Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Fidelity and fecundity

At Futurepundit, Randall Parker wonders:
The most surprising thing I've read lately related to impulsiveness is that men who have had fewer sexual partners have more babies. I take that to mean that at least monogamy is being selected for. Possibly lower impulsiveness is also getting selected for. I'd like to see an impulsiveness study on middle aged men and women where they are questioned about their offspring. Do less impulsive people have more babies? That'd be good news if so.
Inductivist recently showed that lifelong monogamy continues to be selected for at the expense of lifelong polygamy, although not as overwhelmingly as it had been in previous decades. The GSS does not address impulsivity directly, but RP's train of thought spurs me into approaching the question of whether or not monogamy is being selected for from another angle--whether or not contemporary procreation patterns are favoring serial monogamy.

To gauge this, I turned to the GSS question asked of those who have been married during some point in their lives whether or not they have ever cheated on their spouses and cross referenced it with fecundity. Only those aged 40-65 from the turn of the millenium on are considered for contemporary relevance and to avoid the problem of incomplete baby making. The following table shows the mean number of children among those who have been married at some point during their lives:

Yes (n = 838)2.30
No (n = 3,538)2.27

It appears to be a wash at first blush. But gender matters. Again, this time broken down by sex:


Men who cheat procreate more than those who remain faithful do. Among women, the opposite tends to be true.

Perhaps this should not come as a surprise but an indication that human sexual selection continues to influence reproductive patterns. Men with greater attraction and higher perceived reproductive value tend to be more successful with women than men who lack the necessary traits. For men, previous success is an asset to be leveraged in realizing greater success in the future. For women, however, accumulating a large number of partners lowers perceived attraction and mating value. Selective women are more desirable and have higher reproductive value.

It does not necessarily follow that those who are more attractive are also more fecund, but it's obviously plausible. Assuming this trend continues, I'd expect male instincts to do anything with all the appendages and orifices in the right places and female instincts to secure a desirable male and maintain exclusive sexual access with him to both increase. Sexual selection putatively should, after all, increase differentiation between the sexes, not hem them in.

This may initially appear to contradict the finding that the more partners men have, the fewer children they produce, but it doesn't. Among married men within the preceding parameters, the median number of partners is five, compared to ten among never-married men (ignoring virgins and homosexuals), and married men outdo their never-married counterparts by a factor five, 2.41 kids to just .51. So while philandering married men are the kings of genetic transmission, the married men of fidelity, who outnumber the philanderers 3 to 1, are aristocracy in their own right when it comes to passing on their genes. The men who never settle down, in contrast, hit double digits as often as they do not, but the majority of them do not reproduce at all.

Parenthetically, I recall seeing a bumper sticker that read "Your dollar is your vote" when I was in middle school. The message isn't especially profound, but it has stuck with me for over a decade, reliably informing my purchasing decisions the entire time. In a similar vein, your offspring are your contributions to the future. If you have an aversion to prevailing social mores (or dysgenic birthing patterns, demographic trends, the inversion of the age pyramid, etc), by far the most influential thing for the vast majority of people--including you, unless you're especially influential--to do in response is to pop out a glut of kids of your own to combat the status quo.

Tangential to the parentheses, I had dinner the other night with my first lover and real girlfriend. I broke up with her over the summer before my first year of college in part because she had become overly dependent and needy, and also to be with another girl. Until this week, I'd only seen her on two other occasions since then, and kept up with her only indirectly through the contact she maintained with my family. I was stunned by her beauty. Despite being 25, she is nearly as hot now as she was then and she really has her stuff together. Both of these things surprised me to the point that my enthusiasm in interacting with her almost felt forced (I'm generally very high-energy all the time, irrespective of who I' around). It did not surprise me, however, to find out that she is now happily married (without going into detail, suffice it to say that our meeting up is not an indicator of her potential willingness to run around on her husband).

For the last few days, I've not been able to shake the hollow feeling that I squandered a golden opportunity to achieve what I want to achieve in this world--namely, physical health (check), financial abundancy (check), occupational success (check), and the construction of a nuclear family as happy and functional as the one I grew up in (no check, the pen nowhere near the paper--I'm not willing to make the lifestyle changes to get me there, and I'm not getting any younger, either).

GSS variables used: YEAR(2000-2008), AGE(40-65), MARITAL(1)(5), SEX, NUMWOMEN(1-500), EVSTRAY


Anonymous said...

Shouldn't be too surprised your ex is doing well. Take for example practically anyone who graduated in the top 10% from a school say like Blue Valley. They are all doing well now, whether from the class of '79, '89, '99...

Anonymous said...

"I broke up with her over the summer before my first year of college in part because she had become overly dependent and needy..."

This is a typical response for women once the relationship becomes physical, especially if they were virgins or near so. They're bonded to you, but without the security of marriage, they become scared. It is extremely hard to overcome this fear and be the cool person she used to be.

Audacious Epigone said...


Well put. She went from cat to dog years before I was ready for the qualities of the latter.

Audacious Epigone said...


Well, we're talking Shawnee Mission here, but the point is still taken.

Fugu said...

"human sexual selection continues to influence reproductive patterns"

"The men who never settle down, in contrast, hit double digits as often as they do not, but the majority of them do not reproduce at all."

I see this less as a 'human sexual selection' issue and more of a cultural thing. I think this has come about only with the advent of effective birth control methods. It also depends on where you are on the socio-economic ladder. Does this data look similar in 3rd world countries? Or can we sort out the ghetto from well-to-do suburbia, where more people are likely to be on BC?

There are no contemporary Genghis Khans because women can choose whether or not to take their BC pill (or mate only with protection) and ultimately decide their pregnancy.

On another note, what if you leverage your promiscuity to reel in a higher quality female and have higher quality, albeit fewer kids? It adds to your attraction factor, right? I'd rather hand my genes down to 2-3 quality kids than 4-6 bad eggs. Or is it quantity over quality?

Audacious Epigone said...


Interesting thoughts. The GSS doesn't provide much in the way of answering the questions you raise, unfortunately and the WVS, which could conceivably allow us to compare countries, is not nearly as detailed as the GSS is.