Why are modern families so small? Could it have something in common with peacock tails? A fascinating essay in the new issue of Science is the basis of my newest column for Wired. And man oh man, are the commenters freaking out. Judge for yourself.
The Natural History of the Only Child
Small thing, Ruth Mace is from University college London, not the Imperial college.
The peacock’s tail evolved as a genetic change over many generations. Decreases in family size have often happened in less than one generation, so it can’t be due to a genetic change. So what’s the evolutionary argument here? Past human evolution (mostly before there were cities) gave us brains that are smart enough to see that fewer children may mean more grandchildren, but too stupid to realize that the optimum will never be less than one?
Are the resources saved by having fewer kids really being invested in the kids we do have? Or in goodies for Mom and Dad? (I don’t know the answer to this, but it seems a key question.)
This is one of several topics explored on this podcast done by a group of atheist bloggers called The Herd of Heathens.
Personally, I think it’s more about cultural evolution than genetic evolution – though, obviously, over time they will merge to varying degrees.
>Are the resources saved by having fewer kids really being invested in the kids we do >have? Or in goodies for Mom and Dad? (I don’t know the answer to this, but it seems a >key question.)
This is totally anecdotal, but it’s certainly true in my family. Each of my grandparents was one of six or seven children, and their parents struggled to feed them all. Two of my grandparents left high school early in order to work and help feed their younger siblings.
Fast forward 100 years. I have only two children, so I can afford to feed them and still have some funds left over. A good chunk of those dollars go to “educational enrichment” — like music and art lessons. If I had six kids, those dollars would certainly be buying food instead.
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Okay–after some technical difficulties I won’t bore you by recounting, I have an announcement. For the…
Really, it’s not like I’ve discovered a new element or anything. See you tomorrow.
…to spill beans. Any minute now, honest.
…at 5 today. [That’s 5 pm EST–sorry for the confusion.]
[Hint…I’ve turned off the comments till then.]
I’m sure you’d like to pretend that you have nothing in common with a tapeworm.