Why do we care what happens after we die?

Interestingly, the chief executives paid their employees less after becoming fathers. On average, after chief executives had a child, they paid about $100 less in annual compensation per employee. To be a good provider, the researchers write, it’s all too common for a male chief executive to claim “his firm’s resources for himself and his growing family, at the expense of his employees.”

But there was a twist. When Professor Dahl’s team examined the data more closely, the changes in pay depended on the gender of the child that the chief executives fathered. They reduced wages after having a son, but not after having a daughter.

Daughters apparently soften fathers and evoke more caretaking tendencies. The speculation is that as we brush our daughters’ hair and take them to dance classes, we become gentler, more empathetic and more other-oriented.

From the most emailed piece from the NYTimes today, Why Men Need Women. It goes on to note that men who grew up with more siblings, in particular sisters, were more nurturing and caring. Who knows what type of monster I would be today had I not had two sisters.

I chuckled at this bit: 

In a provocative 2007 presentation in San Francisco, the psychologist Roy Baumeister asked, “Is there anything good about men?” (The short answer, if you haven’t read “Demonic Males,” by Dale Peterson and Richard Wrangham, is not much.) But our saving grace, Professor Baumeister argues, is that across a wide range of attributes, “men go to extremes more than women.” Men are responsible for the lion’s share of the worst acts of aggression and selfishness, but they also engage in some of the most extreme acts of helping and generosity.

On this point, the economists James Andreoni at the University of California, San Diego, and Lise Vesterlund at the University of Pittsburgh report evidence that whereas many women prefer to share evenly, “men are more likely to be either perfectly selfish or perfectly selfless.” It may be that meaningful contact with women is one of the forces that tilt men toward greater selflessness.

If you haven't read the first linked article, it's a great read.

The idea of empathy being learned or transferred through the practice of using the nurturing instinct (the causality is fuzzy) is an interesting one. 

I'm curious less about the gender results here than the influence of having children generally (the title of this post just uses the NYTimes article as a jumping off point).

It's long been a puzzle to me why a human might act in altruistic ways to future generations when that human will be dead long before the impact of their actions come to bear on the world. You might argue our treatment of the environment is just one example of how we show we don't care, but there are plenty of counterpoints that show that people do care about their legacy or for future generations in ways that are curious from an objective or maybe utilitarian standpoint.

[This, by the way, is a reason why the advice to "live every day like it's your last" is lousy advice as no one would go into work that day and society would collapse.] 

Perhaps having children forces us to have a time horizon that extends beyond our death and as such serves as a built-in defense mechanism for society against short-term destructive behavior on the behalf of its constituents.