I get really tired of people who state that women who get into their late 20’s or early 30’s and then want children are under the influence of a “biological clock.” People will say “oh their clock is ticking.” The problem that I have with the biological clock is very straightforward. To presume scientifically that there is a “biological clock” is actually to assume that there is some hypothetical construct (thing in this case) that exists within the woman that, at a certain point drives them to want children. I argue it is social forces, sociological, psychological, and cultural.
Typically when someone indicates that a woman’s biological clock is ticking means one of two differing definitions. First it may mean, medically their ability to have children starts to decrease with age, which is apropos considering research (or at least potential complications may increase). This knowledge then drives the urge for children. The second definition is the idea that as women approach their late 20’s or early 30’s they have a desire to have children due to this inherent “biological clock.” Given the previous paragraphs descriptions of scientific ideas and concepts, of which are ubiquitous in science this is where it becomes absurd. When invoking a “biological clock” we are saying that there is some construct or entity within the woman that enacts upon her to then have a desire to have children. This may seem to make sense given in biology, there are specific time periods in which certain landmarks occur, obviously within a particular age range with normal variation. Examples, include but are not limited to, rolling over in babies, crawling, walking, talking, math skills, grammar, puberty, hair growth in the face and genital areas, etc. As a result, it is no wonder that the average person may think many things are biologically driven especially since these sometimes are obvious and outside our actual control. However, one aspect that people many times forget or outright ignore or reject are the social factors, cultural factors that affect their behavior, and choices in life. The evidence that I give forth to substantiate this is simple, from an easily understood historical social perspective. I could go on and give social psychological examples to the point of boredom to show all the effects found regarding how the social situation will impact an individual or a groups behavior. I will not do that though.
Two hundred years ago, a woman was considered an “old maid” if she was twenty one and not married with children. Many, children at this time period were actually having children at the ages of mid teenage years, and sometimes right after puberty. Actually, after a woman has her first menses she is capable of rearing a child. This is taking a very evolutionary approach if one were so brazen to suggest we should follow what biologically evolutionarily available to us is good. However, if we go down this path arguably human society would be in grave danger and beyond the scope of this discussion. If we start to suggest impregnating women after their first menstruation is ideal imagine the world.
In this day and age, many of us feel sorry for a woman who has a child in high school, and many times even in college, or these age ranges. Most people when witnessing this behavior consider it to have been a mistake in proper birth control methods. However, two hundred years ago this was the norm, if not considered to be a bit late for having children. The point is simple, for anyone who understands the smallest shred of evolution, knows human brains do not change so radically, in a couple hundred years that would predict this type of change in behavior. Brain changes take thousands, if not tens of thousands of years to have this noticeable of an impact. I argue these are social in nature not biologically driven.
Instead, the social demands of society, hence invoking sociological, and social psychological and cultural factors are the determinant of age appropriateness of having children. As just a quick snapshot of the progression of age, in 1970 the average age for a first time birth was 21, and in 2008 it was 25. This difference is noticed in just over 40 years of history. Our neurobiology did not change in 40 years that is absurd. (http://www.babycenter.com/0_surprising-facts-about-birth-in-the-united-states_1372273.bc). Now, when we compare countries at the same time we find even such radical differences. An example is Slovakia has an average first birth age of 24.2, and Switzerland has a age of 28.7 years of age as averages. (http://mediaresearchlab.wordpress.com/2012/05/05/age-of-women-at-first-childbirth-by-country/). Are we to believe that somehow humans have evolved differently, literally from a biological evolutionary perspective in these two differing countries, of which are only separated less than 600 miles? Usually, what the average person intuits is the cultural differences between the countries. However, in psychological and sociological analyses these are just those, psychological and sociological factors, its just using the term cultural differences is typically presupposing psychological and sociological factors as being the basis of what defines cultural.
Furthermore, compared to 200 years ago, with job markets the way that are now people are expected to go to college or further training of some sort beyond what we would call middle/high school. Many only went to lower levels of education that long ago. Therefore, this impacts their time constraints for raising a child, and quite rationally so. Women want to be well entrenched in a job, and done with education before having the monumental task of rearing young, well thought out plan I may add. Also consistent income, partnered at this point in a good relationship, good health benefits, the list goes on. It’s rational now for women to wait to have kids until they are in a stable reliable environment. The point is that these are the social and cultural factors that affect the decision to have children. Frankly, the only women who I have known to have children at the college and high school age have been from small towns and are undereducated.
Furthermore, as far as social forces go. How many women do you know in their late 20’s and early 30’s are going to fraternity parties, acting crazy and having fun like that of women in their late teens and early 20’s. Very few right? Instead, they are in jobs with other peers of theirs who are “settled” down with a partner and family. It is a form of social pressure at this point! If most of your friends have kids, and its considered normal to have kids what is one to think and feel. On an aside note and related to this topic… I once dated a woman who not only had an abortion (before I met her) but did not like kids whatsoever. I have given this example to many women, and almost always get the same response without fail. We went out to eat one night at a restaurant, and the bubbly 18 year old hostess said she would seat us. My girlfriend said are you going to sit us in the booth next to that child? The hostess, with a big smile said,”yes isn’t he cute?” My girlfriend responded with and emphatic, “NO” we will wait until another table is available. Now, the response especially from women, without much variation is…. “what is wrong with her?” (many men as well) Implying, its abnormal for a woman to not want children, and even worse not like them. Society, cultural factors, sociological ones as well gear us to think a certain way about things. So, a biological clock, does not make sense, social pressures do. Most of us would be shocked to see a woman out in a park topless in the US, but in Europe no big damn deal!
In summary, given the actual analytical discussion at the beginning regarding the knowledge of simpler explanations being preferred, and psychological and sociological ones being simpler I believe one can only conclude the following. Women’s desire to have children comes from social pressures, and cultural expectations. I could have gone into an enormous list included but not limited to educational expectations, job requirements, financial issues, medical concerns, insurance problems, having fun when we are young and able, college partying, and the list goes on. We can all think of reasons that are actually psychological and sociological in nature that have impacted our decisions to have children at one age or another. For those of you have kids think back to how many times you heard your parents say, “well when you have kids.” I believe psychologically, these statements can have profound impact on decisions. It normalizes the behavior, and kids may feel abnormal to not want them. The point is these are the reasons that have far more of an impact that we all have seen and experienced instead of some mystical, unobservable “biological clock” looming large over women.
A hypothetical construct is an explanatory variable that is not directly observable. We simply posit that exists with enough evidence. An example of an actual construct that is observable is bacteria in the throat. Most of us have had a sore throat, go to the physician and they use a Q-tip swaby thing in your throat, and can see the bacteria under the microscope. In plain words a hypothetical construct it is something we are guessing that “exists,” even though we can’t see it, the construct can be able to actually explain a pattern of behavior or specific behavior. In this case, it is why a woman decides to have children in a certain age range. Now, one of the rules in science is to try to make an explanation simple. This is referred to as parsimony, the less complex an answer is the more preferable to something that has many components that all have to interact in some convoluted or circuitous manner to produce the result or explain behavior. This is not to say that there are very complex systems in life, but the point is that it is best to go for a simpler explanation, that can explain, and predict future occurrences. Of course, all of this is subject to evidence in science. If we have a complex theory or explanation, and all the evidence supports it, and it does predict more outcomes better than a simpler theory or explanation then yes, we will take that over the simpler version. The key mind you is evidence support.