Page:EB1911 - Volume 22.djvu/111

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highest rate recorded, 2 5 3 per thousand conceptive wives, was lower than that of any European country except France and Belgium. The cessation of assisted immigration early in the life of the present generation is alleged to have had considerable influence upon the rate, in Victoria, at least, owing to the curtailment of the supply of adult women of the more conceptive ages and the ageing of those who had reached the country at an earlier date. But neither this nor the diminution of the marriage rate amongst women of those ages suffices to account for more than a fraction of the decline. The same tendency, moreover, is traceable in the New England States of America, so far as statistics are available.

It has been held by some that a phenomenon so widely diffused over the western world must be attributable to physiological causes, such as alcoholism, syphilis, the abuse of narcotics and so on. Herbert Spencer, again, before the decline in question set in, put forward the hypothesis that “ the ability to maintain individual life and the ability to multiply vary inversely ”; in other words, the strain upon the nervous system involved in the struggle for life under the conditions of modern civilization, by reacting on the reproductive powers, tends towards comparative sterility. These theories, however, being supported, according to the authorities of to-day, by no evidence, statistical or other, need not be here considered. Nor, again, can the decline in fertility be connected with any diminution of material prosperity. On the contrary, the fertility-rate appears to be best maintained in countries by no means distinguished for their high standard of living, such as Spain, Italy, Ireland, and, perhaps, Austria. In this respect Holland stands by itself; but in the others mentioned, with the exception of Ireland, both marriage and birth-rates are high and there has been a comparatively insignificant fall in prolificity. The decline has been greatest where the standard of comfort is notoriously high, as in the United States, England and Australasia; also in France, where the general well being reaches probably a lower depth in the community than in any other part of Europe. The comparison of the rates in France with those of Ireland is an instructive illustration of the point under consideration. In France more than half the women of conceptive age are married: in Ireland less than a third, and the proportion of youthful wives in the latter is 28% below that in France. In both the crude birth-rate is far below that of any other European country. But the fertility of the Irish wife exceeded that of her French compeer by 44% in ISSO and by no less than 84% twenty years later. So steady, indeed, has been the prolificity of Ireland, that from being ninth on the list at the earlier period mentioned, it is now inferior only to Holland and perhaps Finland in this respect. I It need not be assumed, however, that because these rates cannot be associated with the comparative degree of prosperity attained by the individual community they are altogether independent of the economic factors mainly contributing to that condition, such as trade, employment and prices. It is difficult, indeed, if not impracticable, to disentangle the effects which should be respectively attributed to influences so closely related to each other; but, of the three, prices alone tend to sufficient uniformity in their course in different countries to justify a supposition that they are in some way connected with a phenomenon so widely diffused as that of the decline in marriage and fertility. It is not improbable, therefore, that the fall in wholesale prices which, with temporary interruptions, persisted between 1870 and 1900, in general harmony with the other movement, may have conduced to reluctance on the part of those who have enlarged their notions of the standard of comfort to endanger their prospects of enjoying it by incurring the additional expenses of family life. Matrimony may be postponed, or, when entered upon, may be rendered a lighter burden upon the breadwinner. The economic element in the situation, which is imposed upon the individual by circumstances, is thus modified voluntarily into a moral or prudential consideration. In this case diminished prolificity where unaccompanied by a decrease in the number of marriages at reproductive ages, is attributable xxrr. 4

to the voluntary restriction of child-bearing on the part of the married. This explanation of the decline is supported by the almost unanimous opinion of the medical profession in the countries in question, and substantial evidence can be found everywhere of the extensive prevalence of the doctrine and practice of what has been termed, in further derogation of the repute of the “much misrepresented Malthus, ” Neomalthusianism. Preventive measures of this kind have long

been in use in France, with the result shown in Tables V. and VI., and from that country they have spread, mostly since 1870, nearly all over western Europe, as well as to the Anglo-Saxon world beyond the seas; but are scarcely apparent in countries where the Roman church has a strong hold on the people. It is generally held that the practice of thus limiting families usually prevails, in the first instance, among the better off classes, and in time filters down, as “ the gospel of comfort ” is accepted by those of less resources, until the prolificity of the whole community is more or less affected by it. The registrar general for England, indeed, has stated that whilst no more than about 17% of the decline in the birth-rate can be attributed to abstinence or postponement of marriage, nearly 70% should be ascribed to voluntary restriction.

The question of illegitimate births is the last to be here mentioned. It appears to be connected to a considerable extent with the subject dealt with above. In nearly every country the rate of these births has of late years shown a marked fall, which is by some ascribed to the adoption of the same expedients in illicit intercourse as are becoming conventional amongst the married. The rates given at the end of Table VI. are calculated upon the number of women most likely to produce them, that is, the spinsters, widows and divorced of conceptive age. In comparing the different countries, it may be noted that in some parts of Europe the rate is raised by the inclusion of the offspring of marriages not registered as demanded by law, though duly performed in church. Then, again, the possibility of legitimization by subsequent marriage tends to raise the rate. Italy and Scotland may be taken as examples of these two influences, and in Germany, too, the rates in Saxony and Bavaria, which are among the highest in Europe, are in part due to the non-registration of marriages sanctioned by religious ceremony only. The low rates in Ireland, Holland and England are especially noticeable, and in the last named, the decrease between 1870 and 1905 amounted to more tlfan 50%, not, however, entirely due, it is said, to improved morality. Deaths.-The forces tending towards the natural growth of population, which have been described above, differ from that which acts in the opposite direction in two material features. Marriage and child-bearing, in the first place, are operative amongst a fraction of the population only-those of conceptive age; whereas to the Urn of Death, as Dr Farr expressed it, all ages are called upon to contribute in their differing degrees. Then, again, the former are voluntary acts, entirely under the control of the individual; but mortality, though not beyond human regulation, is far less subject to it, and in order to have substantial results the control must be the outcome of collective rather than individual co-operation. The course of the marriage and birth-rates, set forth above, affords evidence that the control over both has been exercised of recent years to an unprecedented extent, and it will appear from what is stated below, that partly owing to this cause, partly, also, to improved hygienic conditions in western life, there has been an even more pronounced decline in the rate of mortality. The general results of both upon the natural increase of population in the countries selected for illustration of this subject will be found at the end of this paragraph. For the purpose of showing this, the crude death-rate, taken, like that of births, upon the whole population, without distinction of age or sex, will suffice. Where, however, the tendency to mortality, not its results, is in question, both the above factors must be taken into account, as they have been above in distinguishing the rate of fertility from that of births. The process of correcting the mere numbers of annual deaths per thousand of population into a form which renders Il