This article on the “biological clock” interested me (partially because it fulfilled my bias for “partially biological, partially cultural, we’re not sure how much of each” explanations for complex phenomena), so I decided to talk about some disconnected thoughts on it.
The cultural idea of baby fever or the biological clock is that it is something that is universally experienced by women but never by men, and hence we get hilarious romantic comedy jokes where Jill wants a baby NOW! because she is not getting any younger! and Jack still wants to sit in his room playing video games and smoking pot. However, the research apparently suggests that men also have baby fever, just less strongly than women, and 58% of men (vs. 78% of women) want a child. (It’s important to note that while baby fever and desire for a child are correlated, it’s hardly a perfect indicator– wanting a child doesn’t necessarily mean that you coo at literally every child in the grocery store, and even we incorrigible baby-cooers may not plan to actually parent a child.)
I must say, assuming baby fever is at least somewhat biological, it is odd in the extreme that men do not experience it to the same degree that women do. It’s not like male genes are somehow able to reproduce themselves without children being involved at any point, and children do do better with multiple caregivers (often the dad). Perhaps that’s a sign of cultural influence: it may be more socially acceptable for women to admit to a passionate desire to have children, and women may experience more pressure to have kids.
What correlates with baby fever is also interesting. Gender roles, such as a conviction that a woman’s place is in the home, don’t seem to correlate: of course, especially with modern feminism, the idea that having children is an awesome and valid life choice is pretty mainstream. (I wonder if old-fashioned second-wavers are at a lower risk for baby fever.) Meanwhile, prior positive experience with babies and one’s friends and family starting to reproduce are correlated.
It is, of course, also possible that “baby fever” is nothing more than the desire for a particular life choice, especially one that doesn’t look like it’s going to be fulfilled any time soon. (Notice that “baby fever” narratives tend to depict women who are single or with partners who don’t want kids.) Imagine, say, someone who wants to be a novelist but keeps having their novels rejected: the level of passion, fascination with books, jealousy of other people who are more successful, desperate attempts to get published, and even tears is probably quite similar to that of someone with baby fever. And yet one would not decide that there is a biological predisposition to novel-writing! Positive experience with babies would make children a more desirable life choice; one’s friends and family starting to reproduce would remind one that they aren’t getting to have any; and the difference between men and women would be related to the expectation, even now, that women ought to have children.