Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 78.djvu/77

This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.
73
THE DIMINISHING BIRTH RATE

lation where the birth rate is lowest. The social evil in its refined as well as in its vulgar forms is nothing new.

The economist further objects to the inference which the biologist makes from the difference in fecundity between the higher and the lower animals, or from the fact that wild animals become less fertile in captivity. The argument from analogy can easily be pushed too far. According to Malthus, the power of reproduction is less among barbarous than among civilized races.[1]

The economist also takes exception to the main contention of the biologist. Without presuming to take issue with the biologist in his own field, one may at least ask whether the decline of the birth rate has not been too sudden and marked to account for mainly in terms of a deficiency in the human organism to meet the demands made upon it. In the evolution of the race it is probable that nothing has become more firmly fixed than the power of reproduction because nothing is more necessary to survival. In fact, the persistence of procreative power is one of its noteworthy characteristics. This is so notorious among many kinds of degenerates as to call for the new science of eugenics. Apparently, the ability of the reproductive organs to take care of themselves in any competitive contest with other demands upon the human system is to be presumed. Hence, the theory that the rapid pace of life has lessened the power of fecundity to anything like the extent that the birth rate has fallen seems improbable.

Certain additional facts lend color to this position. If stress in excess of the ability of the body to appropriate nourishment impoverishes the reproductive organs, why is fecundity among the insufficiently nourished, clad and housed so great? In place of a low birth rate among the poor, quite the reverse is true. Adam Smith's oft-quoted remark that a half-starved Highland woman frequently bears more than twenty children illustrates what is a matter of common observation. On the frontier, also, the strenuous and hard conditions of life have been in no wise inconsistent with large families. Indeed, many writers attribute the diminishing birth rate to over-nutrition rather than to under-nutrition.

Again, why should the activity of the brain rather than the activity of other parts of the body interfere with the normal development and nurture of the generative organs? For what is more conducive to contentment, happiness and health than an alert and active mind. A writer in a recent number of The American Naturalist remarks: "An impotence ascribed to psychical causes may rarely occur, but concerning this factor, we have, obviously, little or no exact evidence."[2] In point of fact, such meager statistics as exist upon the subject indicate

  1. Marshall, "Principles of Economics," fifth edition. Vol. I., p. 184.
  2. Dr. Max Morse, "Sterility," Vol. XLIV., October, 1910, p. 624.