Tick-tock, tick-tock. That is the sound of your biological clock winding you up into a fertility-related frenzy. Quite literally. A study that recently appeared in the journal Human Nature found that the sound of a ticking clock influenced women’s decision making when it came to having kids by making them more conscious of time, and thereby amping up their urge to get a jump on Project Mom. The study also found that women’s socio-economic backgrounds affected their choices as well: affluent women factored in stability—finding a good provider and partner first—while less affluent women let those ideals go and focused on the end game—having a baby.
To determine how factors of environment and life experience influence reproductive timing, psychology researchers Justin Moss and Jon Maner of Florida State University conducted two experiments. First, they asked men and women in their 20s when they planned to marry and have kids; second, they asked them to rate the importance of such qualities as attractiveness, kindness and social status in a potential mate. Participants were asked these questions in silence, then again in the presence of a small kitchen clock that ticked away, like a scene from Edgar Allan Poe’s Telltale Heart. Women from lower socio-economic backgrounds were most affected by the clock’s insistent reminder that time was a-ticking away: they lowered the age at which they wanted to have kids as well as downgraded a man’s ability to provide as a factor in mate selection. (They were also more interested in a potential mate’s good looks than his attractive financial portfolio.) By contrast, women from more affluent backgrounds didn’t change the age at which they preferred to have kids, and instead of downgrading a mate’s desirability, they expressed an even greater drive to attract a suitable partner and provider.
Why the different reactions? It’s not entirely clear. The researchers suggested that it may be because women born in less affluent circumstances are more likely to trust in short-term goals, while those from more affluent backgrounds are raised to value long-term investment. The not-so-weird finding: men—rich, poor and everything in between—remained blissfully unaffected by the sound of the ticking clock.
Ticked off by that finding? Ditto.