations. As an answer to the Existentialist, the Greeks built their civilizations based on their aspirations. Right outside their city gates they could see the man in nature. It was a harsh, brutish, primative existence. They aspired to something far greater, an aspiration we still have, and children are part of it. All the arts that fulfill our creative instincts are aspects of civilization as well, but the purpose of civilization is both survival and to fulfill our aspirations.

Something the Existentialists did not ask about but is a powerful reason for having children is that humans love newness. Nothing provides newness like the young. As far as humans are concerned, maybe in your 20's and 30's you may not feel the need for newness because you are part of it, but it will grow and the best way to provide newness and challenge is raising children. All other things dim and grow old. Only renewal lasts. Maybe it will not be children, but newness mostly comes from what you create.

Have I covered it all, all except the last tidbit of how parents and nations might promote the childbearing they so want, and our society needs for survival? Aside from our sex drive, we have numerous instincts that lead us to have children including our survival, moral and creative instincts. There are numerous reasons to have children including the conscious expressions of those instincts for survival and creativity as well as a desire for newness. There is one last instinct to mention. Besides sex as a reproductive instinct, humans actually do have instincts to have children, particularly some women (which makes sense in terms of biology). It is far more subtle than the sex drive, though I have heard that it can become quite strong. So, if you as a parent or nation want your children to have children, how can you release that instinct to have children? Give them dolls. The result of sex is babies. The result of babies is the release of nurturing instincts. It is how we are designed. "Dolls" are surrogates that prime the release of childbearing instincts early on. This can apply to boys as well; instincts are very often fluid between sexes. You never know just where they will appear and they should all be nurtured to contribute to a family. In history, large families were the rule and daughters were just naturally involved in caring for younger siblings. This too primed their nurturing, child "having" instincts. Now with the tendency to smaller families, dolls could be even more important to kickstart those instincts. Boys would have been more often directed elsewhere for obvious reasons, but the instincts would often be there, and I dare say some societies had no problem with that. In different families, it might be any either parent that provides the desire to ahve children. Parents, if you want grandchildren, talk to your children with the assumption that they too will have children. With the upheaval our society has been and is going through, we have become unsure of our morals. We hesitate to too strongly teach our moral beliefs to our children because we have had to question them, especially with the waning of the religious authority our moral beliefs have traditionally came from. We need more moral understanding and more moral confidence that can now only come from choices consciously made to survive, based on understandings that are in accordance with our values and instincts.

Another point that relates to the discussion about reproduction. The population would be expected to drop after birth control but then the survivers would have greater "instinct to have children" to replace our previous primary reproductive instinct "sex". The population would rise again as the instinct to have children becomes more common. Something very similar could work with faith in a God. Loss of faith could initially weaken a lot of people, but the survivors (reproducers), with reason and understanding that religion never had, with an explicit knowledge and understanding of their survival instinct and with a focus on the survival of the species, would probably be stronger (outcome of survival drive) than most people relying on blind religious teachings.

I see something missing that should be mentioned, but I'm only going to touch it briefly here. That is sex. When I originally was trying to describe the morality of sex, I basically drew a blank. It is quite a controversial topic. I decided though that it was probably a good thing because it is good for one's mental and physical health. It is a joy in life, something we need, that is inexpensive and non-depletive. Perhaps more importantly is a part of that compromise between people in any relationship that represents lessons we need in order to develop. You know what though, sex can seem so animalistic. That too though is something we need to remember. If we forget that, it will be hard to survive. There are so many forces that remove us from the basics of nature and survival. Sex brings us closer. At many levels, sex does relate to the instincts of having children. Sex should be seen as something positive without all the social baggage that is put upon it. There is good reason for that social baggage. It was put there because the individual responsible for a child must be clear to society and fulfill that responsibility, but that needs to be an understanding rather than a neurosis. There is something else it relates to that I will discuss elsewhere.

Most people still have the challenge of affording children. The Darwinian nature of capitalism is not confined to any country or political ideology. As Warren Buffet commented, there is a class war, and he knows who won. With most economic gains in wealth going to a very tiny number of people, the relentless increase of the cost of living has made children simply unaffordable for many people. It really appears to be about instinctive dominance behavior. We need to know about that and about its dangers and the alternatives. That is another major problem but is more of a practicality that needs to be worked out that I write about elsewhere. There are reasons not to ahve children and reasons to have children. At this point, instinct may be more of a problem. Humans have overcome adversity before, but we have never encountered a challenge like free choice before. We need more dolls.

... This probably needs a re-write, but it's about getting an important idea down in writing.