Why Men Are More Likely to Want Kids

Heterosexual single Americans now blur societal gender lines in respect to dating, love, and marriage. It’s harder than ever to find a child-free man.

When it comes to meeting men, Jane faces a bit of a challenge.

You’d think she’d have no problem finding a boyfriend. She’s educated, successful, pretty, and outgoing. She’s even a bit nerdy (face it, nerdiness is hot).

What’s keeping Jane from finding that special long-term someone? She’s never wanted kids—ever. She had her tubes tied six months ago.

“My dolls were friends, not babies,” she laughs over the phone one rainy afternoon.

I’ve known Jane since high school. (And no, Facebook friends, Jane isn’t her real name, so don’t try stalking her.) We’ve talked before about her finding guys who don’t want kids. It turns out that besides yours truly, she knows only one other man who isn’t into the whole babies thing.

“I would have thought it would be very easy to find a man who did not want children,” she sighs. “But I haven’t been able to.”

Like so many modern singles, Jane has turned to the Internet.

First, she tried Match.com in 2006 when she lived in Pennsylvania. The results weren’t good.

When it came to kids, she says, “everyone I was matched with already had them or wanted them.” She says Match lacked a good feature for sorting out those guys who want kids.

In 2008, after moving back home to California, she signed up for eHarmony. That site included options for selecting various reproductive goals. Her matches, however, had checked both yes and no—or nothing at all.

“It may have been that they could have been swayed either way,” Jane says.

That same year she went back to Match, but the matches were worse than before: “A lot of them had children not that much younger than me,” Jane said.

♦◊♦

What’s the deal here? Shouldn’t it be easy for Jane to find a baby-free man? After all, don’t we men prefer to be free of those pesky rug-crawlers and the burdens they bring? Aren’t we notorious for running away when the pregnancy test comes back positive?

A couple days after talking to Jane, I call Justin Garcia, SUNY Fellow with the Laboratory of Evolutionary Anthropology and Health at Binghamton (NY) University. Garcia studies human mating and dating behavior from an evolutionary standpoint and recently worked on a survey of over 5,000 American singles.

(I find out during our interview that, coincidentally, he’s a scientific advisor to Match, which commissioned the survey. So, just in case you’re wondering, this month’s column is not sponsored by the website.)

I tell Garcia about Jane’s dating troubles. He says he’s not surprised.

“Most people around the world do want to reproduce,” Garcia says. “I’m not saying everyone, but most.”

And, he explains, having kids is often part of the relationship package.

“There’s a desire to have affiliative gestures and build a life with someone,” he says. “So that might mean something like living together, having kids together, or maybe getting married, maybe getting bank accounts together. Things that say, ‘We’re a family, we’re a unit.'”

I contacted Garcia because the survey results show that in many ways, heterosexual single Americans now blur societal gender lines in respect to dating, love, and marriage. For example, when it comes to being in a relationship, women place more importance on their personal space, goals, and hobbies than men do. Men are more likely to experience love at first sight and are quicker to introduce partners to their families.

One particular result seemed relevant to Jane’s case: more men (24 percent) than women (15 percent) want kids.

Surprised? I was. But then again, my Mormon upbringing conditioned me to think that all women have that motherly-instinct stuff preprogrammed.

♦◊♦

Garcia points out that a lot of factors go into a decision to produce offspring. The cost of raising a child, for example, can be daunting in today’s economy. But how we live our lives has changed dramatically compared to our ancestors.

“Today, unlike ever before, we can live an incredibly long time,” he says. “We can have incredibly rich lives. We can travel all over the world. These are historically recent things. Many people want to spend that time with a partner, not necessarily with big families.”

Garcia welcomes the flip in what men and women want in their relationships because it shows “the sexual double standard is getting smaller.”

“Just as we’re seeing more stay-at-home dads or seeing more women in the workforce, American culture is really changing in terms of what’s expected in family life, and that includes relationships, or raising kids and working,” he says.

So, why are guys more likely to want kids?

“We still hold onto these notions of males leaving heirs,” Garcia says. “It’s kind of a cultural importance, and it’s a biological imperative.”

But there may be a deeper biological reason, too.

“The realistic side of reproduction is that childbearing is a much bigger toll on women,” he explains. “Women alone have parental certainty and the biggest brunt of reproduction. It’s a much bigger challenge in today’s world for women.”

♦◊♦

My translation: Guys are more likely to want kids because we’re not the ones stuck carrying around extra pounds of tissue and amniotic fluid for nine months. (And that probably explains why so many congressmen vote against abortion, too.) Women understand that cost, so they’re more likely to say “No, thanks.” (Fire away, Internet commenters.)

I ask Garcia if he has any advice for Jane.

“If she doesn’t want to have kids, I say, be upfront about it,” he suggests. “Be upfront that ‘I’m a professional woman, this is what I want, this is who I am. And I don’t want to have kids, but I do want someone to share my life with.'”

He points out that finding a partner can depend on time, location, and even the economic climate.

“I think with time she’ll find someone,” he encourages.

Jane is still trying the Internet. She’s ditched Match and eHarmony and has moved on to Zoosk’s iPhone app. I’ll check in with her in a few months.

After I email her Garcia’s thoughts, she writes back:

“With the societal pressure to procreate and mankind’s innate desire leave a legacy, I understand that I may not find someone. When searching for a partner, everyone has their own priorities. Mine just happen to be one that not many share, but that doesn’t mean I should give up or give in. After all, there isn’t a very good return policy on children.”

—Photo apes_abroad

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Comments

  1. Catullus says:

    Who creates these headlines? This story didn’t come within a light year of even establishing bias against the child-free, much less discussing it. Really guys, leave the teasing and misleading to outlets owned by Rupert Murdoch.

  2. Um, it’s called OKCupid folks. Plenty of childfree people there.

    • I second that motion. I found a great guy on OKC who doesn’t want kids (and neither do I). Didn’t have much luck with Match in the Sacto area. Pretty shallow pool (literally/figuratively).

    • Not from my experience. I met two guys on Okcupid and both of them were trying to establish long term relationships that involve kids in the future. All I wanted was activity partners and sex and I got two men who lied about their religion (i’m atheist) and they wanted long term relationships. :(

  3. I’m with Jane, I thought it’d be much easier to find a man that doesn’t want kids. It’s totally an uphill battle for us women who don’t want to create families that include actual children.

    • We want kids and it isn’t all “I need an heir,” either. We like kids. I’ll match what my eight-year-old daughter has to say against almost anyone any day, at least anyone under 50. I’d have gladly gestated and birthed her, if that’s what it took.

    • I’ve never wanted children, but I’ve only seen the “uphill battle” component in career contexts where the assumption that I’d surely want to procreate led to inappropriate comments about me not knowing my own mind/gameplan.

      Relationship-wise, I’ve seen my boyfriend decide he didn’t want children because of his family’s history of alcoholism and mental illness, but he did when we were in undergrad together 10 years ago. Some of my male friends want children, some don’t.

      Fortunately, we just have to find one person who wants what we want, not solve a demographic disparity single-handedly. Jane has a huge advantage in that she found a doctor who respected her self-knowledge enough to perform a tubal ligation on a younger woman. This is not the norm, and childfree men and women seeking sterilization will attest. The tubal makes her much less likely to end up in a relationship with a partner who has even an inkling of “maybe we’ll change our minds.”

      • My spouse of 16 years died 10 months ago and neither of us had or wanted children. Now that I at 68, I am wondering if I will find another woman that is similar to my age without children. Most of the dating sights are where women’s children are adults and not at home.

        Children at a dimension in a relationship that I am not interested in dealing with. All my dating life, I only dated women without children.

  4. Isn’t it more to the point that dating– with or without the “online”– presents challenges to people who don’t intend to have children?

    • It does, but that’s not the point. We live in a world where every taste and criteria must be accomodated in equal measure. Give it time; there’s a good chance that if Jane doesn’t meet the right guy, she’ll change her tune and blame the larger world for not giving her what she wants.

    • True words there.

  5. I’m having a bit of disconnect here.

    “We still hold onto these notions of males leaving heirs,” Garcia says. “It’s kind of a cultural importance, and it’s a biological imperative.”

    But there may be a deeper biological reason, too.

    “The realistic side of reproduction is that childbearing is a much bigger toll on women,” he explains. “Women alone have parental certainty and the biggest brunt of reproduction. It’s a much bigger challenge in today’s world for women.”

    My translation: Guys are more likely to want kids because we’re not the ones stuck carrying around extra pounds of tissue and amniotic fluid for nine months. (And that probably explains why so many congressmen vote against abortion, too.) Women understand that cost, so they’re more likely to say “No, thanks.” (Fire away, Internet commenters.)

    How exactly are you going from men being brought up to believe they must have an “heir” in order to prove their manhood (much like kings of the past) to the notion that they only want to because they don’t carry the child?

  6. This is a silly question.

    Of course SOME dating sites are biased against child-free people. Some dating sites are biased against gentiles, people who don’t have lots of fat on their bodies, and people who aren’t already married (AshleyMadison exists, folks).

    Right now, the name of the game in online dating is specialization. Most online dating sites unofficially specialize in people who want to get married and have babies because those people are on a schedule–they need to settle down fast, and as a consequence, they are more willing to try internet dating in the first place, and more willing to shell out lots of money to keep doing it.

    Five words:

    Start a childless dating website.

  7. wellokaythen says:

    It’s been a long time since I was last perusing the personals, but I suspect one factor is that men are more likely to keep their options open when creating a profile. I’m not surprised many men left the children question blank or said yes and no. My impression is that many men when looking for a match online try to avoid being put in a box, because that limits the possibility of being chosen. I’m guessing many of those guys are afraid that saying “absolutely no kids” will just turn too many women off, even women who are not sure they want any kids either.

  8. Samantha says:

    *Like* this article. Hit the nail on the head!

  9. My translation: Guys are more likely to want kids because we’re not the ones stuck carrying around extra pounds of tissue and amniotic fluid for nine months. (And that probably explains why so many congressmen vote against abortion, too.) Women understand that cost, so they’re more likely to say “No, thanks.” (Fire away, Internet commenters.)

    OK, you asked for it.

    This is a wonderful theory which unfortunately does not meet up with empirical observations in the field.

    First of all, you’re not talking about all men or even “most men”: the guys you’re talking about are a self-selected bunch who are actively looking for a mate using a public dating service to do so. Any chance that group of men might just possibly have a different atttitude towards children than the male population in general?

    Secondly, if you actually ask real life men who are sexually active and dating, most of them are bloody TERRIFIED of unexpected paternity and they can describe for you, in some detail, the changes that it would cause in their lives – changes that they believe to be negative but which have absolutely nothing to do with biology.

    Finally, when I talk to women who choose to remain childless, fear of the biological changes in their body caused by pregnancy is also pretty low on their list of reasons why they don’t have children. No time and fear of dead-ending their career are numbers one and two on that list.

    So, once again, great evolutionary theory – pity the proof from real life doesn’t seem to sustain it.

    • To a point, I agree that that’s a relatively small sampling, but there’s a difference between “I want kids someday” and “I want kids now.” I’m in college and all of my guy friends want kids “someday” but would have a heart attack if they found out their girlfriend was pregnant tomorrow. That doesn’t mean they don’t want kids.

    • Thad,

      You’re adding the element of ‘unexpected’ to ‘pregnancy’.

      Some guy who goes online and lists a preference for a kid is probably hoping that the pregnancy will be a planned part of the relationship.

      Oh, and you didn’t offer any ‘proof’… just your opinions of what an informal poll of your friends and relatives
      might say.

      • Kyle, if the argument that you’re making is based on evolutionary biology – and it seems that it is – whether or not the pregnancy is a “surprise” should make no difference whatsoever. Your biological drives should not be able to logically distibuish between “surprise” and “planned” pregnancies.

        As for me offering proof, you’re quite correct. But then again, I’m not out to proove a hypothesis here: you are, my friend. That means YOUR proof needs to hold up to facts and take into account any outliers. I’m simply pointing out outliers that don’t seem to be accounted by your theory – outliers, I’m sure that most posters here can find in their own experience.

        Men, as a whole, are not anxious to have kids, Kyle. That’s not the main reason they are having sex. In fact, most men seem to go to some length to AVOID getting women pregnant.

    • I know I’m not the only person in my immediate peer group to be absolutely terrified, petrified of pregnancy and childbirth. It is a real problem for me – even seeing a pregnant woman sometimes causes me to become faint or very anxious, and forget horror childbirth stories. I don’t know if it’s because I have low blood pressure which predisposes me to fainting easily at gross things, natural squeamishness, or a childhood spent rewatching Alien thousands of times, but childbirth is easily my greatest fear.

      It’s a big factor in explaining why I want far fewer children than my fiance does.

    • Catullus says:

      It’s sage of you to bring up the distinction between omnibus paternity and unexpected paternity. I can’t say my daughter was planned and though I’m delighted with the outcome, I realize it was largely dependent on chance.

  10. When a country becomes economically developed, birth rates almost always drop dramatically. Sociologists argue about the reasons, but most agree that women are usually the ones controlling the birth rate. Once women have education, career options and access to contraception, they seem to want fewer children, and a significant percentage choose to have no children at all. This is one reason I’m always skeptical of evo-psych explanations for everything, since evo-psych would suggest that women would maximize their reproductive opportunities as their economic situation improved. In fact, the opposite happens.

    • Evo-psych is the most bogus of all claimed soft ‘sciences.’

      There has got to be a real movement to distance academia from this cesspool of speculation.

    • Catullus says:

      A brain is no more a mind than an eye is a color. EP seems to think otherwise.

  11. I don’t really understands what this article is about. I usually a sense of a life lesson hidden within an article or a we should examine and change “this thing”, but my spider sense is not tingling. I get more of a “just so you know” feeling from this article.
    .
    Julia gives the only response that makes sense to me. “Start a childless dating website.” If that doesn’t work default to the other life lesson we have learned. Mainly, “life is not fair.” Moving on.

  12. Is this the Onion? Where do some of these writers get their ideas? How about qualifying things a bit more by age for men and women regarding wanting kids? How about not making so many silly conjectures?

    What else could possibly turn off guys about a woman who gets here tubes tied? What does it tell us men about such a woman from a man’s insight and not from some modern guy’s you-go-girl feminist mindset?

    Is TC the same atheist writer who went undercover in a Christian gay to straight program?

  13. I’ve totally been blogging about the same problem as Jane. (Well blogging about that and all kinds of other things. Coincidentally, a visit with my Mormon friend’s kids made me realize I actually like children, but that wasn’t reason enough to throw in the towel.) I thought it was just my bad luck that I kept dating men who wanted kids, not a frikkin trend. But 24% is still a minority of that sample…so did 76% of the men surveyed not want kids? Draw me a map to where they hang out and send me the unicorn I have to ride to get there. I wish your friend the best of luck.

  14. I am “single” woman who does not want children, or to ‘partner’ with a man who already has them. My experience is that it has been challenging to find a man who wants the stability and depth of a long-term partnership among men who do not want to parent.

    It seems like the men who DO want children are more motivated to treat one special woman well on a consistent basis. The men who describe themselves as “child free” also seem to prefer being “commitment free”.

    • It seems I meet a lot of men who have kids and live in girlfriends. They cheat all throughout the relationship especially during the pregnancy. I personally would rather be childfree than a single mother because they aren’t having it so hot either in the love department. I think it depends on the man, it’s a lot to consider when searching for love. It appears easier for men.

  15. I am a man who does not want kids, ever, and who wants someone to share my life with, providing the chemistry is right.

    I agree that those of us that want a childless relationship are so few. I myself have been wondering where all the women are who want what I want.

    Margo Rose: you are partially right about commitment free. But that is an altogether different issue. For example, I don’t want to get married either. Marriage to me is a vortex of commercialization, entrapment, and for me, not really taken seriously anymore (its as if marriage is the new dating). It’s represents so many negative things for me that I want to avoid it entirely. BUT it doesn’t mean I don’t want to find someone to share my life with. But it IS very difficult to explain. So commitment is the easy go to word.

    Malice: I’ll keep an eye out for a Pegasus, it will fly and take you there all the sooner ; )

  16. Elle Spiers says:

    Men wanting children? Seriously, men are way less likely to want kids than women, indeed, I’m glad I’m childfree because most of the men I’ve met over the years have no desire to have children.

    Okay, some of them aren’t hideously against the idea, BUT (and it’s a big but) that’s as long as the woman does all the usual ‘woman’ stuff and they can get away from kids at work or when out with mates. I’ve yet to meet a guy who would agree to have children if it meant him being the main carer (i.e. taking on the traditional female role).

    I don’t believe you really want kids unless you are willing to take on that role.

  17. I know a lot more men who don’t want children than I do women of the same thought. I know a TON of men who had kids bc the WOMAN made them do it… ie. she bitched, nagged, whatever, and he was like fine whatever, let’s do that so you get off my back. Then the women bitch he’s not “supportive” enough in his parental role. Gee, I wonder why….

    I think Elle is right in saying that IF having kids meant that the guy would suddenly go into the “mom” role we’d all die out as species… or at least it would dwindle a whole lot more!

    It’s not about men wanting an “heir” that’s bs. I have never heard any guy friend ever say that!

    I have heard more WOMEN say I want a kid bc I want to be a mom, I want to experience motherhood, etc etc. nothing to do with heirs.

    And then there’s the whole, it sounds good in theory til you have kids and then it’s too late to go oh f… what WAS I thinking!? as these “monsters” or “parasites” suck every part of your life to the point where you HAVE no life… and marriages break apart as the woman focuses SOLELY on the kid(s) and forget the husband/guy completely but somehow expect him to be “supportive” anyway… weirdos…

    Kids take up resources. Money, Time, Food, Space, etc. etc.

    Unless you do what a ton of people are doing now, and they have kids but don’t actually parent them. They’re quick to blame hollywood, teachers, etc. ANYONE but themselves for their kids lack of being people, some not even human it seems… a bunch of god knows irresponsible people are growing out there… NOT good…

    So if we go back to the real parenting world. And men having an actual choice. vs a wife who just wont shut up about having kids and him going along with it bc well, it sucks to have to start over again… I’d say a LOT of men, like 95% if not higher, would go childless.

    So why is Jane having such a hard time, you ask? Because she’s probably looking for an older or an ‘established’ man… those guys were already suckered into having kids or into thinking that women want that so they might as well get used to the idea and some even get suckered into actually LIKING said idea. And for all we know, Jane could be one of many women who are JUST too damn picky! (or has too many demands)

    He has to be X tall, have X in his bank account, have X career, make X a year, etc etc. Never once looking at the actual person…

    IF she relaxed, I’d be she’d find tons of quality men who don’t want kids… or she’s an alien in a foreign land type of rock she’s under…because trust me, here in No. California where I am, TONS of men who want nothing to do with kids. Maybe she should move up here…

  18. I definitely take issue with the line that “Guys are more likely to want kids because we’re not the ones stuck carrying around extra pounds of tissue and amniotic fluid for nine months.”

    As a professional woman who is not sure whether I want kids or not, it’s *not* about the gestation period at all…in fact, I would rather look forward to the being-pregnant part. I *do* hesitate because of the drop in wages, the likelihood to get passed up for promotion, the psychological effect is has on peers in the work that is assigned to a woman with children vs. a woman without children, and the expectations of a professional woman to put children and career on equal-footing, rather than maintaining career-focus as most men with children are expected and allowed to do. Men with children also do not suffer the *professional* consequences that women with children do, so it is easier for them to give an unqualified, unhesitating “yes”.

    Also, I find that the answer, “I’m not sure if I want children or not” is really not an answer that anyone knows what to do with. It seems difficult to maintain or even start a relationship without that answer being a known quantity.

  19. BeautifulStranger says:

    LOL. Can the women in here please all spare me with the: “Of course I don’t care about the physical aspect/changes brought on pregnancy, it’s only _____________ that bothers me!!”? It’s really lovely that you are trying so hard to appear humble/non-shallow, but let’s be real, here: allow a woman who doesn’t candycoat shit (eg. me) to assure you all that I (and MANY, MANY WOMEN) certainly DO care about the negative changes to our bodies brought on by pregnancy! It IS a big issue in my decision to NOT have children (along with the fact that I don’t even LIKE children much!)–I’ve worked long and hard on taking care of myself and my body to just throw it away on child-rearing (due to some man simply wanting “an heir”). Perhaps, if you are unattractive to BEGIN with, then you don’t have much to lose with pregnancy body changes–but when you ARE attractive, it is DEFINITELY an issue!

  20. You do not have to be a “professional woman” just to not want to have kids. Do we really need a label for everything? What about your own needs (not selfish desires, but daily care… what if it is extensive and you know that), what about your genetics, what about wanting to enjoy life without that extra stress (that kids undoubtedly will cause at times). But at this point I don’t mind if people think I am selfish, just keep it to yourself if you have any tact. You do not know the past and/or good reasons that every male or female has on not wanting to have kids. And I am open to the thought of adoption or a man with his own. Perhaps.

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