In order to emphasize the benefits of a reduced birth rate, we must return to the question of the overcrowding of all large modern cities, in which it is impossible to build proper shelters for all the people. The best description is found in Henry Jephson's work, "The Sanitary Evolution of London," which is typical of all other cities. He states that in spite of an uninterrupted crusade for fifty years, one-fifth of the population in 1906, were still "living in circumstances where physical well-being is impossible and where even a moderate standard of public health is unattainable." Three-quarters of a million were without proper shelter, and 2,500,000 had to share a house with other families.*
In spite of this overcrowding, which was the same in 1891, the decade ending in 1901 showed an increase of 40,000 foreign-born Londoners, that is, there is always a flow into the city from the provinces and foreign countries; only two-thirds of the population is native to the city. Nevertheless, in that decade there were 490,974 more births than deaths, while the population increased 309,228. That is, there were 181,746 emigrants, and adding the 40,000 increase of foreign-born, there were 221,746 people elbowed out. Think of people bringing babies into such an overcrowded world of tenements, in which fifty per cent, died before they were five years of age! The reduction of the birth rate from thirty-one and eight-tenths in 1891, to twenty-nine in 1901, was a blessing. It meant 15,400 less babies per year, or 154,000 in a decade, or a saving of 77,000 deaths of infants who could not be raised. It meant the preservation of the health of 77,000 women, who would have otherwise been damaged by a useless pregnancy. It is social economy of the highest type to produce only what is needed.
* The overcrowded were as follows:
people lived in
" " "
two " "
" " "
three " "
" " "
four " "
The tenements not overcrowded sheltered the following population:
in one-room tenements
" two " "
" three " "
" four " "
The reduction of the birth rate is responsible in part for the great modern reduction of the death rate which, in former times and in lower races, was kept up by infant mortality.
There is an increasing number of physicians who are advising the dissemination of knowledge of how to prevent conception, and thereby to increase the happiness of couples now married but in constant dread, to reduce prostitution by inducing the young to marry who now refrain because unable to support children, to prevent invalidism of too frequent pregnancy and lactation, to prevent destruction of health by improper preventive methods, to prevent abortion, and to prevent the offspring of the defective classes.* Such information will merely be in line with what has been going on ever since the first women prolonged lactation for this purpose. It is a natural phenomenon in which the question of right and wrong does not enter at all. The first duty of the Association for Improving the Condition of the Poor, is to teach them it is wrong to bring babies into the world as burdens for charity organizations.
The relation of democracy to the birth rate seems rather farfetched, but is really so intimate that one depends on the other. Society is evolved for the safety of the units composing it. It is man's method of surviving because it is the safest and best. It is made for him and by him. He is not made for it. It is foolish, then, to say that a big family is man's duty to society. Kings taught the peasant to produce soldiers as food for powder, but the peasants are now teaching kings to preserve the fewer children born. Society must adjust itself to new conditions, and the lessened birth rate is one of them. Society is not the master and man the slave, but it is the servant of man. It must serve man no matter how few children he has. It is no man's duty to be a breeder for the institution he evolves for his own protection. It used to be taught that he who had twelve sons had done well for his country - in time it will be recognized that he injures it by being too prolific. In any case, fatherhood is a right - not a duty.
* "Critic and Guide".
The changes wrought in us by our dependence upon the social organism we have created for self-preservation, and the duties exacted of us by that organism as the price of our own personal survival, are discussed later, but it might be said here and at once that they have nothing in common with child-bearing. The organism exists for those already born and it changes to accommodate what the future presents to it..