Volume 48, November 2014, Pages 157–170

Intelligence and childlessness

  • Managerial Economics and Strategy Group, Department of Management, London School of Economics and Political Science, Houghton Street, London WC2A 2AE, United Kingdom


More intelligent men and women are more likely to desire childlessness.

More intelligent women, but not men, are more likely to become childless.

Due to dysgenic fertility, the average level of intelligence is likely to decline.


Demographers debate why people have children in advanced industrial societies where children are net economic costs. From an evolutionary perspective, however, the important question is why some individuals choose not to have children. Recent theoretical developments in evolutionary psychology suggest that more intelligent individuals may be more likely to prefer to remain childless than less intelligent individuals. Analyses of the National Child Development Study show that more intelligent men and women express preference to remain childless early in their reproductive careers, but only more intelligent women (not more intelligent men) are more likely to remain childless by the end of their reproductive careers. Controlling for education and earnings does not at all attenuate the association between childhood general intelligence and lifetime childlessness among women. One-standard-deviation increase in childhood general intelligence (15 IQ points) decreases women’s odds of parenthood by 21–25%. Because women have a greater impact on the average intelligence of future generations, the dysgenic fertility among women is predicted to lead to a decline in the average intelligence of the population in advanced industrial nations.


  • Value for children;
  • Parenthood;
  • Childlessness;
  • General intelligence;
  • Savanna-IQ Interaction Hypothesis;
  • The Lynn-Flynn Effect