Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Why do men cheat?

In the wake of the Tiger Woods scandal, USA Today asks why men cheat. Personally, I think it’s the wrong question. Biologically, men are sperm production machines. We release roughly 40 million of the little buggers every time we ejaculate. This fact simultaneously contributes to, and is a result of, a strategy for increasing the number of human beings in the world. This strategy has been exercised by men and women for tens of thousands of years. Some of the elements of this strategy:
  1. The fact that women have ridiculously small production of eggs compared to men’s production of sperm, means that women are in general, more selective about their sexual partners. They want both:
    1. Men who will commit a lifetime to them in order to help provide stable child care
    2. Men with the strongest genetic material, to increase the odds of survival of their children
    This often results in a problem for women, because of this statistical fact: not all women can have above average lifetime mates. By definition, not all men are above average. There’s no getting around the fact that, on average, men are average. So, on average, women find themselves choosing either a or b, but not both.

  2. On the other hand, men’s production of ridiculously large numbers of sperm means that sperm are in plentiful supply. To replace the current generation, any given society needs to have all (or nearly all) of the women reproduce. But only a very small number of men are needed to accomplish the same thing. The rest of the men are expendable. Hence, they are available to take on the much more risky tasks, like protecting the group from invaders, getting meat, etc.
The results of the extremely high costs of female eggs and the extremely low costs of male sperm is the strategy that got us to where we are today: relatively small number of men have historically reproduced. The remaining men simply died off. Those who did reproduce, had to be among the horniest buggers of all time. Those who weren’t that horny simply died off.

So what are men now? We’re the descendents of long lines of the horniest and most reproductive men ever. This tiny minority of men had sex with almost all the women. The women wanted this because they all had access to the best genes which meant a higher probability that their children would survive. The men wanted this because it let them spread their genes most widely. The offshoot? Men are horny buggers because we’re descended from horny buggers. And women enabled this trait by giving birth to offspring from that tiny minority of men.

And this is borne out by studies of genetic lineage. Some studies of China have found that 8% of that population is a descendant of Genghis Khan (1). Think about that. One out of every 12 people, in a society of over 1 billion, are descended from one man. Other studies have found that, historically, only 40% of males reproduced. The remaining 60% died before having children (2).

The long and short: all of us (in general) but specifically men have an incredible biological urge to promiscuity, because we are descended from long lines of men who successfully deployed this strategy, and we inherited the desire to do the same.

So the question is *not* why do men cheat. The question is why don’t they.

And the answer is, I think, related to how marriage benefits the 60% of men who previously didn’t get to reproduce. Without the institution of marriage, almost all women would reproduce. But only 40% of men would. Marriage, and the social pressure to remain faithful, provides benefits for both men and women. For most women it provides them a long term caretaker. For men, it provides that other 60% the ability to reproduce. An ability that they simply didn’t have before.

Marriage is, I think, an emergent social norm that maximizes reproduction for both men and women. It’s a good thing. *BUT* don’t forget our biological history. It’s that history of success that makes it so hard for men to not cheat. Men find themselves trying to walk a tightrope. They have enormous biological pressure pushing them towards infidelity, and social pressure pushing them towards faithfulness. It should be little surprise that several slip off that rope.

UPDATE: I just realized something. A) I am a lifetime companion to my wife. B) I've never been approached or seduced by any woman, ever. I therefore have to conclude that, apart from marraige, I'd have fallen into the 60% of men who never got to reproduce. This conclusion is corroborated by my experience in high school, and the observations of a former boss. After work at the bar, he told me I had "no game" - meaning that I couldn't pick up a woman if I really wanted to. I objected saying that I got married and was able to pick up at least one woman. His response: that was just pity. Over the years, I've come to realize he was right. My point: there's at least one positive about being in the bottom 60%.

Cited References:
  2. FYI, this article is worth reading in its entirety.
Additional references:

Sunday, December 06, 2009

First Story, Part 2

Just a short update for those who are following along with what we're doing to try and make the life of a kid better and at the same time, make a better story of our own lives.

Yesterday, my wife & I spent almost all day in an orientation session to learn about hosting an orphan from Latvia over Christmas.  Here are the big things I came away with:
  1. The importance of avoiding the a-word could not be stressed enough. Despite the fact that he will know very little english, the a-word is one that he'll know. They really don't want to raise the expectation levels of the kids only to have them be disappointed.
  2. To that end, the kids who are hosted won't find out that they're going until right before they leave.  As I understand it, someone will show up, ask them to pack and then they go. On the way to the airport, they'll get a letter that was written by the hosting family - translated into their native language. Ours included pictures and a small description of each family member. The pictures we included were a picture of the whole family, a picture of the room he'll stay in and a couple of pictures of the kids playing with the dog (so that he'll know we have a dog, and that the dog is friendly with even the little kids).
  3. A statistic was presented: 30% of people who host describe themselves as "open" to the a-word, but 70% actually adopt. To which, I said, out loud, "Aww. Crap!"
  4. After he's been here for 2 weeks, we will receive a form from "the organization" that's coordinating all of this. We will have to answer this question: do you wish to adopt the child you're hosting. We will have to answer either: "Yes", "No", or "Uncertain". If we answer "Yes" the child will be taken off of the organizations web site completely.  If we answer "No" the child will be put back on the website in order to encourage other families to host, and possibly adopt. If we answer "Uncertain" the child will be put back on the website. In this case, if someone else decides to pursue adoption they will contact us first to determine if we'd made a decision.  My reaction: wow that's not a lot of time to be able to make that big of a decision.
The orientation session was good, but it could have been more efficient. I felt like they covered a lot of stuff that was in the required reading. By the end of the day, I was getting pretty fidgety. But we did meet many of the other families that will be hosting in our area as well as some who'd flown in from the entire opposite side of the country. I really enjoyed meeting them. We've already planned one group activity. We are hopeful for more. Group activities are good for the kids because they get to interact with other kids in their own language.

When I told my mom about this, she thought we were completely crazy. I took that as a good sign that we're achieving at least one of our goals with this.

Other things we know now that we didn't when I wrote the first post:
  • The child's flight will arrive at 11:52pm on a school night. They encourage the entire family to be there and to be excited. I'm not sure how we'll pull that off. My wife wants me and my oldest son to go while she stays home with the younger 3. This is not the kind of thing I get really hyped up about. So it may take some divine intervention to get me excited.

    And the kid will just have spent the previous 30 hours traveling. Which seems like a long time until you put that into perspective that he's only known about who he was going to meet 30 hours earlier. So, he'll be exhausted and nervous at the same time.
  • So far, our criminal checks have come back containing exactly nothing. Which is oddly relieving. I didn't expect them to contain anything, but I couldn't avoid the paranoia that they might contain something for which we were wrongly implicated.  
  • The FBI investigation has not yet been received. We have to call the FBI and ask them to expedite. The friends of ours who got us into this program did the same thing, and the FBI had lost their requests. It's pretty late in the game, I really hope they have not lost ours.
  • The paper work that I fretted about was either not as hard as I thought, or my wife (having done nearly all of the work) did a fantastic job of hiding that effort from me.
We have pictures of the child that we're hosting. I was thinking of posting them here, but that's problematic. I may have already spoken too much about our consideration of the a-word. I don't want to get "the organization" in trouble, as they are only a hosting organization, not an adoption agency.

Friday, December 04, 2009


In order to teach about the benefits of long term savings (in general) and, more specifically, of employer contributions through 401(k) plans, we have established for our first born (12 years old) a 401(k)ar account. The deal with this plan is that whatever money he puts into it, we will match 100%. He's 4 years away from getting a car, so I figure if he can put $25/mo into it that'll be about $2400 (after we match) over 4 years.  That ought to be enough money to get a good beater-up car for pretty low insurance costs.

And I'm so proud of him. He took the $50 that he received from his Grandma and put it in the account. So he's got $100 in there now.