This blog is about the intersection between evolutionary biology and food. But also about practical applications, sustainable agriculture, and general tasty things.
I saw this on one of Razib Khan's latest posts:
It reminded me of the time when I stupidly told a college career counselor that I wanted to have kids in my twenties. She was aghast...what a waste of a promising young woman! Looking back, perhaps they should have named her title "Capitalist Life-Extraction Encourager." Graduating in a recession, I wasn't exposed to the glamor that masked the true nature of careerism in the past. I never had an expense account or nice business trips. Co-workers have told me of a golden age where we had expensive parties with ice sculptures and wine. Since I've started working all we've had are potlucks. There is no veneer of self development, there is "do this and do it as fast as you can." I do want I do because I want to make ends meet. Though I admit there are benefits to my job, it is not a source of fulfillment for me. I know that for me and many others "career" is just a company trying to extract labor from me as efficiently as possible and that an employer is no more reliable than the old structures it replaced. Falter or just be at the wrong place at the wrong time and they will discard you. I am leaving this cycle in the autumn, something I am lucky to do. My father did the same several decades ago, becoming self-employed.
Sometimes I read feminist writers in magazines like The New Yorker with resentment. They talk about women's careers from a position of privilege, the vaunted (and highly protected) few who make ends meet by speaking their mind with considerable personal and professional freedom. The latest irking was from Elisabeth Badinter, a French feminist writer (who also happens to be a heiress worth millions), who is aghast at the growing obsession of women with "naturalism". Maybe something was lost in translation, but it seemed like she was painting a straw man in order to dismiss very real considerations about reproductive biology.
I read the excellent mini-book Razib referenced, The Baby Chase: An Adventure in Fertility. Holly Finn is an accomplished woman who is trying to have a baby in her forties. She goes through expensive IVF and gets nothing in return. She tries to date men who are wanting to start a family, but they are interested in younger fertile women. She seems a little bitter:
Any credible conversation about female aspirations today, especially one that urges women to lean way into their careers, should also talk about children—and not just as an aside. Otherwise, we are doing to the next generation what was done to many of us: robbing them of a possibility.
But I get the feeling women in their twenties aren't forgoing childbearing because of careers anyway, particularly those of us who graduated in the Great Stagnation. I get the feeling it's more about not having any money or support. I've also been reading The Coming Population Crash, which discusses the fact that fertility is declining almost everywhere, but most dramatically in wealthy developed nations. He has a few case studies in the book of first-world women and their child-baring decisions. Most of the women, particularly those in stagnant developed countries such as Italy, say they simply do not have enough money for children.
I also think reforms to the work system have been fairly shallow. Holly mentions this
One of the primary culprits cited by Drago and Varner is what they call “the Ideal Worker norm.” “In general,” they write, “the ideal worker is someone who enters a profession immediately upon receiving the relevant academic credential, works his or her way up the career ladder by putting in long hours without interruptions beyond short vacations, and continues in this fashion until retirement age. The ideal worker can contribute financially to the family, but cannot make substantial time commitments to children or other family members without endangering his or her career.” The result? Working women stop having children.
When I'm looking at foraging societies, I'm noticing that women DO work. They contribute so much to their communities all while carrying their babies around and breastfeeding them. I would like to see work options for women that acknowledge that many women want to provide a level of biological fulfillment (breastfeeding, physical closeness) and be the primary caregivers to their own children. I would like to see similar work options for men. I was in a wealthy neighborhood recently for an appointment on Wednesday at around noon. It was creepy how empty the nicely-groomed yards and million-dollar houses looked. People are just getting their energy extracted in their prime to pay for stuff they rarely get to use. They aren't going to look back when they are 80 and think of those expenses spreadsheets they used to make or the code they used to debug. I'm sure there are people who are out there who are doing awesome stuff that they love, but I guess I am skeptical that this is more than a tiny minority.
And a dysfunctional bizarro-world dating culture. I must admit a spent some time on OKCupid and I was amused that interest dropped from several messages a day to none when I indicated I was interested in having children in the near future. To be fair, OKCupid seems to be a site for people interested in casual things, but that brings up the question of where people interested in serious things are supposed to go?
Biology carries on, but I certainly didn't know how rapidly fertility drops in the thirties until I saw this chart. Sex ed is so focused on NOT having children, that it was just not in my mind. I did know about infertility though, I suppose if you are my age the odds that your parents or their friends struggled to have children is pretty high. I knew before I saw this chart that I didn't want to be 40 on my first try like so many of them.
Notice that as you age the gap between "pregnancy regardless of outcome" and "pregnancy resulting in a healthy child" widens. Age and the nature of IVF later on conspire to increase the risks of health problems and birth defects.
Holly warns: "The first thing I tell women ages 26 to 34 is: Start having babies. I know it’s not polite or funny. But I don’t want others to go through what I’m going through now." Yikes. But this is real. Take a look at that chart and start thinking of how you want to gamble. Maybe you don't want to have children at all, but if you have even an inking, it's important information. Men, if you are interested in having babies, you need to look at this too, though you guys seem to have more leeway than us.
I didn’t want to settle at 25. I wanted adventures. I just didn’t imagine their cost, and how I would struggle to keep paying it.