Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 78.djvu/78

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that the birth rate among college women who marry is practically the same as among their non-college sisters, cousins and intimate friends. Moreover, if the failure of the involuntary nervous system to work properly is responsible for the diminishing birth rate, why is not the phenomenon localized in place of diffused? Amid the quiet retreats of rural life as well as amid the rush of cities, among skilled mechanics and even among day laborers subjected to comparatively little mental or nervous strain as well as among business men and other brain workers the birth rate has fallen. The phenomenon is far more wide-spread than the explanation offered by the biologist would lead us to expect. The excessive use of the nervous system can neither cause its own undoing, or cause the under-development or atrophy of the generative organs in any considerable portion of the population.

The economist further objects to the explanations of the biologist and of the medical expert on the ground of their complexity. When asked for a bill of particulars, they are at a loss to give any reply that is at once simple and clear. The undernutrition of the reproductive organs plus the failure of the involuntary regulatory machinery to function properly offers a complex rather than a simple explanation. Moreover, the matter is still further complicated by adding the influence of sexual diseases. Besides, the argument from analogy seems a trifle fanciful. An explanation of the difference between the birth rates in France and Germany, in Germany and India, in France and French Canada, or again in the different portions of the population of any given country in terms of the will seems much more simple and clear than in terms of one or all of the several explanations offered as an alternative. The variations in the birth rate due to a scanty or an abundant harvest, or to any of the various forms of adversity and prosperity, are more readily traceable to volitional conduct than to physiological changes.

Finally, the economist objects that the biologist unwarrantedly assumes that the birth rate is determined in a purely mechanical fashion. No provision is made for the action of anything but physical and chemical forces. Elsewhere in human affairs the will guided by intelligence plays an important role. In so vital a matter as the birth rate, is it reasonable to absolve it from a due measure of responsibility? For the biologist rules out even a will that acts in a predetermined manner. A man enjoys a certain freedom in selecting an occupation, in spending his money, in imitating the dress of others, and in selecting his friends, but is the victim of fate as to the size of his family. Hope and fear are thus debarred from influencing the will in one of the most important domains of life. Such a view looks upon man as purely a creature of circumstances, utterly powerless to respond in tiny voluntary way to the forces that buffet him about. The position of the econ-