Ticking clocks can literally speed up fertility

An odd new experiment suggests that all it takes to get the baby-making started is a little tick-tock

Published August 14, 2014 4:54PM (EDT)


Science has a fun new tip for women who aren't sure if they want children: Listen to your clocks. No, not the "biological clocks" that start counting down from puberty until menopause -- actual clocks, like the little round, white-faced classroom clocks with the red second-hands and incessant ticking, which once represented all those moments until after-school freedom. Now, researchers say, they might signify more than that. Clocks can encourage women to start having babies sooner.

It's a strange hypothesis, but according to new findings published in the journal Human Nature, the subtle sound of a ticking clock might actually be able to "speed up" a woman's biological clock -- especially if she was raised in a lower income community. Researchers polled a group of women and men from various socioeconomic backgrounds to assess how environmental factors (like the sound of a clock) affected participants' reproductive decisions, asking when respondents wanted to have children and with what sort of partner. In some of the interviews, a clock could be heard ticking audibly, while in others there was no clock present. The results give away the difference:

Their findings suggest that priming the idea of the passage of time through the sound of a ticking clock can influence various aspects of women's reproductive timing. The effect was especially noticeable among women who grew up in lower socio-economic communities. They wanted to get married and have their first child at a younger age than women with more resources. They also lowered the priority that they placed on men's social status and long-term earning potential. However, the effect of the clock did not do the same for men. The researchers were not surprised by this because men are able to father children well into their old age. Their reproductive lives are therefore not as limited as that of women.

Men's reproductive lives also aren't a subject on which we focus the same way as we do women's, which could also explain the difference. The results, of course, do not definitively suggest that the clocks sharply influenced women's reproductive plans; the age at which women plan to start families, or their plans to start families at all, can change dramatically over the course of a lifetime. Still, it's interesting to note just how ingrained the idea of a woman's expiring fertility has become. It's such a fixation, we can sometimes sense it with every second that passes.

By Jenny Kutner

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