Untrue Family Translations

Access to more resources should translate into people having more children, not fewer. Certainly, there is massive documentation that throughout recorded history, quite a few men opted for more. Kings, emperors, and despots—who had the power to do so—filled their seraglios with fertile women. However, the emphasis on the quantity that holds true for male potentates (and surely we don’t call them that for anything) does not hold true for mothers.

Around the world, there is a tendency for people who are better off to have a lower birthrate. This tendency is evident among peasant women as well as women in industrialized societies. Wherever women have both control over their reproductive opportunities and a chance to better themselves, women opt for well-being and economic security over having more children. For many, leaving children every day while they work is a matter of survival, the only way mothers can support their families or the only way they can secure a decent future for offspring. (A big difference between modern industrial societies and people who live by foraging is that children who must not only be fed but clothed and educated become more costly with age, not less). But survival does not explain all the choices. The third world just making a living on plots of land will trade the clean air and safer environment of the countryside for urban towns with their glimmer of economic opportunity. 

Far more privileged women also may opt for self-realization over reproduction, forgoing motherhood to become artists, pilots, or scientists. At first, their choices appear counter to evolutionary expectations until we recall that mothers evolved not to produce as many children as they could but to trade off quantity for quality, or to achieve a secure status, and in that way increase the chance that at least a few offspring will survive and prosper. This is why a closer look at what late-twentieth-century women are doing reveals behavior that is not so much “unnatural” as behavior that is in conflict with conventional expectations—all the myths and superstitions about what women are supposed to want. So how did people in the Western world come to conceptualize female nature and “motherhood” the way we do?


The divine scriptures are God’s beacons to the world. Surely God offered His trust to the heavens and the earth, and the hills, but they shrank from bearing it and were afraid of it. And man undertook it.
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