Buck That Trend

August 23, 2010

[picapp align=”center” wrap=”false” link=”iid=9539146″ src=”http://view2.picapp.com/pictures.photo/image/9539146/michael-hall-and-his/michael-hall-and-his.jpg?size=500&imageId=9539146″ width=”380″ height=”253″ /]

We know that, in modern American society, the average intelligence of the population is declining gradually over time, probably at least partly because

  1. contraceptives make it easy for people to choose whether to have children (and how many)
  2. the more intelligent a person is, the more time he (or, perhaps especially, she) is likely to want to devote to his career, whether because of ambition (the more intelligent he is, the more able he is likely to be to rise through the ranks if he applies himself) or because the work itself is intellectually interesting and fulfilling.

(See The Bell Curve.)

So I was interested to see this headline from the Pew Research Center: “Childlessness Up Among All Women; Down Among Women with Advanced Degrees”.  Education correlates with intelligence (the more intelligent a person is, the more able he is likely to be to handle advanced academic work); to the extent that it does, this development could potentially slow or reverse the trend of population intelligence declining over time.

I’ve often thought that it would be interesting (and desirable) if people at the top end of the intelligence distribution took a step back and thought ahead not only in two dimensions—say, deciding whether to have another child based on whether they can afford the child’s college education, or based on whether they think the world has enough people already—but in three dimensions:  If everyone thought and behaved like me, what would be the results?

  1. On the one hand, I might be concerned about overpopulation, and have fewer children on that account.  If everyone should be concerned about overpopulation (a big “if”—a “should” that is open to question—but I’d rather leave that debate for another day), then we can expect the population to become less intelligent over time, as more intelligent people are more likely to think ahead like that and factor world population into their family decision making.
  2. On the other hand, if intelligence is a gift, and children are a blessing, and everyone acts accordingly, then the most intelligent people (to the extent practicable) should have the most children, because that is a contribution they are specially suited to make to the world.

So I’m not holding my breath, but it seems at least possible that part of what this Pew story represents is some of the most intelligent Americans’ thinking just that and making just those decisions.

Other items of interest in the story:

Further down, under the headings “Attitudes and International Comparisons” and “Possible Explanations”, it appears that the number of Americans who think that married couples really should allow themselves to have some children is declining over time.  (Individualism has long been both a strength and a weakness of American culture.  “Scholars say that . . . today the decision to have a child is seen as an individual choice.”)  One silver lining is that, at the same time, an increasing number of Americans think that this growing trend of childlessness is bad for society!

And of course, “Given that the chance of a successful pregnancy declines with age, some women who hope to have children never will, despite the rise in fertility treatments that facilitate pregnancy.”  Strikingly, “Among older women, ages 40-44, there are equal numbers of women who are childless by choice and those who would like children but cannot have them . . . .”  God be with them.

7 Responses to “Buck That Trend”

  1. Sam Richardson Says:

    I am a highly intelligent person and have been having unprotected sex with many attractive (but not necessarily intelligent) women in the hopes that I will impregnate one of these hotties and make my contribution to society. Love the post!

  2. the right left hand view Says:

    Finally a post I agree with. It seems like a great idea to require everyone to go on birth control. This will lower the stupidity of newborns since individuals who are stupid will not be able to get “knocked up” on the regular. I can not believe you are for contraceptives but it makes me happy to hear!

  3. I don’t recall saying any of what you claim to “agree” with me on. If anything, I’m saying that various problems have arisen in modern society because of the advent of contraceptives.

    One of the differences between conservatives and liberals is that liberals make the leap effortlessly from thinking that a thing is good or bad to assuming that the government should mandate or prohibit it. As an American conservative, I believe in liberty and individual choice. I wish that more intelligent people would choose to have more children. I’m not sure it would be a good idea for the government to make any effort to encourage that; I’m sure it would be bad for the government to prohibit others.

  4. Sam Richardson Says:

    As an American conservative, I’m sure that you would agree that it would be a good idea to prohibit Latinos from having more children.

  5. the right left hand view Says:

    First off, I am shocked that you would allow comments like the one posted by Mr. Richardson. Actually shocked may be a little strong given the racial undertones present in this blog. Going back to the birth control point. So you are saying that man kind would be smarter if birth control did not exist? Wouldn’t the numbers still be the same?

    Without birth control you would have intelligent people who would not have sex knowing the risks. These are the same people who currently use birth control. On the other side you have people who don’t care or who don’t recognize the risk of having unprotected sex. These individuals will have children regardless of if birth control is available.

    I doubt that the average intelligence of individuals is declining. Assuming it is, birth control would not cause this.

  6. “Mr. Richardson” is my sarcastic classmate, the same one who has posted repeatedly on this blog under other pseudonyms (e.g., “Glenn Beck”). Let’s call him Leroy. In case it changes your interpretation of his comments, I just want to point out that Leroy is a liberal making fun of me, not anyone seriously agreeing or disagreeing with what I’ve said here.

    As for whether to “allow” his comments, I said at the outset that I wouldn’t censor or edit most comments. As I’m sure you’re aware (the same here as on any other blog), that doesn’t mean I agree with any given thing the commenters say.

    After all, I allow your comments. You can call me “racist” all you want—liberals generally feel free to call anyone who disagrees with them “racist”—but I don’t feel any obligation to dignify that with an answer.

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