Thirty percent of German women are childless—the highest proportion of any country in the world. And it’s intentional. Why? Because they can be. Free will, baby. A professor of psychology examines what this trend augurs for conservatives who wring their hands at the thought of people enjoying sex outside the context of procreation.
THE GERMAN PUBLIC was recently shocked to learn that 30% of “their” women are childless ? the highest proportion of any country in the world. And this is not a result of infertility; it’s intentional childlessness.
Demographers are intrigued. German nationalists, aghast. Religious fundamentalists, distressed at the indication that large numbers of women are using birth control.
And evolutionary biologists (including me) are asked, “How can this be?” If reproduction is perhaps the fundamental imperative of natural selection, of our genetic heritage, isn’t it curious ? indeed, counterintuitive ? that people choose, and in such large numbers, to refrain from participating in life’s most pressing event?
The answer is that intentional childlessness is indeed curious ? but in no way surprising. It is also illuminating, because it sheds light on what is perhaps the most notable hallmark of the human species: the ability to say no ? not just to a bad idea, an illegal order or a wayward pet but to our own genes.