"M. Neymarck has lately examined various economic, financial and social causes that influence the birth rate. Some of his results are summarized in what follows: He believes, in the first place, that the birth rate will always diminish with the increase of 'civilization,' with 'progress' in a country. In Germany, the birth rate was forty-two per 1,000 in 1875; in 1895 it was thirty-six. In England the rate diminished from thirty-six to twenty-nine in the same period. In France it fell from twenty-six to twenty-five and two tenths. The rate of diminution is, therefore, least in France. Some of the economical causes influencing the birth rate are the increased cost of living, or, more accurately, the increased scale of comfort and the desire to insure increased comfort for oneself and one's family.
"The desire to establish one's children well in life is proved by curious statistics. In France there were 281,353 heritages in the direct line to divide 3,469,000,000 of francs; of these 170,819 heritages, amounting to 2,131,000,000, were allotted to one or two children; 75,961 amounting to 926,000,000, were divided between three or four children, and 34,573 amounting to 412,000,000, were divided between five or more children. The reduction of the rate of interest runs parallel to the decrease in birth rate. In France the birth rate was: in 1872, twenty-seven and eight tenths per 1,000; in 1880, twenty-five and six tenths; in 1890, twenty-two and nine tenths; in 1900, twenty-two and four tenths. The three per cents, produced, in 1871, about five and one-half per cent, on the investment; in 1880, about three and one-half per cent.; in 1890, about three and one-quarter per cent.; in 1900, less than three per cent.
* Doctors Newsholme and Stevenson (The Journal of Hygiene) find that the great decline began in 1876 and is practically the same in every country studied:
34.8 to 28.0
England and Wales
36.3 " 28.5
40.9 " 35.7
40.7 " 36.2
30.8 to 26.8
33.0 " 29.1
40.0 " 36.9
26.2 " 22.0
"The increase of taxes and the indirect effect of the obligations of military service must also be considered, and also the entrance of women into competition with men as wage-earners. In France there are now 3,353,831 women who are thinking less of maternity, as they are more or less interested in their professions or trades. There are 3,861,599 single women; 1,808,838 families without children; 3,000,000 divorced or widowed persons without children - nearly 6,000,000 persons in all these categories." - New York Sun.
This extract is given in full as it shows that the real reason for the reduction of the birth rate - a natural necessity - is not touched upon in any of the usual discussions of the matter. Indeed, the conditions in France are often spoken of as vicious results of Malthusianism. In 1870, there were nearly 1,000,000 babies born, but there has been a steady decrease until 1906, when it was about 800,000. Nevertheless, the deaths are only 750,000, and there is a surplus which increases the population in addition to the constant immigration which has been going on since time immemorial.
The decadence of the French population is relative, not actual, for they have increased as fast as they could. They are supersaturated like England and Germany, but it is only to a less extent because they have less to sell and they cannot afford to import as much food as countries to the north of them. France is a phenomenally rich country and therefore its saturation point was higher than the rest of Europe before the other nations began to feed from America. That is the reason why, in 1800, France contained twenty-eight per cent, of the population of the great powers, and though she is steadily increasing in population all the time, she is steadily falling behind those who can buy food. Yet she will grow, for one-ninth of her area is uncultivated, yet capable of raising food.*
Writers, particularly the French, always put the cart before the horse, and state that Germany and England are more prosperous than France because they are so prolific. They are prolific because they can buy food. The smallest increases in France are in the Southern departments, where the people have less average intelligence. The North is increasing at a fairly good rate through food importations, and in 1908 it was said that the birth rate was increasing with the prosperity of that year when she saved a billion dollars, one-third of which was drawn from abroad.
It is ridiculous for those statesmen like M. Piot to preach large families, which cannot be fed. He cannot upset natural law. Let him devise ways of importing food, and the population will instantly respond. All those who advocate large families for France, and such writers are legion, should remember that the Frenchman is much better off than the Englishman, because there is less poverty and more wealth per capita in France. Indeed, the stories of awful distress come from England, not France.
The diminishing birth rate of French Canadians is another instance of this law, and it has received attention because their birth rate until recently has always been enormous - even larger than that of the colonists of New England. The old farmer simply divided his lands among the children, but the farms have long been too small to permit further division, so that the surplus people have been flocking to the United States, and now practically control our northern frontier. Yet it has been found that it is no longer possible to raise these families and the babies cease to appear. Though the French Canadian birth rate (49.08) is still more than double that of the English Canadians (23.41), the big families are becoming rare. They have obeyed the Mosaic command to "be fruitful and multiply, and replenish the earth," but since they have finished their part of the task they have ceased to produce more.
In the United States, the figures are about the same as for the rest of the civilized world. The last census shows that the number of children under ten years of age has steadily declined from thirty-three and five-tenths per cent., in 1810, to twenty-three and seven-tenths in 1900. Part of this is due, no doubt, to the gradual prolonging of life which increases the number of people over forty. Hence, the number of children was probably fifty to sixty per cent, of the population, and the diminution is a sign of increasing civilization. Yet the figures also show a steady decline of number of children per family, and in addition it is calculated that while in 1850 the average family consisted of five and one-half children, in 1880 it was reduced to five, and is now four and seven-tenths.