Why Women (and Men) Get "Baby Fever"
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Clearly, though, many women do not ever feel the pull of the ticking clock, or don’t feel it distinctly, and “part of the variation is probably genetic,” she says, “as with most things.” It’s also important to note that men have been found to encounter baby fever too: In an exhaustive study surveying the potential causes of the phenomenon, Gary Brase, an associate professor of psychology at Kansas State University, found that men experience it, just to a lesser degree than women do.
Adding to the lists of “could-bes,” baby fever might just be a “superfluous” feeling arising from “general interest in parenting,” she says. (Although, if a nurturing instinct were the sole explanation, pets would be a far more effective — not to mention cheaper and easier — solution to baby fever.) “At an age were most women in our evolutionary past would have been mothers, or at least surrounded by babies and children, many Western women are not, and this may create a situation where you feel a strong urge to have an outlet and object for your maternal emotions.” Rotkirch points to research on baboons and chimpanzees showing a clear variation in maternal behavior: “Some are very interested in mothering and training to become a mother,” she says, while others are not.
But it’s impossible to ignore the social influence and culture of baby mania — just consider the pregnancy porn in celebrity tabloids and the high-profile exhortations to hurry up and settle down before it’s too late! Then, too, girls are often trained as nurturers from the time they’re in the bassinet. However, Brase, who has studied the issue for nearly a decade, found that beliefs about gender roles — for example, a woman’s conviction that her proper place is in the home — were not strong predictors of baby fever. “Desire for a baby is not strongly connected to people’s gender roles,” he told me.
There is good evidence of a different kind of social influence, though. A Swedish study found that women are more likely to have babies shortly after their co-workers have babies. Is might be a coincidence that my sudden baby ache arrived right around the time that my peers started getting pregnant, or it might not. Within a couple of months of each other, two friends, a family member and a co-worker, all but a handful of years older than me, announced that they had a baby on board. Brase also found that one of the strongest predictors of baby fever was prior positive experiences with babies.
Regardless of whether it stems from our evolutionary roots, there’s no denying that baby fever as a cultural phenomenon or topic of discussion is “a very new and ‘social’ thing,” Rotkirch says. “This is due to the fact that in contemporary developed societies, we grow sexually mature younger but start having babies later than in most other societies through history,” she says. “There is more time to be physiologically mature for a baby without actually having one.”
It’s also the case that women’s greater choices and freedom has resulted in “more ambivalence and decision making,” she says, over whether to have a baby, as well as when and with whom. There are also greater potential barriers related to education and career. Rotkirch found in surveying women that “the longing usually awoke when having a child would theoretically have been possible as the woman was basically healthy and had a satisfying couple relationship,” but “circumstances opposed it, usually the woman’s own life plans, problems in reproductive health, or the attitude of her male partner.”