This section is from the "Economics In Two Volumes: Volume I. Economic Principles" book, by Frank A. Fetter. Also available from Amazon: Economic
§ 4. The standard of life. The phrase, "standard of life," expresses the complex thought of that measure of necessities, comforts, and luxuries considered by any individual to be indispensable for himself and his children; that measure which he will make great sacrifices to secure. This standard differs from land to land, from class to class, and from time to time. In the Asiatic countries it is so low that it touches in large classes the minimum of subsistence. Despite adverse influences and a remarkable series of famines, the population of India in the last century under
English rule increased from two hundred millions to three hundred millions. Such a population "lets out all the slack" of income, and never takes up any. The great public works of irrigation, forestry, and transportation, and the development of industry under English rule increased production, made it more regular, and gave an opportunity for a higher standard of living; but much of this opportunity was used instead to permit the existence of a greater number of men in the same old misery. These facts have a bearing upon the question of Oriental immigration to America. The emigration of millions of the lower class laborers of China and of India from their native lands would leave no void in their numbers. Those races, while peopling their own lands constantly down to their own standard of living, have the power, if they are tempted hither in great numbers, to people this continent also to the same density. On the other hand, a people accustomed to a goodly income and to a large measure of comfort of surroundings is restrained from early marriage and large families by far different motives than the fear of starvation. When the increase of population ceases to be actually limited by objective restraints and is limited by psychic means, there is no telling how strong the new forces will become or where they will cease to operate.
The desire to maintain and raise the standard of life is the most effective motive limiting population in our society. The American standard of living, while it differs in different classes, is on the whole the highest found anywhere in the world. The increasing appeal to individual selfishness, the greater ease of travel and taste for it, the multiplied and costly pleasures and pastimes, make children a greater and greater burden. The conditions of city life call for greater sacrifice to support children, and give less value to their services in the home. In the greater cities are large areas where no family with a child can rent an apartment. Despite the increasing incomes of the masses of the population, the number of childless homes is increasing, and while the standard of comfort grows, the size of the average family dwindles.1
§ 5. The quality of population. The quality of population is of quite as great import as its quantity, alike in its economic, its social, and its ethical results. The productive force of a population is not measured merely by numbers. "Who" make up the population at any moment is no more a matter of indifference than "how many." One new-born child, unintelligent, incapable, foredoomed to become a burden, represents a negative addition to society; another, with energy, thrift, inventive genius, comes to enrich and uplift his fellow men. Quality counts for much. Social progress is not necessarily the biological betterment of the native ability of men. The education of the average member of society is becoming yearly better; it is doubtful whether the innate capacity of a new-born babe in Europe and America to-day is greater than it was among our Germanic ancestors in Roman times. Indeed, the progress of the past two thousand years has been in social organization, in the enlargement and simplifying of the mass of knowledge which has to be reappropriated by each new individual, rather than in race-breeding and in quality.
Few thoughtful persons now hold the view that the race can be improved biologically, rapidly if at all, by the process of educating the individual. Education is cumulative in so far as it builds up a better environment into which other children will be born, but the betterment is not due to the inheritance by the child of the acquired knowledge and skill of the parent. If this question is open to dispute among biologists, it is only as regards a minute increment of improvement. Practically, selection preserves the better variations as they appear, and to eliminate the bad variations is the only means of improving the innate capacity of any species in any large measure. Many forces were at work in the past to lift man above the brute, and especially to increase the average brain-power of the human race. The weak, the ignorant, the incapable, in primitive societies were ruthlessly killed off. The strong, the sagacious, and the enterprising left the largest numbers of descendants.
1 Size of the census family in the United States. (Census, 1910, vol. pop. p. 1286.)
The term family as used in the census does not mean the natural or biologic family, but a household or group of persons, whether related by blood or not, who share a common abode, usually also sharing the same table. If a person lives alone, he constitutes a family; while on the other hand many people dwelling together in a hotel or institution are also treated as forming a single family. Nevertheless, these figures doubtless reflect a very large proportionate decrease in the average number of children per family, a conclusion corroborated by much other evidence.
§ 6. Decrease of the successful elements. Under modern conditions, volitional control is acting with the greatest force in the more capable classes and thus threatens to reduce the quality of the population. The successful elements of society are the less prolific. Large families were the rule among the capable pioneers of America; now they are rare except in the lower industrial ranks. The average number of children reaching maturity in the families of the American colonists was six; the average number to-day in families of colonial ancestry is about two, except in the rural districts of parts of the South and "West. Since many of these children do not live to maturity, and of those who do survive many do not marry, the stock does not maintain itself in numbers. Much larger families are found among the poor whites of the mountains, the newly arrived immigrants in the cities, the negroes in the black belt of the South,2 and, in general, those in the lower ranks of labor. Forces are at work to sterilize or reduce in number the elements of the population that are more prosperous and enterprising. The "new woman" movement, tempting into "careers," takes away from family life many of the women most worthy to become the mothers of succeeding generations. Self-interest is at war with the social interest. The individual asks, "Am I bound to sacrifice my comfort and happiness to the general good?" The effect of this is a steady decline in the proportion of the population (referring, of course, only to general averages and not to particular cases) born of the successful strains of stock, and a steady increase of the descendants of the mediocre and duller-witted elements. This is a paradox, that the fittest to succeed industrially are, by that very fact, beaten in the race for biologic survival.
2 But not in the other parts of the country, from well recognized causes. See Figure 58.
Democracy and opportunity favor this process of increasing the mediocre and reducing the excellent strains of stock. Caste and status in the past kept successive generations of capable men in humble social ranks from which only by chance some remarkable individual could rise. In a democracy, those of marked ability can more easily move into the better-paid callings and professions. This individual good fortune, however, reduces the probability of offspring. In the higher ranks of business and the professions are more bachelors and old maids than in the lower ranks, and fewer children are born to each marriage. It has been found that one fourth of the graduates of Harvard in the last generation remained single, and the average number of children of the married graduates is two. That group of men, therefore, has left only three fourths enough descendants to maintain its numbers, and as the population has doubled within the same generation, that class represents only three eighths as large a proportion of the American stock as in the preceding generation.