Recent studies have shown that, like women, men also have biological clocks that tick away and give them baby fever, compelling them to create families with increasing urgency over time. And although men with baby fever are a common breed, their reproductive clocks tick a bit differently, and ‘baby fever’ has a slightly different meaning to men. According to the authors of one 2011 study on the subject, “Gender and baby longing is a question of degrees, not of exclusive categories. Men may experience a ‘slight rise of temperature’ if not full-blown ‘baby fever.'” In any case, the biological imperative to procreate on a deadline is there, alright. So what makes men think, I want a baby?
It makes sense that humans, like any animal, would feel the drive to propagate their own genes. But it has long been an article of faith, rather than science, that women feel more pressure to do so than men due to their reproductive limitations. Menopause ends the possibility of reproduction for cisgender women. Cis men can, in theory, reproduce forever. And, as it turns out, they have more of a longing to reproduce as they get older.
How Does Baby Fever In Men Work?
Researchers have found that male baby fever presents differently than female baby fever. Although women desire children less as time goes on, men want more progeny as they age and begin building families. “How frequently women have the desire to have a child goes down with age, and down as they actually have children,” Gary Brase, PhD, a psychologist at Kansas State University who’s studied baby fever in men, told Live Science. “For men, it tends to go up.”
One thing that seems to make a man’s biological clock tick is, well, women. National studies of Finnish couples have found that baby fever in men typically arises during conscious attempts to conceive, which are often dictated by the woman’s desire to have a baby. Simply put, baby fever is contagious.
One recent study supports this notion. Researchers found that younger women paired with older men were less fertile than expected, and older women paired with younger men were more fertile than expected. Laura Dodge, ScD, a professor of reproductive biology at Harvard Medical School who led the research, suspects that this is because straight couples in which the woman is reaching the end of her reproductive life feel more pressure to conceive.
“The impact of age seems to focus almost exclusively on the female partner’s biological clock,” Dodge told The Guardian. “When making this decision, they should also be considering the man’s age.”
The Science of Men That Want a Baby
Another factor contributing to baby fever in older men, observed by Brase and colleagues in U.S.-based samples, is a simple cost-benefit analysis. As men grow older, they tend to achieve more in their careers, so the costs of having a child (financial and professional) diminish, relative to the benefits. Baby fever may be less about gender than socioeconomics. “Gender role norms didn’t do much as far as explaining people’s desire to have a baby,” Brase says.
It’s important to note that some men don’t need partners who want children in order to experience baby fever. It’s possible that the biological clocks of these men are powered by the need to assert their masculinity. Providing, protecting, and procreating are three core cultural dimensions of masculinity, after all.
Which means there’s nothing more masculine than catching baby fever.