There’s a category of social-science experiment where the only reasonable response is “Huh, that’s weird.” The latest such experiment comes from the journal Human Nature, and it involves that least fun of subjects: biological clocks. Researchers interviewed a bunch of men and women about the age at which they’d like to start a family, as well as what qualities mattered in a partner. In some of the interviews, there was a clock ticking audibly nearby. In others, no clock.
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.
It’s unclear what to take away from this experiment. There’s obviously a difference between women’s real-life reproductive decisions and what they say about their plans in the context of an experiment at a particular moment in time. Plus, we’ve known for a while that all sorts of subtle cues can affect how people answer questions, whether for an experiment or a poll.
Still: kinda weird. And if you’re in a relationship with a woman who’s unsure about having kids and you want them, it suggests an easy way to better your odds. To the clock store!