Every nation except France is increasing in population; but the birth rate is decreasing everywhere. Statistics can be misapplied to almost any purpose. Thus since 1876 the birth rate for France has decreased from 25 to 21 per thousand, whereas for England it has decreased from 36 to 27, and it might be alleged that, should the same decrease continue, the birth rate after an equal period would be about the same for France and England, and about a hundred years thereafter would be 5 in France and less than nothing in England. This is obviously absurd, but it is by no means unlikely that the birth rate will fall below the death rate in all civilized nations and later in other nations as they are brought within the circle of European civilization.
The increase in population during recent years has been due to the decreased death rate. This has resulted directly from the applications of science to medicine and hygiene and indirectly from the improved conditions of living which science has made possible. In all civilized countries the birth rate is now smaller than the death rate was formerly. But the death rate can not decrease indefinitely; it has indeed possibly reached in Great Britain a lower level than can be maintained. A death rate of 16 per thousand in a stationary population means that the average length of life is over 60 years and as one fourth of those who die are under five years of age the average age at death of those surviving infancy would be about 80 years. Odd as it may appear at first sight the decreased death rate of a country such as Great Britain is largely due to a decreasing birth rate combined with an increasing population. Such conditions give a population in which there are fewer children under five and fewer old people over sixty, in which groups the death rate is about 60 per thousand, whereas between the ages of 5 and 35 it is below 5. In France there are fewer children than have ever existed in any population, which reduces the death rate; but there are more old people—twice as many as in Great Britain—which increases it. The proportion of old people will further increase in France,