Will the Duggars Inherit the Earth?

By Maggie Koerth-Baker

duggarsunsharp.jpg

In which I am inspired by a snarky comment on another blog.

My normal routine involves a fair amount of procrastination, but I tell myself that's OK (really), because sometimes it leads to work ideas. Like, a couple of months ago, when I was browsing through the Onion AV Club and stumbled over the headline, "By 2100 Everyone Will Be Part Duggar."

Naturally, my response was to wonder whether that might actually be true. After all, back in 2003, researchers figured out that 8 percent of all men living in central and east Asia--a huge proportion of the global population--are likely descendants of Mongol ruler/horde-leader Genghis Khan. I contacted some of the researchers involved in that project to find out whether we can project that kind of genetic impact forward in time as well.

Image courtesy TLC.

The answer: Kinda-sorta.

"It's really just a little simple math," said Spencer Wells, Ph.D., Explorer-in-Residence with the National Geographic Society, working on their Genographic Project, which traces human migration patterns by studying DNA markers. "If you imagine that each of the Duggars' 19 kids has 19 kids, for only four generations--that's only going for 100 years--there would be 130,000 descendants of this one couple."

But, at the same time, it's not as easy as all that. Wells, and colleague Chris Tyler-Smith, Ph.D.,head of the Human Evolution team at The Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute, said it's too early to tell what the Duggars' genetic impact on America will be.

Let's look back at Khan again. And clarify things a bit, while we're at it. It's important to point out that nobody knows for certain that 8 percent of Asian men are descendants of the Mongol leader. What we know is that those men share a collection of genetic mutations--a haplotype--on the Y chromosome, which suggests that they all shared a common male ancestor.
Y chromosomes are passed from father to son intact, without the shake-n-bake interference of maternal DNA. So Y chromosomes don't get remixed each generation, but they do, occasionally, pick up a small change here and there from random mutation. Scientists know roughly how often those mutations happen, so they can look at a haplotype, see how different it is from the general population, and get an idea of when that family group broke off from the herd. In this case, the point of origination would have been about 1000 years ago, give or take.

Scientists associate the haplotype with Genghis Khan not because all the men who share it have a predilection for little furry hats, but because of simple logical deduction. It's a rare guy who is going to have enough children, and whose children will have enough children (and etc.) to leave such a big mark on such a large geographic area. Historically, we know that around 800 years ago, old Genghis was doing quite a bit of marrying, concubining and raping/pillaging. And we know that his immediate descendants were also powerful men who were able to have a lot of children, with a lot of different women, in a lot of different places. Chris Tyler-Smith explains it thusly,

"So we can either say that there were two separate events: One, Genghis Khan's lineage, which was present in Mongolia 800 years ago and we know was greatly amplified over the next centuries, has disappeared from the current gene pool, while another lineage that arose in the same place around the same time has reached high frequency without leaving any trace in history. Or we can say that Genghis Khan's lineage and the star cluster lineage were the same. To me, this second possibility is the simpler explanation. Indirect, but a bit more than guesswork."

To tie this whole Mongolian warlord thing back to the Duggars, just look at the kids. Genghis' sons, grandsons, and great-grandsons were privileged by his power and wealth. They had the means to support BIG families, and the social capital to acquire those families. In fact, they had the social obligation to breed it up. And, thus, did the not-exactly-meek-and-peaceful Khan inherit most of Asia.

Whether the scientists of 2800 are studying the Duggar haplotype depends on how many babies the 19 Duggar kids, and their kids, have. In this case, it's not necessarily a given that the parents' productivity will be inherited. If growing up in America's biggest TV family leaves most of the kids gun-shy, so to speak, the family could end up with no more of a long-term genetic footprint than the rest of us. On the other hand, there are certainly social and religious factors encouraging the Duggarlets to follow in their parents' footsteps. And, if a large number of them do, and if their kids carry on the family tradition...we could well be on the way to welcoming our Duggar overlords. Genetically speaking.

Side note: In writing this, I kept having to re-check to proper spelling of "Duggar" in the singular, because it looked weird. Because you never see the name in that form.

Published 6:10 am Mon, Nov 2, 2009

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About the Author

Maggie Koerth-Baker is the science editor at BoingBoing.net. From August 2014-May 2015, she will be a Nieman-Berkman Fellow at Harvard University. You can follow Maggie's adventures in the Ivory Tower by subscribing to The Fellowship of Three Things newsletter.

72 Responses to “Will the Duggars Inherit the Earth?”

  1. octopod says:

    err, go dugs!

  2. EH says:

    If you smell a delicious, crispy smell after childbirth, it’s not your vagina. It’s a little bit o’ shake…and bake.

  3. Samurai Gratz says:

    Love this post and the ensuing commentary. Good stuff.

  4. adent1066 says:

    They may not inherit the earth, but they just might inherit the Jon & Kate + 8 timeslot

  5. The Lizardman says:

    When confronted by a duggar aim for the ovaries or the testicles – not the head, it is the only way to stop them

  6. Anonymous says:

    Nobody, and I mean, nobody have enough time, energy, or money (well, maybe money) to support, raise, educate, and nurture the life of 19 children. The Duggars are idiots for thinking it is still okay to produce boatloads of messed up children without a strong sense of individuality (do you think a single one of them has their own room?). Read Cheaper by the Dozen. It just isn’t smart, or responsible, to do something like this, let alone put them all on TV as celebrities and pariahs. Octomom, eat your heart out.

  7. Miss Cellania says:

    Michelle Duggar is only 43. They could well have a few more kids before they stop.

  8. Halloween Jack says:

    I’ve seen similar claims for the descendants of Charlemagne, something that you can bring up whenever some particularly insistent conspiracy theorist starts going on about how all the presidents are descended from some royal family, albeit distantly (presumably, that would include Barack Obama).

    As for the Duggars… maybe not so much. Their family portraits make them seem like a lengthy series of matryoshka, all dressed and groomed alike. I suspect that whichever ones of them that break free and see the larger world (probably by enlisting in the military) will be disinclined to follow their parents’ baby mill example, and the others will have a hard time finding mates who are willing to sign up for so many brothers-and-sisters-in-law to remember and keep track of.

  9. Sarah Neptune says:

    I love looking from face to face in this photo – it’s so rare to see so many expressions of one couple’s genes/characteristics, and fascinating to see the similarities and differences of each iteration. It’d be cool to see a morph of one to the next.

    Also, regarding the comments about the higher probability of abnormalities in children as the mother ages: that is not seen as a drawback or a reason not to continue to procreate for these folks. But you already knew that!

  10. EH says:

    Miss Cellania: she is currently pregnant.

  11. Anonymous says:

    Nice post. I think results from the Genogrpahic Project like these are really fascinating.

    The only thing I’d add is that the Mongols were historically outstanding in terms of their brutality, putting entire towns they’d conquered to the sword. So perhaps part of the reason the “Ghengis Khan haplotype” is so prevalent now is that the competing male lineages at the time were wiped out?

    Have there been other cases in which they’ve argued for current haplotype distributions being attributable to a single individual, except mitochondrial eve?

  12. Anonymous says:

    #43 According to this link:

    http://www.thegeneticgenealogist.com/2007/12/28/famous-dna-review-part-iii-niall-of-the-nine-hostages/

    3 million men are descended from Niall of the Nine Hostages, High King at Tara (in Ireland) from 379 to 405 AD. He is the “Neil” in O’Neil.

    The methods used were pretty much the same as the ones for determining the descendants of Genghis Kahn. The O’Neils occupied the North of Ireland and today 1 in 5 men there carry the genetic markers that show they are Niall’s descendents

  13. tamar says:

    This woman died at 99 and had 1400 descendants when she passed.

    I guess it makes sense.

  14. Anonymous says:

    This family makes me sick to my stomach. I feel so bad for the girls in that family, being raised to believe they are just stock for breeding.
    Regarding the hair, in an episode one of the girls said that they wear their hair long because their dad likes it like that. I got the chills when she said that.
    Nasty pedophiliac type chills.

  15. Anonymous says:

    1. Kiiids, for sale or rent… womb to rent, 50 cents…

    2. Anthropology aside, is the idea of 19 kids (+x “on the way”) really a good idea? When you have you to consign your kids to a buddy system for everyday life – and the buddy part isn’t you – there might be a problem.

    3. That being said, large families have not only existed but thrived in many parts of the world. (Ireland, I’m looking at you.)

    4. More anthropology +biology aside, the concept of abnormalities in children is of no concern to this particular sub-group of families. The need/want/desire to have more lil ones trumps all. (for better or for worse, and who are we to say which?)

    5. OVERPOPULATION: China tried population regulation, and succeeded to such a degree that Chinese baby girls are the gold star of American adoptions. Overpopulation has always been, and always will be, a “problem.” Except that new human beings may not be such a problem…

    6. PROMOTION: Of course the Duggars are “selling” their lifestyle. Dooce did it. Trunk does it. Perez masters it. Gosselin… well, another day. All have a “concept” that sells to the public. Stop talking about it, it goes away. Except no one does, and it never does.

    7. Mrs D’s Nethers: I do not want to know. And, I suspect, neither do you. Stop speculating and spare us all.

    Aaaall of that said, I hope they stop. They set a bad precedent among the wanna-be reality stars.

  16. Miak says:

    At least they are not on government subsidies with all theses kids. People should learn from them.

    • Anonymous says:

      Not on welfare, eh? Every episode talks about how the church has helped them out from time to time. Jim Bob is not above holdi9ng his hand out for someone to help them, out. He’s not exactly using his own boot straps here, right down to the show itself. I know the father of quints in the upper Midwest (that’s enough of a clue for you), and he said the producers who wanted to film their lives started out offering him and his wife a house, and by the time the crew was actually in their lives to do some filming, the offer was basically down to a fridge. His family was filmed once, and they’ve been on their own since then.

  17. Anonymous says:

    If the Duggar children have children at the rate their mother does they will end up more like distant relatives. There is no way that you can keep up close emotional bonds with so many people. This further proves to me what selfish people these Duggars really are. She is like a cat lady who is no longer emotionally filled up by the kitten that has become a cat and so she gets another kitten. There is no doubt that if this continues with their children innocent souls will be passed over & neglected. There is no way this woman can keep close emotional bonds with 19 children and potentially 361 grandchildren.

  18. Enormo says:

    How is this not plain ol’ gluttony?

    I’m disgusted by the thought of a person choosing to stuff their face with 19 hamburgers at a sitting because they REALLY like the taste of hamburgers. I feel the same sort of revulsion of someone choosing to have 19 children in the course of their lifetime.

    Whether personally or ideologically driven, ‘want’ is not a good enough reason.

  19. Chelvis says:

    Bob Marley’s bass player, Aston ‘Family Man’ Barrett has fathered 52 kids from a host of women. http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2006/may/16/topstories3.arts

    As a nifty thought experiment, aim some of the above insults at him and his offspring and see if you feel funny about it, or if it rubs people the wrong way. Or at the above-linked Israeli lady and her family.

    Comments like “This is not a family. It is a human puppy-mill.” or “Maybe they will breed until they run out of food, like bacteria”.

    • Halloween Jack says:

      Nice try, no cigar. You seem to be oblivious to the fact that the difference between the Duggars and the other cases that you cite is that the Duggars are not just promoting their lifestyle, but selling it, and as such their lifestyle is subject to the same scrutiny and criticism as anything else in the public marketplace. The same criticism has been leveled at Jon and Kate Gosselin (family is part-Asian) and Nadya “Octomom” Suleman (Hispanic), so there goes your implication that it’s just the white Christians who are getting picked on.

      • Chelvis says:

        Hey ‘Halloween Jack’, you’re right I was oblivious to the fact that the Duggars are not only promoting, but selling, their lifestyle. I’ve never seen that show or heard about them before the BB post. All comparisons break down at some point, so to the extent that situations are different, then different standards do apply. I will keep trying for any available cigars, but I wasn’t implying anything in particular – I was just trying to get people to look at their comments from a different angle which revealed how flippant and outrageous they were, and I certainly wasn’t trying to get anyone’s goat. Here I am, goatless and with no cigars neither.

  20. Anonymous says:

    This is not a family. It is a human puppy-mill.

  21. dculberson says:

    Another couple of years and she should give it a rest. After a woman reaches 45, the odds of a Down Syndrome child is up to 1 in 19. The man being over 42 increases the chances even higher.

    Other disabilities become more common, as well. Raising 19-20 kids is hard enough, add a couple of disabled children in the mix and you’ve got a real challenge!

    • paradoxcycle says:

      @dculberson: I agree completely, but I have a very strong feeling that will not happen. They’re just going to keep going until she hits menopause.

  22. rjr says:

    You might be interested in “The Perfect King: The Life of Edward III, Father of the English Nation”, by Ian Mortimer, which has an appendix on to what extent Edward III was literally the father of the English nation. Because of the work of genealogists and family historians there’s a lot of concrete data, so the calculations are not just reliant on probabilities.

  23. chgoliz says:

    In addition to receiving lots of sponsorship and other forms of handouts, the reason the Duggar family functions as well as it does is because the older girls do most of the work, including childcare.

    They’re also all being home-schooled, to keep them away from learning about that yucky evolution and such.

    What passes for nutrition is awful (take a look at their “recipes” on their website sometime, but be sure to have a puke bucket handy).

    Yes, everyone has nicely brushed hair and big smiles in all the photos. Apparently that’s enough to fool some people.

  24. ninja says:

    I believe that as the family agreed to be put on television and also profit (which they clearly must) from being on telly then they are themselves putting themselves in scrutiny. Whether they want to be critisised or not, whether you agree they should or not,they ultimately placed themselves in this situation. They do not seem overly concerned with how people see them. They are raising there kids the best they know how unaided by the state. Who are any of us really to judge. we all do the best for our kids and we all may not agree on what that may be, but ultimately what they are doing they feel is best for them and their kids and as far as i can see they are well balanced independant polite happy children, which is what we all strive for for our kids.

  25. DylanMorgan says:

    @Robert: yes, the cultural aspect of this question is not really getting fair airtime. After all, you’re probably less likely to pursue hyper-procreation in America today than elsewhere. After all, there is no doubt that the family has a reality show because our country loves a freakshow, I think the chances that all the kids will follow in their parents’ footsteps is unlikely at best.

  26. Anonymous says:

    The think to keep in mind with these right-wing Superfamilies is that they’re being raised to vote a certain way. So yes, it will affect us. Negatively.

  27. Anonymous says:

    Idiocracy, anyone?

  28. hep cat says:

    Screamin’ Jay Hawkins had about 57 children. Six generations of that and you would have 34 billion people.

  29. Anonymous says:

    Soylent Green is made of people?

  30. davidasposted says:

    The really frustrating thing for me is when a couple decide to have kids of a number that exceeds their financial means, or ‘accidentally’ have a bunch of kids via fertility drugs, they receive donations of various kinds (corporate sponsors basically built the Duggars’ house); they’re rewarded for their stupid behavior.

  31. Anonymous says:

    #50 It’s entirely possible to admire some aspects of an individual or entity without diminishing your own personal beliefs and embracing them all. The Duggars earn their sponsorship. Would you let a TV crew occupy your home and shoot take after take free of charge? Of course they’re getting compensated. Being on TV is a job. As for handouts, if their community, neighbors, etc. want to give them assistance, what business is it of yours? Are you anti-welfare or only anti-welfare for conservative folks? I don’t even think the Duggars are *on* any form of government welfare in the first place. They get their income from real estate investments. As for the hair – you’re totally wrong. Duggar hair is awful. :) xooxox Feminist Who Digs the Duggars

  32. kuanes says:

    I always feel bad for this woman’s uterus when I flip through this show.

    All Hail The Duggarati!

  33. chgoliz says:

    Antinous @ #55:

    Thank you for typing that. I knew I wasn’t the only one who put 2+2 together, but I never saw it suggested by anyone else at the time (and the idea was always immediately shot down as a possibility whenever I mentioned it).

  34. Bevatron Repairman says:

    I, for one, welcome our new Duggar Overlords.

  35. chgoliz says:

    Following on Enormo’s post @ #60, I feel compelled to quote the obvious, attributed to Groucho Marx:

    “I love my cigar too, but I take it out of my mouth every once and a while.”

  36. cinemajay says:

    The Duggars have about a few billion Indians and Chinese to catch up to before we’re inundated with white Baptists.

  37. Anonymous says:

    Didn’t Frank Herbert write a book about this lot? Helstrom’s Hive IIRC…

  38. Anonymous says:

    I have no problem with the Duggars, and no one else should either. They have a happy, intelligent, well-behaved family, and they don’t depend on welfare or any other government program to subsidize them. Let them be.

  39. Anonymous says:

    It would have been interesting to see how this family would cope if all the kids over 8 had been male.

  40. winkybb says:

    My normal routine involves a fair amount of procreation, but I tell myself that’s OK (really), ……….because, well the Duggars do it. Why shouldn’t I?

    Oh wait, that’s right. It is because the planet is rapidly heading to a complete environmental, civil and social collapse due to the out-of-control primate infestation. To pump out this many screaming shit machines is a tragedy.

  41. EH says:

    Chelvis: Oooh, I like your challenge! It means that the criticism would be either racist or anti-Semitic, right?
    WELL PLAYED.

  42. EH says:

    Oh, and as for Down Syndrome kids, Sarah Palin has taught us all that they contain a certain kind of godliness that any fundamentalist is happy to endure. If it’s “God’s will,” they will eat it up like a yuppie baby eats organic raspberries.

    • Antinous / Moderator says:

      Oh, and as for Down Syndrome kids, Sarah Palin has taught us all that they contain a certain kind of godliness that any fundamentalist is happy to endure.

      Carrying a baby with trisomy 21? Can’t have an abortion because of the bad PR? Just get on a plane around your due date against medical advice. Then whatever happens is God’s will. Right?

      • Brainspore says:

        I am pro-choice and loathe Sarah Palin, but I’m not cynical enough to think that any public figure that chooses not to abort a child with Down Syndrome does so just for the poll numbers.

  43. Anonymous says:

    Love the H2G2 reference to little furry hats at the end there…

  44. Moriarty says:

    Only 8%? I would have thought much more, frankly. When you consider that the number of direct ancestors (grandfathers and grandmothers of some number of “greats”) increases by a power of 2 for each generation back in time (and population decreases in the same direction), it becomes clear that the number of your grandparents exceeds the population of the Earth fairly quickly. 30 generations ago you had over a billion direct descendents, which obviously had to have been doubled up many times over, making everyone a product of many, many acts of at least mild incest. There is also the implication the if you back far enough (maybe as little as a couple thousand years), a good portion of the people alive are the direct ancestors of almost everyone currently alive, with the possible exception of small populations that had been highly isolated for millenia. It’s highly likely that everyone reading this is a direct descendent of Ramses II, for example.

  45. Moriarty says:

    Um, I forgot my main point. What I was going to say was that it matters little, genetically speaking, if everyone is “part Duggar.” Eventually, it is highly likely that everyone will be, just as it will be highly likely that everyone will be part anyone who has a few generations of offspring. What matters is how BIG of a part. In the year 4000, how many times over will the average person be descended from a Duggar?

    Also, to end on a positive note, I should point out that there is no evidence that being part of a crazy uterus-bombing cult is genetic. There’s no way they can keep that up for more than a couple generations. And everyone here has plenty of ancestors with crazy-ass worldviews, that tried unsuccessfully to instill them in their children.

    • Cicada says:

      I wonder if the inherited component isn’t so much a tendency to be crazy-ass Baptist or whatever, but a tendency to be crazy-ass about an ideology in general?

  46. Sarah Neptune says:

    I love looking from face to face in this photo – it’s rare to see so many expressions of one couple’s genes/characteristics, and fascinating to see the similarities and differences of each iteration. It’d be cool to see a morph of one to the next.

    Also, regarding the comments about the higher probability of abnormalities in children as the mother ages: that is not seen as a drawback or a reason not to continue to procreate for these folks. But you already knew that!

  47. Not a Doktor says:

    It’s a vagina not a clown-car.

    Also it took me a long while before I realized that those people weren’t mormon; they’d fit in right here in Utah (specifically Provo).

  48. Marshall says:

    Damn near every contemporary political, societal or environmental problem stems from overpopulation. We all knew it back in the 1970’s and then decided to bury our heads in the sand (somewhere around “morning in America” time, IMHO) and treat the symptoms, rather than the disease.

    • Brainspore says:

      @Marshall:

      Population growth has been slowing for decades, which is why the 1970s Soylent Green-esque predictions of early 21st century life never came to pass. That doesn’t mean we can all go out there and spawn a Duggar-sized clan but it does mean that we should see them as the exception and not the rule.

  49. Robert says:

    Yeah, but the Duggars are hardly going to go around raping and pillaging across America, amplifying their genes the way Genghis & Co did. Or does the religion the Duggars follow include riding ponies and wearing furry pointed hats?

  50. 13tales says:

    *shudder*

  51. Anonymous says:

    “Y chromosomes are passed from father to son intact, without the shake-n-bake interference of maternal DNA.”

    There is really no scientific consensus on this. The folks who think this is the case have a great tool for all sorts of historical evolution work. The folks that disagree that things work this way (and they have a number of sound arguments — very little empirical evidence exists that supports the conjecture) think that any conclusions one draws are highly suspect.

    At any rate, this is a hotly debated point in anthropology and genetics. For a number of scientist, basing any of your science work on this one assumption throws any conclusions you might derive into question.

    I’m a fan of this stuff, and read a fair amount of populat science based on haplotype research. There is a lot of exciting science going on, but unfortunately very little of it has any real scientific consensus. Basically, you are either in one camp or the other, and the conclusions you draw are held as dubious at best by the other camp.

    For what it’s worth, I can be identified as Haplotype H Subclade H (pretty much every Western European that came via the near-East through the Middle-East from East Africa). I just don’t know what that means to a good number of scientists.

  52. Anonymous says:

    Maybe they will breed until they run out of food, like bacteria.

  53. Anonymous says:

    #7, that may be the most original thing ever said in all of the Internet. Oh wait. I mean totally not.

    I agree with #2. I may not be down with the Duggar’s political and religious beliefs, but I admire their self-sufficiency, frugality, and DIY ethic. The kids actually play outside (gasp!), everyone pitches in, and they all seem fairly happy, healthy, and balanced.

  54. PrairieChicken says:

    Every time I see their show on TLC (and by the way, what the hell are we “learning” TLC?) I cringe and my vagina screams.

    Not a Doktor – you’re right. It’s a vagina, not a clown car.

  55. I less than three mermaids says:

    Am I the only one to notice the Khan reference?

    KHAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAANNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNN!!!

  56. bklynchris says:

    Wait, DID SHE literally give birth to all those children. No, seriously. DID SHE?

  57. ill lich says:

    At what point do the offspring stop being “Duggars” and start being “Smith” or “Jones” or “Kaminsky” or “Velasquez”? We can trace our genes back through so many different routes, thus Obama and Cheney have common ancestors.

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