Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 78.djvu/83

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79
THE DIMINISHING BIRTH RATE

prevalence in the present is also a pitfall into which it is easy to fall. Professor Willcox well says:

It is so easy and so fallacious to argue the increase of any phenomena from the increase in the known instances. I am still unconvinced that there is any increase of insanity in the United States and my attitude is much the same regarding the diseases affecting the birth rate. At the same time I admit that the balance of expert testimony is strongly in favor of both these positions.

A final objection to the explanations offered by the biologist and the medical expert is that incapacity is to some extent a by-product of certain kinds of "preventives" that sterilize the reproductive organs. This explains why some newly wedded couples who make it a point to avoid children subsequently find that they can not have them. Of the incapacity originating outside of wedlock, also, some is undoubtedly traceable to this cause. An increase of involuntary sterility, therefore, may be merely a symptom of the increase of the voluntary variety.

The explanation of the economist, on the other hand, has the advantage of simplicity and clearness. To most minds, also, it seems less speculative than do its rivals. Besides, it comes nearer explaining the more obvious and important facts. It squares with the fact that the fall in the birth rate is not confined to any one class, and with the tendency of social phenomena, especially in a democracy, to spread throughout the rank and file of society. Moreover, a point of view that takes the will into account and does not reduce man to a mere automaton is more in harmony with the commonly accepted method of explaining social phenomena in general. The sensitiveness of the birth rate to social and economic changes is admitted by both parties to the controversy. But here the agreement ends. On the one hand, the blind response of the human organism to the environment is maintained. On the other hand, the rational response of intelligence is asserted. One emphasizes the resemblance between man and the vegetable and the animal kingdoms. The other differentiates man from other animate beings. The latter has the decided merit of recognizing what is distinctive in human nature.

Finally, the position of the economist is in keeping with certain patent and well recognized truths. One is that men act with a sense of responsibility in contracting the family relation. The general acceptance of the view that children are invited and not sent undoubtedly makes powerfully for self-restraint and social decency. The general acceptance of the contrary view would undoubtedly increase the birth rate. A second truth, and one consistent with the foregoing, is that the birth rate is well inside the physiological limit. Moreover, it is farther inside than formerly. The evidence is conclusive. First, in most countries all births, save only a small residue, occur within wedlock. Second, women marry later than formerly. This is a fact of