Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 78.djvu/75

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71
THE DIMINISHING BIRTH RATE
IS THE DIMINISHING BIRTH HATE VOLITIONAL?
By Professor CHARLES FRANKLIN EMERICK
SMITH COLLEGE

IT is quite generally agreed that the conditions of modem life make for a lower birth rate. But whether they make for voluntary or involuntary sterility, there is much diversity of opinion. Economists quite generally incline to the first of these views while many biologists incline to the second. Now it must be admitted at the outset that there are no statistics by which the merits of this controversy can be definitely settled. We are left, therefore, to ascertain where the probable truth lies in the light of certain considerations of a more or less general character.

 
I

The biologist maintains that the human organism requires a certain amount of food, clothing and shelter for the normal development of the body and to repair the wear and tear to which the varied activities of life subject it. He maintains, furthermore, that the stress of modem life is such that after other demands have been met there is often insufficient energy left for reproduction. In other words, in a fiercely competitive world the reproductive organs are undernourished until they are incapacitated to perform their special function. In accordance with the conservation of energy mental activity is said to withdraw the blood from other parts of the body with the result that the tissue of the brain is built up at the expense of other organs. The stress to which present-day conditions subject the eye is illustrative. Primitive man uses the sense of sight but sparingly, while civilized man uses it wellnigh incessantly, much of the time by lamplight, either at study, in the factory or office, or at newspaper reading on steam car or trolley until it is overtaxed. The burden thus imposed, so the biologist asserts, makes such a demand upon the fund of human energy as to interfere with the birth rate. Whether one sex is more frequently the victim of the sterilizing process than the other, there is, so far as I am aware, no consensus of opinion.

The biologist sometimes varies the preceding statement of his position by emphasizing the difficult nature of the task imposed upon the reproductive organs. So complicated is the work assigned them that it can only be successfully performed when the involuntary regulatory system is in a highly efficient condition. This regulatory system, we are told in turn, is so delicately balanced that its efficiency is frequently im-