A friend told me a joke the other day. A squaddie awaiting his train home after Armistice 1918 was interviewed on the platform by a radio reporter.
And what’s the first thing you’ll do when you get home?
Take the missus upstairs for a good seein’ to!
Hmm. This is for a family audience. What’s the second thing you’ll do?
Take this flamin’ pack off me back and get out of these ruddy boots!
An earlier conversation had touched on a phenomenon we’d independently heard presented in New Age terms, invoking an ‘intelligent cosmos’. That’s the Returning Soldier Effect: a spike in male births after major wars.
Since then, others had told me that returning soldiers and their women are indeed, as the joke suggests, keen to make up for lost intimacy. Doubtless, I’d said. So? So, replied these friends – social scientists some of them – the more we have sex in any monthly cycle, the more likely it is we’ll conceive a boy.
Not the ‘intelligent cosmos’ then. But is it true that more nookie means more boys? That part is not easily verified or refuted. Two other statistical phenomena come together in this account:
Survivors – at least among British WW1 combatants – average close to an inch taller than those who don’t make it.
Taller parents are more likely to have sons, shorter parents daughters.
I’m guessing computerisation of army records on the one hand, data warehousing and mining technologies on the other, have enabled such findings. But talk about answers begetting more questions …