Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 23.djvu/454

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question of the utmost importance. To a certain extent it operates as a thermometer to show the rise and fall of national prosperity. The process of its operations may seem slow, but certain results are sure to follow.

In respect to this agency, a most surprising change has gradually been taking place in New England. Near the close of the last century, Malthus, after making a survey of all the nations on the earth, selected the United States (virtually New England, which was the most populous part) upon which to base his theory of population. Seeing that the inhabitants of these States doubled in twenty-five years by natural increase, he considered that it afforded most favorable indications of prosperity. At that time the birth-rate was high, families were large, and few were found without children.

From the first settlement at Plymouth in 1620, this prosperous state of increase continued without much change for two hundred years, but early in the present century some decline in the birth-rate commenced. It is impossible to trace the exact changes which have taken place for the last two or three generations.

In some parts of New England the precincts and towns were accustomed to keep very correct records of all births, but they were not generally printed, so no comparison of them can be made. But for thirty years or more several of the New England States have published registration reports of births in their cities and towns, so that very correct comparisons can be instituted. Without going into a detailed sketch by statistics, figures, etc., of the changes in birth-rate, we present some general statements on this subject. Forty or fifty years ago large families, numbering six, eight, ten, and twelve, were quite common; now they are rareā€”in fact, a large number of such families can not at the present time be found in any one neighborhood or even in a single country town. Formerly, in the rural districts of New England, there were few families having only one, two, or three children, and in case there were none it was so rare as to attract particular attention, and was considered by many a great calamity. But what a contrast is found in the present state of society! In the great majority of our American families only one, two, or three children are now found, and in very many families not one. And such a state of society is approved by the fashions and prevailing sentiment of the day!

As registration reports generally return the births of the foreign population in the same tables with the American, and as the term native is applied to all infants whose parents were born in this country, though of foreign descent, it will be at once seen how difficult it is to obtain the exact birth-rate separate of each class. Two facts are pretty well established: 1. That the birth-rate of the foreign class is more than twice as large as the strictly American; and, 2. That, in the country districts of New England settled mainly by the Americans,