The main reason for the lessened death rate is warfare against disease, and here, too, the reason is the realization of the value of life. Modern science has shown that diseases once considered inevitable are wholly avoidable, and we are now organizing all kinds of agencies to prevent this appalling waste of life. Nevertheless, science is not entirely responsible for the lessened modern death rates, for the diminution began centuries ago. The main reason is the better standard of living. The death rate of London, for instance, several centuries ago, was 180 per 1,000, but has been gradually going down all the time until now it is less than seventeen. The tuberculosis deaths alone have diminished to one-third their relative number a half century ago, and recent statistics show that this gradual decline has not been affected in the least by modern sanitariums, which are really able to accommodate only a very small proportion and those of the well-to-do-classes. Some of this reduction, of course, is due to the evolution of racial immunity, for the disease seems to have about killed off the majority of the most susceptible. So many corpses show evidence of healed tuberculosis, that there is ground for the belief that the majority of us are already immune and that the disease is curable in over ninety-five per cent, of cases if taken in time.
Similarly pestilences are disappearing from among civilized people, and though science is responsible in some instances, such as smallpox and cholera, yet in others, like relapsing fever and typhus we really do not know the causes of their disappearance. Typhoid became a menace only when we crowded into masses too densely, but that disease, too, seems destined to disappear in time.
We might go on indefinitely through all the other diseases and show a progressive diminution, particularly in those afflicting children, among whom there has been an enormously lessened mortality, although, as elsewhere explained, they are still unnecessarily slaughtered by the tens of thousands.
Alcohol is still a powerful means of ridding the earth of surplus people, for it annually destroys immense numbers whose deaths are reported under the names of the final diseases which ended the life. Now, it is a fact that the Mediterranean nations which have known alcohol a long time, were formerly very drunken, but have had the topers killed off long ago, so that while they consume immense quantities of wine - nearly every one drinking - there is a minimum of drunkenness and very little death from alcoholism. Savage races which have never known alcohol and have never had their drunkards killed off, are potentially drunken - that is, when they get alcohol they kill themselves with it. Mediterranean nations survived because their alcohol was diluted and the destruction was gradual - that is, only the worst drinkers were destroyed in each generation. Teutons are in a transition stage, having known alcohol some centuries, and though they have been frightfully drunken in the past there is now a vast improvement through the deaths of the worst. We are becoming more and more sober as a nation, partly by reason of this mortality. Some reformers advocate increasing nature's way by forbidding procreation to the drunkards - so that we will weed out these lines without actually killing the drunkards or waiting for the alcohol to do it. The prohibitionists by removing the alcohol would save all the potential drunkards to raise children with the same parental drinking desires. Prohibition, though always accomplishing its main purpose, has failed except in the sparsely settled communities; hence, this evolution is stopped in these localities, but in thickly settled places it has gone to such an extent that the great majority of employees in certain lines of business are abstainers. It is now possible for railroads, steamships, etc., to insist upon total abstinence of employees - a thing impossible three centuries ago. Hence, deaths from alcoholism are growing less and less, and will finally disappear,* although the consumption of alcohol is increasing.
City life has become so much improved that a few observers have concluded that cities are no longer "consumers of population" flowing into them from urban districts. Indeed, the trolleys and other means of transportation are practically destroying city life for the well-to-do who are now reverting to the normal suburban life of our ancestors, even if the men spend several hours every day in the city. Nevertheless, there is plenty of evidence that modern city life is far from the normal and a certain mortality is unavoidable.
In every direction we turn we find the same life saving. Even the dreadful destruction of life from modern machinery, railroads, mines, electric apparatus and the thousand and one accidents of civilization, is being lessened by the compulsory use of safety appliances, and this one branch of human endeavor has become so extended that we have annual exhibitions of new safety devices. We have even shown that famines themselves are becoming less frequent in the higher races, though just as bad and frequent in the lower.
Now, all this life-saving means the prolongation of life, and the average length of life has thus increased from thirteen years in the seventeenth century to over thirty-five at present, and we can expect a still further increase, though, of course, the age of senilety is what it was in biblical times. No one can live any longer now than in ancient times, for our physique is practically the same.
An interesting result of the lessened mortality of early years of life and infant saving, is the necessarily increased mortality later. That is, every one must die sometime, and if an infant is saved to live thirty years it adds one to the deaths in that decade. Our census figures thus show that for people over sixty years old, the death rate in each five-year group, sixty to sixty-four, sixty-five to sixty-nine, etc., has increased since 1890, and more so since 1900.
* "Alcoholism, a Study in Heredity," by G. Archdell Reid.
The low average age at death in the tropics explains the comparative immunity of these people from the diseases of mid-age and old age. Cancer, for instance, is very rare* These affections merely reduce the advantage we gain by prolonging life. Cancer, various forms of Bright's diseases, arterio-sclerosis, apoplexy, and a host of senile diseases are modern, and the penalties of preserving so many beyond the age of vigor.
The question of old-age pensions has become acute simply because so many men now live beyond the age of effective labor. A few centuries ago they died while in the harness, and before that they were deliberately slaughtered if they lived too long. The unceasing lengthening of average life is thus producing a progressively larger class of old men who must be pensioned, by the operation of the very law we are discussing - the necessity for life preservation. Society is thus increasing its own burdens, and both Germany and England have found it necessary to pension the aged. Perhaps, indeed, it may result in greater social efficiency, by giving over more positions to the youthful. Compulsory retirement at 70, 65 or 60, according to the trade or profession, will soon be universal because it is necessary and the pensions will be more than balanced by the increased earnings.