Having children obviously takes a lot of work—and a lot of money. It really is an enormous sacrifice in so many ways. So why do so many of us do it? What motivates us to give up so much in order to have kids? A new set of studies published in the journal Marriage and Family Review identifies 15 distinct motivations behind procreation.
In the first study, researchers conducted in-depth interviews with 30 parents to identify the different reasons that led them to have children. From these interviews, they generated a list of 66 potential motivations. In the second study, 536 adults were given this list of motivations and asked to indicate which of these factors led them to have children. Statistical analyses were then performed to find which of the motivations clustered or hung together in order to extract broader themes. The 15 themes that emerged in the end were as follows (note that they are listed in order from most- to least-commonly endorsed):
1.) Instinct (e.g., “Because I felt the instinct to have children,” “Because I wanted to be a mother/father).
2.) Descendants (e.g., “To continue my family, “ “Because I want to leave descendants”).
3.) Happiness and meaning in life (e.g., “To give me joy,” “To feel more complete”).
4.) Our destiny (e.g., “Because this is the purpose of humans,” “Because this is the goal of marriage”).
5.) Extension of self (e.g., “To inherit my knowledge,” “To create people who are pieces of me”).
6.) For company (e.g., “So that I am not alone in life”).
7.) Patriotism (e.g., “To serve the country,” “For the preservation of the human species”).
8.) Family name (e.g., “To continue the family name,” “Because I wanted to give my parents grandchildren”).
9.) Advanced age (e.g., “I felt that if I delay it longer I would be too old to have children”).
10.) Look after me and take over when I am gone (e.g., “To take care of me in old age,” “To take over the family business,” “To inherit my fortune”).
11.) Improve my relationship (e.g., “To improve my relationship with my partner”).
12.) Social pressures (e.g., “To satisfy the ones around me,” “To save my relationship”).
13.) Accident (e.g., “It was an accident. I didn’t want it initially”).
14.) Entrapment (e.g., “To make my partner stay with me”).
15.) Medical and health factors (e.g., “Because my first child is sick and I would like to have a healthy child,” “In order to get financial help from the government,” “Because my first child has health problems so I had another in order to take care of him/her when I won’t be around”).
Although this shouldn't necessarily be considered an exhaustive list of all possible reasons someone might choose to procreate, what this list tells us is that there are a wide range of factors that can motivate people to start having kids. Also, as you may have noticed, some of them don’t sound like particularly healthy reasons to start a family (e.g., to entrap your partner or because you want to save your relationship).
I'd be curious to see a follow-up study looking at how these motivations are linked to people’s satisfaction/dissatisfaction with having children, as well as how procreation motivations differ across various social groups (e.g., how do heterosexuals’ reasons differ from those of sexual minorities?).
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To learn more about this research, see: Apostolou, M., & Hadjimarkou, M. (2018). Domains of Motivation in Men and Women for Initiating and Terminating Procreation in an Evolutionary Perspective. Marriage & Family Review.
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