Human Nature

, Volume 27, Issue 2, pp 201–219 | Cite as

Does Sexual Conflict between Mother and Father Lead to Fertility Decline?

A Questionnaire Survey in a Modern Developed Society
  • Masahito Morita
  • Hisashi Ohtsuki
  • Mariko Hiraiwa-Hasegawa


Fertility decline is a great challenge to evolutionary approaches to human behavior. In this study, we apply the perspective of sexual conflict between mother and father to the fertility decline. We predict that, under serial monogamy allowing for mate changes, the ideal number of children for women should be smaller than that for men, because the cost of reproduction for women should be higher than that for men. Our reasoning is that if the cost of child-bearing and child-rearing is higher for women than men, and if women, who therefore would want a smaller number of children than their husbands, have gained more power in reproductive decision-making within a couple owing to the modernization of society, fertility should decline. Until now, few evolutionary studies have analyzed empirical data in modern developed societies with such a perspective. Our questionnaire survey in an urban area in Japan revealed that mothers did experience greater cost during childcare than fathers. However, in contrast to our prediction, we found no sex differences in the ideal number of children between mothers and their husbands in many cases. About 60% of parents remembered wanting two children when they were childless. Moreover, mothers and their husbands had equal power in their decision-making regarding having children. After presenting these results, we discuss some perspectives to advance our understanding of fertility decline in terms of sexual conflict.


Fertility decline Sexual conflict Serial monogamy Ideal family size Modern demographic transition Japan 



We would like to thank the staff at the study site as well as the parents, who kindly cooperated in our survey. Our deep thanks also go to the members of SOKENDAI on the Hayama campus for fruitful discussion and helpful advice. Valuable comments from the members of Evolutionary Demography Group at London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, especially from Drs. Kristin Snopkowski, Cristina Moya, and Rebecca Sear, greatly improved this paper. We also thank three anonymous reviewers and the copy-editor for their helpful suggestions. This study was supported in part by JSPS/MEXT KAKENHI Grant Number 13J04635 (to MM), 25118006 (to HO).


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  • Masahito Morita
    • 1
    • 2
  • Hisashi Ohtsuki
    • 1
  • Mariko Hiraiwa-Hasegawa
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Evolutionary Studies of Biosystems, School of Advanced SciencesSOKENDAI (The Graduate University for Advanced Studies)HayamaJapan
  2. 2.Research Fellow (DC) of the Japan Society for the Promotion of ScienceChiyodaJapan

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