Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 78.djvu/82

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faculty is conspicuous and who are people of substance or are highly ambitious commonly marry late and have few children. In other words, the birth rate is usually low among those in whom prudence is highly developed, and imprudence in the matter of marriage and offspring is frequently but a symptom of imprudence in other directions.

President Hadley says:

It is true that as society exists at present, high comfort and low birth rate are commonly associated, because comfort is made to depend upon prudence. Let the comfort be made independent of prudence, as in the case of the pauper or criminal, and the birth rate tends to increase rather than diminish. It may not be exactly true, as some Malthusians would have us believe, that the low birth rate is the cause of the comfort, but it is much farther from the truth to assert that the comfort is the cause of the low birth rate. Both are the results of a common cause—the exercise of prudence, which gives high comfort and low birth rate to those who are capable of practising it, while those who are incapable of so doing have at once a higher birth rate and a lower level of comfort.[1]

We recur, then, to the question propounded at the beginning, namely, is the diminishing birth rate for the most part voluntary or is it involuntary? The contention that the increasing stress of life causes sterility by impoverishing the reproductive organs, or by disturbing the involuntary regulatory system, while plausible, is open to doubt in so many respects that it is not entitled to great weight. As an explanation it is clearly inadequate. It does not account for the widespread character of the fall in the birth rate, nor does it make due allowance for the various considerations that postpone marriage and render a small family, or no family at all, desirable. Moreover, the argument from analogy is so speculative that not much need be conceded on that score. Unfortunately, the sterility due to sexual diseases can not be so easily dismissed. Even some sociologists are disposed to attribute no small part of the decreasing birth rate among the negroes to this cause, on the ground that "emancipation removed the strong economic motive of the master class to keep their slaves in good physical condition." This explanation, however, does not apply to whites. No one of course who pretends to be informed denies that venereal diseases are a fruitful cause of sterility. But when we are asked to believe that they have spread enough to account for the fall in the birth rate, we may well ask for the facts in the case. Such a supposition runs counter to progress in so many directions and to what seems to be a marked increase in the moral sensitiveness of the race. The opinion sometimes expressed that a majority of men contract venereal diseases prior to marriage may be an unwarranted generalization. The error of arguing the increase of these diseases from their known

  1. "Economics," p. 48.