Paper Review: People Are Natural Natalists


Ashburn-Nardo, Leslie 2017
Parenthood as a Moral Imperative? Moral Outrage and the Stigmatization of Voluntarily Childfree Women and Men


Nationally representative data indicate that adults in the United States are increasingly delaying the decision to have children or are forgoing parenthood entirely. Although some empirical research has examined the social consequences of adults’ decision to be childfree, few studies have identified explanatory mechanisms for the stigma this population experiences. Based on the logic of backlash theory and research on retributive justice, the present research examined moral outrage as a mechanism through which voluntarily childfree targets are perceived less favorably than are targets with children for violating the prescribed social role of parenthood. In a between-subjects experiment, 197 undergraduates (147 women, 49 men, 1 participant with missing gender data) from a large U.S. Midwestern urban university were randomly assigned to evaluate a male or female married target who had chosen to have zero or two children. Participants completed measures of the target’s perceived psychological fulfillment and their affective reactions to the target. Consistent with earlier studies, voluntarily childfree targets were perceived as significantly less psychologically fulfilled than targets with two children. Extending past research, voluntarily childfree targets elicited significantly greater moral outrage than did targets with two children. My findings were not qualified by targets’ gender. Moral outrage mediated the effect of target parenthood status on perceived fulfillment. Collectively, these findings offer the first known empirical evidence of perceptions of parenthood as a moral imperative.

The author herself doesn’t seem to be happy with her own findings:

Practically speaking, the present findings have some troubling potential implications for howpeople transition to parenthood. For example, the present findings, obtained with college students in the Midwestern United States, suggest that many young people view children as a necessary ingredient for fulfilling lives. Thus, they may feel tremendous pressure to have children, not only from others as this literature suggests (Mueller and Yoder 1999), but also internally. Ironically, these perceptions have absolutely no basis in reality. Meta-analyses reveal that parents report significantly less marital satisfaction than do non-parents, and as their number of children increases, marital satisfaction decreases (Twenge et al. 2003).

That maybe so, but reality definitely seems to have a basis in those perceptions.

For instance, people without those perceptions didn’t tend to pass on their genes.

Anatoly Karlin is a transhumanist interested in psychometrics, life extension, UBI, crypto/network states, X risks, and ushering in the Biosingularity.


Inventor of Idiot’s Limbo, the Katechon Hypothesis, and Elite Human Capital.


Apart from writing booksreviewstravel writing, and sundry blogging, I Tweet at @powerfultakes and run a Substack newsletter.



    If there is instinct for having children, why is it so pathetically weak? You would not see 15-25% of population voluntarily starving themselves to death (and there were/are cultures that celebrated death by starvation as highest form of asceticism).

  2. people without those perceptions didn’t tend to pass on their genes

    Why should I care if my genes are passed on or not? That’s their problem, not mine.

  3. Erik Sieven says

    have there been any substantial changes? My impression is that almost all women have children at some time, as it always has been, while much more men have no children in their life.

  4. Daniel Chieh says

    I think it is as you said, relatively weak. The sexual urge was evolved to be stronger than the actual desire for childbearing, though the latter is extant too. Its possible that there are enough substitute activities for nurture such as pets which have helped its increase. We do see even nonhuman animals adapt the mothering instinct to other animals, so it does not surprise me.

  5. 99,5% of “your genes” you have in common with all mankind, and the rest are also shared with many people. Only genes that are uniquely “yours” are about 40-50 new mutations you carry. Do you feel you possess any super power that rest of human race lacks?

  6. Compare girls you knew who had dogs when they were 18 – 25 years old and those who hadn’t. Based on my local (somewhat small sample, TBH) knowledge, those who have pets, especially dogs, are far more likely to be childless when they’re 30. Their nurturing needs have been satisfied, or so they feel.

  7. Daniel Chieh says

    I do it for Confucius.

  8. Quite to the contrary, I am fairly certain that any contribution of my genetic material, be they my mutant mutations or that which I share in common with everyone else, would be a detriment to mankind. As such, the world will be spared my demon spawn (as far as I know) and will be all the better for it, while my offspring will also be much better off never having existed.

    Lest my prior comment be misunderstood, I am strongly anti-natalist. It is one of the few topics on which I am rather sure my mind will not be changed.

  9. waffleironmarch says

    And yet those who chose to remain celibate in ages past European society (e.g. Priests, nuns, saints) were revered as less sinful and more Godly, as per the New Testament biblical passages extolling those who can give up sexuality altogether.

    It seems the outrage is purely reserved for people who are perceived as having it both ways, which is probably a form of narcissistic rage on the part of those who define themselves by parenthood and their children, and the more covert narcisssistic rage of those who are unhappy as parents but rationalize it as something that makes them superior to the childless people they subconsciously envy.