I was tempted to save this video for Father’s Day, but I just couldn’t wait.
One common trope in discussions about mating is the affliction known as “baby fever.” This allegedly affects women aged 30 and older, who becoming increasingly desperate to find a mate as they come face to face with an expiration date on their fertility. However, new research shows that both men and women are susceptible to the “visceral, emotional desire” to have a child.
A recent survey shows that men are nearly as likely to want children as women are, and actually become more distraught when they don’t have them. Robin Hadley of Keele University in England sums up his findings:
“There is very little research on the desire for fatherhood among men. My work shows that there was a similar level of desire for parenthood among childless men and women in the survey, and that men had higher levels of anger, depression, sadness, jealousy and isolation than women and similar level of yearning.
…This challenges the common idea that women are much more likely to want to have children than men, and that they consistently experience a range of negative emotions more deeply than men if they don’t have children.”
The respondents were all childless; the average age was 41. Here is a summary of Hadley’s rather surprising results:
|Emotions experienced by above if no children:|
As you can see, men feel more emotional about not having children than women do, though women experienced guilt for being childless, while men did not.
A separate, 10-year study also found that baby fever was real and experienced by both sexes, though not necessarily at the same time. Women feel it sooner, usually by their late 20s. The desire converges in men and women during the 30s, and by the 40s, men feel “baby fever” more than women do.
“How frequently women have the desire to have a child goes down with age, and down as they actually have children,” study researcher Gary Brase, a psychologist at Kansas State University, told LiveScience. “For men, it tends to go up. … It’s like men and women are converging over time.”
Brase and his wife were inspired to research the subject after they “experienced their own bouts of baby fever.” He was shocked to learn no one had ever researched the topic before. He was particularly interested in the question of how the decision to have children is made.
“If you talk to a biologist, they say, ‘You want to have children because passing on your genes is the reason why you’re here,’ but if you talk to an economist, they’d crunch the numbers and say, ‘This is a horrible investment idea,’” Brase said. “If you try to do a rational cost-benefit analysis, having a child doesn’t make sense. But if you look at it biologically, it’s the only thing that makes sense. And then there’s actual people that somehow figure it out between those two.
To distinguish “baby fever” from a more clear-headed desire to have kids, the researchers asked volunteers if they ever feel “a bodily desire for the feel, sight and smell of an infant next to you.” Women’s average rating of how frequently they experience baby fever was 4.22 on a scale of 1 to 9, compared with 2.69 for men.”
The Brases found that the most frequent triggers of that bodily desire for an infant depended on exposure. Those visual and sensory experiences were key. Looking at infant clothing and toys also had a positive effect. But those triggers could also be negative – screaming or soiled babies tended to reduce the longing to have a child, producing “anti-baby fever.”
But I’m passing the urge along to my kids as best I can.