Read a fascinating Washington Post article this morning called “Chinese couples rush to get pregnant before dreaded Year of the Sheep.” In summary, many Chinese couples are feverishly trying to conceive and have children in 2014 – the Year of the Horse, following the Chinese lunar calendar – rather than 2015, the inauspicious Year of the Sheep. (Incidentally, 2015 is also the year I turn 40. 1975 was a Year of the Rabbit). Believers in the Chinese zodiac associate Sheep with following, rather than leading, bad luck in business, unhappy marriages…bad stuff. Little wonder some seek to avoid that fate for their children!
For me, the most interesting aspect of the article is the power that cultural traditions can have on reproductive (biological) decisions. Among other things, this suggests some possibilities for limiting overpopulation – more voluntary, and less draconian, than China’s “one child” policy. Presumably, if people can avoid reproducing in “inauspicious” years, we could do the same for leap years, odd numbered years, etc. Any combination of “less-than-ideal” years for childbirth could reduce population growth. And potentially stigmatize children born in those years. I admit, it’s not a perfect solution. Even in contemporary China, Sheep years have “no discernible effect on national demographics.”
In biology, reproductive fitness is everything. Cultural influences, Chinese zodiac or anything else, that can stem the tide of overpopulation are worth considering. What do you think?