Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 74.djvu/91

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87
THE SCHOOL AND THE FAMILY

From the very beginning of organic evolution the principal function of every generation has been the production of the next. The origin of each higher species has been an incident of this function, and man who looks before and after has been the final result. The ultimate outcome of evolution has been a rationalism that threatens to end the long process.

Last year the deaths in France exceeded the births by 19,920. In some departments there were less than seventy births to fill the places vacant by one hundred deaths. A patriotic Frenchman has written naïvely that this state of things is not so bad as it seems at first sight, as all civilized nations will soon be in the same condition. It is indeed true that the birth rate is decreasing in every country. The seriousness of the situation is obscured by the fact that the death rate is also decreasing, so that an increase of population has been as a rule maintained. But the decrease in the death rate can not continue indefinitely, and if present tendencies persist the birth rate will fall below the death rate everywhere, as has already happened in France and in New England.

It is now considered praiseworthy to postpone marriage until a family can be supported in comfort, and proper not to have more children than suits the pleasure of the parents. In 81 divorce cases tried in a month in a New York City court—divorces have trebled since 1870—the 162 married persons had among them 52 children. A census of twenty-two apartment houses in New York City proved them to contain 485 families and just 54 children—one child to nine families. These are the extreme cases; but among the educated and well-to-do classes the number of children does not nearly suffice to continue the race. The Harvard graduate has on the average seven tenths of a son, the Vassar graduate one half of a daughter.

These conditions are regarded as bad because the successful stocks are superseded; but to the present writer this does not appear to be the danger. There is probably not so much difference between one stock and another but that in each generation the place of the extinct families can be supplied from the inferior classes to advantage. A hereditary aristocracy is not maintained by inbreeding but by selection from below.

The fundamental danger to society lies in the fact that the pattern set by the ruling classes dominates; and this is especially true in a partial democracy, such as the United States or France. Where classes are distinct and permanent, each can have its own ideals, as it has its own dress. But when the hats and shoes of the rich are imitated by the middle classes, and those of the middle classes by the laboring classes, we may be sure that there will be a similar following of the leader in social customs and morals. If the two-child family