Reproductive Clock More Pressing When Real Clock is Ticking

woman running late

From nosy relatives to babies populating social network feeds, women are often reminded of the period of time they have for childbearing. As they enter their 30s, a heightened awareness of the shrinking time left to conceive can be a source of anxiety, especially in those without a partner. A new study published in the journal Human Nature looked to see just how much a real reminder of the passage of time could affect this sense of urgency and how that might, in turn, influence how choosy a woman is when it comes to finding a mate.

The researchers studied a group of men and women of reproductive age and asked them questions about the importance of certain characteristics in choosing a mate. These questions included things like earning potential and social status and also covered topics related to when participants wanted to get married and have their first child. While the subjects were filling out surveys, some had the sound of a ticking clock playing in the background. The rest had no background noise. Their responses were then analyzed to see if the ticking of the clock made any difference to the way they responded.

They found that women who answered questions with a clock ticking in the background were more likely to want to get married and have children at a younger age. They were also more likely to lower the bar when it came to picking a partner, especially when it came to social status and earning potential. This was particularly the case with women who came from poorer communities. The researchers concluded that these sorts of subtle clues could signal an unconscious threat to a woman’s reproductive potential that leads to this increased sense of urgency.

Men, on the other hand, saw no such differences. Partner selection and plans for family formation were the same in both groups of men, which the researchers say they expected given men’s ability to father children well into old age.