Popular Culture  •  January 11, 2004

Are Affluence, Intelligence and Sanity Limiting Factors for Population?

This topic came to me as I watch my friends and family reacting to the tolling of the biological clock. Out of the entire group of people I grew up with since the age of twelve or so, only one person other than me has managed to reproduce. Now we aren’t talking about a tiny group of people, but a group of seven people, including myself. This didn’t seem odd until I started meeting other people of roughly the same age range and came to realize that very few of us have reproduced. A quick check of the data from the US Census Bureau seems to indicate a growing family population trend until one looks over all the way to the columns at the right and notes that the average number of persons per family has been and is projected to continue to decline. This would seem to indicate that my meager observations are an actual trend. Ok, I’m sure I hear some of you saying that this isn’t news, and I suppose it isn’t; but it does beg the question of why it is happening. This is my attempt to answer this question.

I am sure that there are a variety of factors for why this has happened, but I will focus on the three of affluence, intelligence and sanity. I am sure that everyone knows what these terms mean, but I will restrict the definition somewhat to my needs for this essay as follows. Let us restrict affluence to having the means or resources necessary to acquire more than the basic needs of life. Therefore, an affluent person would be one who has money to spend on going out to dinner instead of having to prepare everything from scratch at home, and can similarly purchase clothing and shelter of a standard greater than that which is simply sufficient to protect one from the elements. Let us limit intelligence to the ability to use reason to foresee the consequences of one’s actions out to a few steps beyond the immediate outcome. So an intelligent person is one who can see that a particular action will have a specific result and understand how that result may change his/her life and how those changes will influence future actions and decisions. I prefer to define sanity by defining what it isn’t. A demonstration of a lack of sanity is when one carries out the same actions with the expectations that the results will eventually differ from those that have obtained so far; sort of like expecting that someday it will not hurt when one smashes one’s head into a concrete wall on a daily basis. So now we have a definition of terms that we can use to discuss this idea. Let us further understand that my friends, family and acquaintances are affluent, intelligent and sane people.

So here is what I think is happening. This group of people that I have observed and pondered upon has made a sane and intelligent decision to maintain their respective level of affluence by avoiding reproducing. Ok, that isn’t strictly true. At least one couple has made this choice based on the notion that there are just too many humans in the world and they are doing their part to limit population growth. But let us examine the rest in a little more detail to see if I’m all wet. Two couples postponed their reproduction so long that it is now nearly impossible for them to reproduce. They postponed children because they made a sane and intelligent decision that they wanted to be able to maintain the level of affluence they were accustomed to even when they had children and saw that they would have to postpone children until they were able to guarantee this would happen by savings and other means. Unfortunately for them the old biological clock has caught up with them and it is no longer something they can make a simple choice to change. The very act of pursuing reproduction at this point will cost enough that it would put their affluence in jeopardy and one couple has decided against it. Many of the groups have postponed establishing a committed relationship with a procreative partner so long that they may never establish one. This isn’t to say that they couldn’t, but rather that they have grown quite accustomed to their lifestyle and would find it difficult if not onerous to change to one which includes another adult, let alone a child.

I can now understand these choices and when I contrast them to my own life can see that I had children at a time when I was neither intelligent nor sane as defined above. You see, I had children not as a proactive choice on my part, but as a result of actions that I should have (and probably did) foreseen the result, but chose to ignore the possible outcomes. I wouldn’t change what happened for all the money in the world because my children have proven to be a most precious gift to me, but I can see how waiting a few more years would have given me the intelligence and sanity to avoid procreation. If it sounds like I’m jealous of the affluence of my friends, I am. I would love to be able to do many more things than I currently can, but when I sit down and really think about it, I realize that I have a greater affluence than many people and have also had the gift of being able to share it with my children. We have gone on trips together, and seen and done things that I would never have seen or done had I never had children.

I don’t know if I made my point, but my point wasn’t really to have you understand why the population is shrinking. My real goal was to inspire a little insanity in your life. Are you in a committed relationship which allows procreation? Are you waiting until things are a little more stable and secure? Stop! Go a little crazy and stupid. Have a child. Well, ok, maybe you shouldn’t just jump right into it, but start learning about children. Make friends with people who have them. Baby-sit your nieces, nephews, cousins, whatever to be exposed to what children really are. See if you can find it in your life to create a new life that you can share your best attributes with. Don’t be afraid. Life has no guarantees. No matter how long you wait to have a stable and secure life, it will never happen. By all means do go out and do all of those things on your list of things to do before growing up, but remember that that old biological clock is still ticking and you need to make a choice before biology makes one for you.