of the death rate. In London the death rate from 1680 to 1728 was 80 per 1,000 of population; in 1905 it was 15; 250 years thus witnessed a decrease of more than 80 per cent. The same fact is shown by the increasing length of life of the population of Geneva, Switzerland.
|In the sixteenth century||the length of life was||21.2|
|In the seventeenth||"""""||25.7|
|In the eighteenth||"""""||33.6|
|In the nineteenth||"""""||39.7|
The gradual checking of the death rate worked a gradual increase in the length of life, and hence, unless the birth rate was proportionately checked, a corresponding increase in the population.
Thus, during the last part of the eighteenth and the early part of the nineteenth centuries, the birth rate (which remained almost unchecked) greatly exceeded the death rate (which was being effectually checked). The result of the great excess of births over deaths is shown in the tremendous increase of population after 1750—an increase which could never have been supported but for the increased production of wealth due to the development of the factory system.
The western world, at the opening of the nineteenth century, presented this significant picture—a high birth rate, a low and decreasing death rate; a phenomenal increase in population made possible by the wealth-producing power of the factory system; and big families treading close on the heels of subsistence. Here was ample justification for the pessimistic gloom of Malthus. Catastrophe seemed inevitable, when democracy entered the field, telling the men at the margin whose families were either unregulated in size or else regulated only by subsistence, that they were free and equal to every other man and had a like right to "rise." The thought was new. "How can I rise?" asked the laborer. "Stop having children," replied the economist. The advice was followed. The family of eight is replaced by the family of two and thus disencumbered of an onerous burden, the laborer is enabled to raise his standard of life.
Until 1750 any great increase in population was prevented by a high death rate. In the succeeding century, as a result of science and sanitation, the death rate was gradually reduced, and an overwhelming increase in population was prevented in only one way—by decreasing the birth rate. The decline in the birth rate therefore saved the modern civilized world from over population and economic disaster.
Conditions from 1750 to 1850 were not in stable equilibrium. The death rate had decreased; the birth rate remained high. Population, supported by the wealth of the factory system, was increasing abnormally. Malthus drew his inferences from these facts, which, if they had remained unchanged would undoubtedly have caused overpopulation. This stage was, however, merely transitory. An equilibrium of population has been reestablished through the saving grace of the decrease in the birth rate, commonly called "race suicide."