Popular Science Monthly/Volume 60/December 1901/The Importance of General Statistical Ideas
|THE IMPORTANCE OF GENERAL STATISTICAL IDEAS.|
By Sir ROBERT GIFFEN, K.C.B., LL.D., F.R.S.
I TRUST you will excuse me, on an occasion like the present, for returning to a topic which I have discussed more than once—the utility of common statistics. While we are indebted for much of our statistical knowledge to elaborate special inquiries, such as were made by Mr. Jevons on prices and the currency, or have lately been made by Mr. Booth into the condition of the London poor, we are indebted for other knowledge to continuous official and unofficial records, which keep us posted up to date as to certain facts of current life and business, without which public men and men of business, in the daily concerns of life, would be very much at a loss. What seems to me always most desirable to understand is the importance of some of the ideas to be derived from the most common statistics of the latter kind—the regular records of statistical facts which modern societies have instituted, especially the records of the census, which have now existed for a century in most European countries and among peoples of European origin. Political ideas and speculation are necessarily colored by ideas originating in such records, and political action, internationally and otherwise, would be all the wiser if the records were more carefully observed than they are, and the lessons to be derived widely appreciated and understood.
I propose now to refer briefly to one or two of these ideas which were taken up and discussed on former occasions, and to illustrate the matter farther by a reference to one or two additional topics suggested in the same manner, and more particularly by the results of the last census investigations, which complete in this respect the record of what may be called the statistical century par excellence—the century which has just closed.
Increase of European Population during last Century.
The first broad fact then of this kind, which I have discussed on former occasions, is the enormous increase of the population of European countries and of peoples of European origin during the century just passed, especially the increase of the English people and of the United States, along with the comparative stationariness of the population of one or two of the countries, particularly France, at the same time. The growth all round is from about 170 millions at the beginning of the century to about 510 millions (excluding South American countries and Mexico); while the growth of the United States alone is from a little over 5 to nearly 80 millions, and of the English population of the British Empire from about 15 to 55 millions. Germany and Russia also show remarkable growth, from 20 to 55 millions in the one case and from 40 to 135 millions in the other—partly due to annexation; but the growth of France is no more than from 25 to 40 millions. Without discussing it, we may understand that the economic growth is equally if not more remarkable. The effect necessarily is to assure the preponderance of European peoples among the races of the world—to put aside completely, for instance, the nightmares of yellow or black perils arising from the supposed overwhelming mass of yellow or black races, these races by comparison being stationary or nearly so. The increase of population being continuous, unless some startling change occurs before long, each year only makes European preponderance more secure. Equally it follows that the relative position of the English Empire, the United States, Russia and Germany has become such as to make them exclusively the great world powers, although France, for economic reasons, notwithstanding the stationariness of its population, may still be classed amongst them. When one thinks what international politics were only a hundred years ago—how supreme France then appeared; how important were Austria, Italy, Spain, and even countries like Holland, Denmark and Sweden—we may surely recognize that with a comparatively new United States on the stage, and with powers like Russia and Germany come to the front, the world is all changed politically as well as economically, and that new passions and new rivalries have to be considered.
The figures also suggest that for some time at least the movements going on must accentuate the change that has occurred. According to the latest figures, there is no sign that either in France or any other European country which has been comparatively stationary has any growth of population commenced which will reverse the change, while a large increase of population goes on in the leading countries named. This increase, it is alleged, is going on at a diminishing rate—a point to be discussed afterwards—but in the next generation or two there is practically no doubt that the United States will be a larger international factor than it is, both absolutely and relatively, and that Russia, Germany and the English people of the British Empire will also grow, though not in such a way, apparently, as to prevent the greater relative growth of the United States, and notwithstanding perhaps some relative changes of a minor character amongst themselves.
The foreign nations then with which the British Empire is likely lo be concerned in the near future are Russia, Germany and the United States; and other Powers, even France, must more and more occupy a second place, although France, for the moment, partly in consequence of its relations with Russia, occupies a special place.
Special Position of British Empire.
Another idea which follows from a consideration of the same facts is the necessity laid upon the British Empire to consolidate and organize itself in view of the large additions of subject races made to it in the last century, and especially in the last twenty years of the century. In a paper which I read before the Royal Colonial Institute two years ago, an attempt was made to show that the burden imposed on the white races cf the Empire by these recent acquisitions was not excessive as far as the prospect of internal tumults was concerned. Relatively to some other Powers, especially France, we have also been gainingin strength and resources. But whether we had gained internationally on the whole, looking at the growth of powers like Russia, the United States and Germany, and their greater activity in world-politics, was a different question. The problem thus stated remains. It would be foreign to the scope of an address like this, which must avoid actual politics, to examine how far light has been thrown on it by the South African war. No one can question at least that the organization of the Empire must be governed by considerations which the international statistics suggest, and that no step can be taken safely and properly unless our public men fully appreciate the ideas of international strength and resources as well as other considerations which are germane to the subject.
Europe and Foreign Food Supplies.
Another idea to which attention may be drawn appears to be the increasing dependence of European nations upon supplies of food and raw material obtained from abroad. We are familiar with a conception of this kind as regards the United Kingdom. For years past we have drawn increasing supplies from abroad, not merely in proportion to the growth of population, but in larger proportion. The position here obviously is that, with the industries of agriculture and the extraction of raw material (except as regards the one article, coal) practically incapable of expansion, and with a population which not only increases in numbers, but which becomes year by year increasingly richer per head, the consuming power of the population increases with enormous rapidity, and must be satisfied, if at all, by foreign imports of food and raw materials; there is no other means of satisfaction. But what is true of the United Kingdom is true in a greater or less degree of certain European countries—France, the Low Countries, the Scandinavian countries, Austria-Hungary, Italy and Germany. Especially is it true in a remarkable degree of Germany, which is becoming increasingly industrial and manufacturing, and where the room for expansion in agriculture is now very limited. Those interested in the subject may be referred to an excellent paper by Mr. Crawford, read at the Royal Statistical Society of London about two years ago. What I am now desirous to point out is the governing nature of the idea, which necessarily follows from the conception of a European population living on a limited area, with the agricultural and extractive possibilities long since nearly exhausted, and the population all the time increasing in numbers and wealth. Such a population must import more and more year by year, and must be increasingly dependent on foreign supplies.
I shall not attempt to do over again what is done in Mr. Crawford's paper, but a few figures may serve to illustrate what is meant. In the 'Statistical Abstract' for the principal and other foreign countries I find tables for certain European countries classifying the imports for a series of years into articles of food, raw and semi-manufactured articles, etc. From these I extract the following particulars for all the countries which have tables in this form:
Imports of Articles of Food and Raw Materials and Semi-manufactured Articles into the undermentioned Countries in 1888 and 1898 compared.
|Articles of Food, etc.|
|Russia 1,000 roubles||78,975||105,391||27,416||35|
|German Empire, mln. marks||907||1,819||912||100|
|France 1,000 francs||1,503,000||1,505,000||Nil||Nil|
|Italy 1,000 lire||274,480||391,600||117,120||42|
|Raw and Semi-manufactured Materials.|
|Russia 1,000 roubles||241,497||313,629||71,132||29|
|German Empire, mln. marks||1,507||2,247||334||49|
|France 1,000 francs||2,014||2,348||334||16|
|Italy 1,000 lire||398,330||509,418||111,088||28|
The drawback to this table is that it is one of values. Consequently the increase of values in the later years may in part be one of values only without corresponding increase of quantities. But the general course of prices in the period in question was not such as to cause a great change of values apart from a change in quantities. The inference seems undeniable, then, that the Continental countries named, especially Germany, have largely increased their imports of food and raw materials of recent years—that is, have become increasingly dependent on foreign and over-sea supplies. The position of Germany, with its enormous increase of food imports—from 907 to 1,819 million Marks, or from 45 to over 90 million sterling, and its corresponding increase of raw material imports—from 1,507 to 2,247 million Marks, or from 75 to 112 million sterling—is especially remarkable.
An examination in detail of the quantities imported of particular articles would fully confirm the impression given by the summary 5gures. But it may be enough to refer to the 'Statistical Abstract' from which I have been quoting, as well as to Mr. Crawford's paper. The figures are not out of the way in any respect, and it is the idea we have now to get hold of.
The inference is that the difference between the United Kingdom and Continental countries, especially Germany, as regards dependence on foreign supplies of food and raw materials, is only one of degree, and that as regards Germany at least, the conditions are already remarkably like those of the United Kingdom, while the more rapidly Germany increases its manufacturing and industrial population, the more like it will become to this country. In other words, in the future there will be two great countries, and not one only, dependent largely for their food and raw materials on supplies from abroad. What their position is to be economically and otherwise relatively to the United States, which is at once the main source of supply and a competitor with European countries in manufactures, is obviously a matter of no little interest. As a believer in free trade, I am sure that nothing but good will come to all the countries concerned if trade is interfered with as little as possible by tariffs and government regulations. I believe, moreover, that the practice of free trade, whatever their theories may be, will unavoidably be accepted by all three countries before long. Obviously, however, as the new tariff in Germany indicates, there is to be a great struggle in that country before the situation is accepted; and if some people in this country had their way, notwithstanding our long experience of free trade and its blessings, we should even have a struggle here.
There is another point of view from which the facts should be studied. We are accustomed, and rightly so, I think, to consider naval preponderance indispensable to the safety of the Empire, and especially indispensable to the safety of the country from blockade, and from the interruption of its commerce, which would be our ruin. But our position in this respect is apparently not quite exceptional. Less or more our Continental neighbors, and especially Germany, are in the same boat. In the event of war, if they could not make up the loss by traffic over their land frontiers, they would be just as liable to suffer from blockade and interrupted commerce as we are. It is conceivable, moreover, that in certain wars some of the countries might not be able to make up by traffic over their land frontiers for blockade or interruption of commerce by sea. We may apprehend, for instance, that Germany, if it were victorious by sea in a war with France, would insist upon Belgium and Holland on one side, and Italy and Spain on the other side, not supplying by land to France what had been cut off by sea. One or more of these countries might be allies with Germany from the first. Contrariwise France and Russia, if at war with Germany and the Triple Alliance, might practically seal up Germany if they were successful at sea, insisting that the Scandinavian countries and Holland should not make up to Germany by land what had been cut off by sea. Germany in this view, apart from any possibility of rupture with this country, has a case for a powerful fleet. It is not quite so much liable to a blockade as we are, but there is a liability of the same kind. The question of naval preponderance among rival powers may thus become rather a serious one. If preponderance is to be nearly as essential to Germany as it is to this country, who is to preponderate? What our practical action ought to be in the premises is a question that might easily lead us too far on an occasion like this, but the facts should be ever present to the minds of our public men. We may be quite certain that they are quite well known and understood in the councils of the Russian, German, French and other Continental Governments.
New Population and New Markets.
Another idea suggested by the facts appears to be an answer to the question as to how new markets are to be found for the products of an increasing population—a question which vexes the mind of many who see in nothing but foreign trade an outlet for new energies. The point was mentioned in my address at Manchester a year ago, but it deserves, perhaps, a more elaborate treatment than it was possible then to give it. What we see then is that not only in this country, but in Germany and other Continental countries, millions of new people are, in fact, provided for in every ten years, although the resources of the country in food and raw materials are generally used to the full extent, and not capable of farther expansion, so that increasing supplies of food and raw material have to be imported from abroad. How is the thing done? Obviously the main provision for the wants of the new people is effected by themselves. They exchange services with each other, and so procure the major part of the comforts and luxuries of life which they require. The butcher, the baker, the tailor, the dressmaker, the milliner, the shoemaker, the builder, the teacher, the doctor, the lawyer, and so on, are all working for each other the most part of their lives, and the proportion of exchanges with foreign countries necessary to procure some things required in the general economy may be very small. These exchanges may also very largely take the form of a remittance of goods by foreign countries in payment of interest on debts which they owe, so that the communities in question obtain much of what they want from abroad by levying a kind of rent or annuity which the foreigner has to pay. If more is required, it may be obtained by special means, as, for instance, by the working of coal for export, which gives employment in this country to about 200,000 miners, by the employment of shipping in the carrying trade, by the manufacture of special lines of goods, and so on. But the main exchanges of any country are, and must be, as a rule, at home, and the foreign trade, however important, will always remain within limits, and bearing some proportion to the total exchanges of the country. Hence, when additions to the population, and how they are to live, are considered, the answer is that the additions will fill up proportionately the framework of the various industries already in existence, or the ever-changing new industries for home consumption which are always starting into being. These are the primary outlets for new population even in old countries like the United Kingdom and Germany. Of course, active traders and manufacturers, each in their own way, are not to take things for granted. They must strive to spread their activities over foreign as well as over home markets. But looking at the matter from the outside, and scientifically, it is the home and not the foreign market which is always the more important.
The same may be said of a country in a somewhat different economic condition from England and Germany, viz., the United States. I can only refer to it, however, in passing, as the facts here are not so clearly on the surface. Contrary to England and Germany, which have no food resources and resources of raw material capable of indefinite expansion, the United States is still to a large extent a virgin country. Its increasing population is therefore provided for in a different way for the most part from the increase in England and Germany. But even in the United States it has been noticeable at each of the last census returns that the increasing population finds an outlet more and more largely, not in agriculture and the extraction of raw materials, but in the miscellaneous pursuits of industry and manufacture. The town population increases disproportionately. In the last census especially it was found that the overflow of population over the far Western States seemed to have been checked, the increase of population being mainly in the older States and the towns and cities of the older States. The phenomena in England and Germany and in other Continental countries are accordingly not singular. The older countries, and the older parts even of a new country like the United States are becoming more and more the centers where populations live and grow, because they are the most convenient places for the general exchange of services with each other among the component parts of a large population, which constitutes production and consumption. A small expenditure of effort in proportion enables such communities to obtain from a distance the food and raw materials which they require. Migration is no longer the necessity that it was.
Decline in Rate of Growth of Population.
I come now to another idea appearing on the surface of the census returns when they are compared for a long time past, and the connected returns of births, marriages and deaths, which have now been kept in most civilized communities for generations. Great as the increase of population is with which we have been dealing, there are indications that the rate of growth in the most recent census periods is less in many quarters than it formerly was, while there has been a corresponding decline in the birth-rates; and to some extent, though not to the same extent, in the rate of the excess of births over deaths, which is the critical rate of course in a question of the increase of population. These facts have suggested to some a question as to how far the increase of population which has been so marked in the past century is likely to continue, and speculations have been indulged in as to whether there is a real decline in the fecundity of population among the peoples in question resembling the decline in France, both in its nature and consequences. I do not propose to discuss all these various questions, but rather to indicate the way in which the problem is suggested by the statistics, and the importance of the questions thus raised for discussion, as a proof of the value of the continuous statistical records themselves.
The United States naturally claims first attention in a matter like this, both on' account of the magnitude of the increase of population there, and the evidence that recent growth has not been quite the same as it was earlier in the century. Continuing a table which was printed in my address as president of the Statistical Society, in 1882, above referred to, we find that the growth of population in the United States since 1800 has been as follows in each census period:
Population in the United States, and Increase in each Census Period of the Nineteenth Century.
|Year.||Population.||Increase since Previous Census.|
Thus it is quite plain that something has happened in the United States to diminish the rate of increase of population after 1860. Up to that time the growth in each census period from 1800 downwards had ranged between 33 and 36 per cent. Since then the highest rates have been 30 per cent, between 1870 and 1880 and 25 per cent: between 1880 and 1890. There is a suspicion, moreover, that, owing to errors in the census of 1870, which were corrected in 1880, the increase between 1870 and 1880 was not quite so high as stated. There is accordingly a somewhat steep decline from a growth in each ten years prior to 1860, ranging between 33 and 36 per cent., to a growth first of about 25 per cent., and finally of 21 per cent. only. The Civil War of the early sixties naturally occurs to one as the explanation of the break immediately after 1860, but the effects could hardly have continued to the present time, and a more general explanation is suggested.
Other special explanations have occurred to me as partly accounting for the change. One is that, prior to 1860, the United States at different times increased its territory and population partly by purchase and partly by annexation. But I cannot make out that either the purchase of Louisiana early in the century, or the subsequent annexations following the Mexican war, would make a material difference. There is a considerable increase certainly after the Mexican war, but it would be difficult indeed to estimate how much of the population of Texas and New Mexico, which was then added to the Union, had previously swarmed over from the Union, and had thus been from the first economically, if not politically, part of the United States. Another obvious suggestion is that possibly immigration into the United States has fallen off as compared with what it formerly was. But this explanation also fails, as far as the official figures carry us. The proportion of immigration to the total increase of population in each census period since 1820, previous to which I have not been able to obtain figures, has been as follows:
Proportion of Immigration to Total Increase of Population in the undermentioned Periods in the United States.
|Per Cent.||Per Cent.|
Immigration, according to these figures, has thus in late years played as important a part as it formerly did in the increase of population in the United States. Possibly the official figures of immigration of late years are a little exaggerated, as the United States Government does not show a balance between immigration and emigration; but whatever corrections may be made on this account, the recent figures of immigration are too large to permit the supposition that the failure of immigrants accounts in the main for the diminished rate of increase of the population generally. The ten years' percentage of increase without immigrants, I may say, varied before 1860 between 24 and 33 per cent., and has since fallen to 14 and 15 per cent. Even if the latter figures should be increased a little to allow for the overestimate of immigration, the change would be enormous.
Passing from the United States, we meet with similar phenomena in Australasia. Indeed, what has happened in Australasia of late has been attracting a good deal of attention. The following short table, which is extracted from the statistics of Mr. Coghlan, the able statistician of the Government of New South Wales, gives an idea of what has occurred:
Population of Australasia at different Dates, with the Annual Increase Per Cent. in each Period.
Supplementary Table of Rate per Cent, of Increase since 1890.
|Per Cent.||Per Cent.|
The decline in the rate of increase is so great and palpable as to need no comment.
Here the perturbations due to immigration have obviously been greater than in the case of the United States. The country was, in fact, settled mainly between 1850 and 1870, without previously having had a population to speak of. But deducting immigration, the increase would appear to have been as follows in each decade:
Rate of Increase Per Cent. of Population in Australasia, deducting Immigration, in the undermentioned Periods.
|Per Cent.||Per Cent.|
Of course, so long as immigration continues, the effect is to swell indirectly the natural increase of population, so that the large increases here shown between 1851 and 1870, and even down to 1890, may be accounted for in part as the indirect result of the large immigration that was going on. But whatever the cause, the fact is unmistakable that the rate of increase, apart from the direct immigration, has declined just as it has done in the United States.
There has been a similar though not nearly so marked a decrease in England, at any rate if we carry the comparison back to the period before 1850. The population at each census period since 1800 in England, with the percentage increase between each census period, has been as follows:
Thus the increase between recent census periods has been sensibly less than it was before 1850; and the slight recovery between 1860 and 1880 has not been maintained. We are thus in presence of much the same kind of change as has been shown in the United States and in Australasia.
It should be noted, however, in order that we may not strain any fact, that, when the United Kingdom is viewed as a whole, Scotland and Ireland, as well as the senior partner, being taken into account, it cannot be said that there is any falling off in the rate of growth of the population since 1850. For several decades after that, in fact, the rate of growth of the United Kingdom as a whole was diminished enormously by the emigration from Ireland, and the growth since 1860 has been at a greater rate than in the thirty years before. There may be new causes at work which will again diminish the rate of growth, but in a broad view they do not make themselves visible owing to the disturbance caused by the Irish emigration. Still the facts as to the United Kingdom as a whole ought not to prevent us from considering the facts respecting England only along with the similar facts respecting the United States and Australasia.
These diminutions in the rate of growth of large populations, as I have indicated, are corroborated by a study of the birth-rates, and of the rate of the excess of births over deaths.
The United States unfortunately is without birth-or death-rates, owing to the want of a general system of registration over the whole country. This is a most serious defect in the statistical arrangements of that great country, which it may be hoped will be remedied in time. In the absence of the necessary records I have made some calculations so as to obtain a figure which may be provisionally substituted for a proper rate of the excess of births over deaths, which I submit for what it may be worth as an approximation, and an approximation only. In these calculations one-tenth of the increase of population between two census periods, apart from immigration, is compared with the mean of the population at the two census dates themselves, with the following results:
Approximate Rate of Excess of Births over Deaths in the United
States, calculated from a Comparison of One-tenth the Increase
of Population between the Census Periods, deducting Immigrants,
with the Mean of the Numbers of the Population at the two
Mean of Popula-
One-tenth of In-
of Births Over
Deaths per 1,000,
Col. 3 to Col. 2.
Thus, while the excess rate was as high as 21 to 28 per 1,000 before 1860, it has since fallen to one of 13 only, or about one-half. Whatever validity may attach to the method of calculation, the real facts would no doubt show a change in the direction of the table—a decline in the rate of the excess of births over deaths from period to period. The decline in the growth of population is thus not merely the direct effect of a change in immigration, but is connected with the birth-and death rates themselves, although these rates are of course indirectly affected by the amount and proportion of immigration. It would be most important to know what the decline in the birth-rate is by itself, and how far its effects on the growth of population have been mitigated or intensified by changes in the death-rate; but United States records generally give no help on this head.
Dealing with Australasia in the same way, we have the advantage of a direct comparison of both birth-and death-rates and the rate of the excess of births over deaths. This is done in the following table:
Birth-rate and Death-rate and Rate of Excess of Births over Deaths in Australasia for undermentioned Years.
[From Mr. Coghlan's Statistics]
|Birth-rate.||Death-rate.||Excess of Births|
Thus from a high birth-rate forty years ago Australasia has certainly gone down to very ordinary birth-rates, lower than in the United Kingdom and in Continental countries, and Australasia certainly has had heavy declines in the rate of excess of births over deaths, viz., from 25.17 in 1861-65 to 15 in 1896-99, which is to be compared with the decline in the United States, as above stated approximately, from 28 in 1820-30, and 21 as late as 1860, to 13 in the last twenty years.
A similar table for England only gives the following results:
Birth-rate and Death-rate and Rate of Excess of Births over Deaths in England for undermentioned Years.
|Excess of Birth-rate|
Note.—Highest birth-rate in 1876, 36.3.
Here the birth-rates, to begin with, are not so high as in Australasia, and presumably in the United States, and the excess of births over deaths, though it has declined a good deal since 1871-81, when it was highest, has been by comparison fairly well maintained, being still 11 per 1,000, as compared with 12.2 in 1851.
We have thus on one side a manifest decline in the rate of growth of population in three large groups of population, coupled with a large decline of birth-rates in England and Australasia where the facts are known, and a smaller decline in the rate of the excess of births over deaths, this decline in England as yet being comparatively small. Such facts cannot but excite inquiry, and it is an excellent result of the use of continuous statistical records that the questions involved can be so definitely raised.
As I have stated, it would be foreign to the object of this paper to discuss fully the various questions thus brought up for discussion, but one or two observations may be made having regard to some inferences which are somewhat hastily drawn.
1. The rate of growth of population of the communities may still be very considerable, even if it is no higher than it has been in the last few years. A growth of 16, 15, or even 12 per cent, in ten years, owing to the excess of births over deaths, is a very considerable growth, though it is much less than the larger figures which existed in some parts forty or fifty years ago. What has happened in the United Kingdom is well worth observing in this connection. Since 1840 the population of the United Kingdom as a whole has increased nearly 60 per cent., although the increase in most of the decades hardly ever exceeded 8 per cent., and in 1840-50 was no more than 21⁄2 per cent. The increase, it must be remembered, goes on at a compound ratio, and in. a few decades an enormous change is apparent. The increase from about 170 to 510 millions in the course of the last century among European people generally, though it includes the enormous growth of the United States in those decades, when the rate of growth was at the highest, also includes the slower growth of other periods, and the slower growths of other countries. An addition of even 10 per cent, only as the average every ten years would far more than double the 500 millions in a century, and an increase to at least 1,500 millions during the century now beginning, unless some great change should occur, would accordingly appear not improbable.
2. Some of the rates of growth of population from which there has been a falling off of late years were obviously quite abnormal. I refer especially to the growth in Australasia between 1850 and 1880, and the growth in the United States prior to 1860. They were largely due to the indirect effect of immigration which has been already referred to.
The population to which immigrants are largely added in a few years, owing to the composition of the population, has its birth-rates momentarily increased and its death-rates diminished—the birth-rates because there are more people relatively at the child-producing ages, and the death-rates because the whole population is younger, than in older countries. It appears quite unnecessary to elaborate this point. The rates of the excess of births over deaths in a country which is receiving a large immigration must be quite abnormal compared with a country in a more normal condition, while a country from which there is a large emigration, such as Ireland, must tend to show a lower excess than is consistent with a normal condition. This explanation, it may be said, does not apply to England, since it is a country which has not been receiving a large immigration or sending out, except occasionally, a large emigration. England, however, must have been affected both ways by movements of this character. It received undoubtedly a large Irish immigration in the early part of last century, and in more recent periods the emigration in some decades, particularly between 1880 and 1890, appears to have been large enough to have a sensible effect on both the birth-rate and the rate of the excess of births over deaths. This effect would be continued down into the following decade, and the consideration is therefore one to be taken note of as accounting in part for the recent decline in birth-rates in England.
In addition, however, it is not improbable that there was an abnormal increase of population in the early part of last century, due to the sudden multiplication of resources for the benefit of a poor population which had previously tended to grow at a very rapid rate, and would have grown at that rate but for the checks of war, pestilence and famine, on which Malthus enlarges. The sudden withdrawal of the checks in this view would thus be the immediate cause of the singularly rapid growth of population in the early part of last century. It is quite in accordance with this fact that a generation or two of prosperity, raising the scale of living, would diminish the rate of growth as compared with this abnormal development, without affecting in any degree the permanent reproductive energy of the people,
3. It is also obvious that one explanation of the decline in birthrate, and of the rate of the excess of births over deaths, may also be the greater vitality of the populations concerned, so that the composition of the population is altered by an increase of the relative numbers of people not in the prime of life, so altering the proportion of the people at the child-producing ages to the total. This would be too complex a subject for me to treat in the course of a discursive address. Nor would it explain the whole facts, which include, for instance, an almost stationary annual number of births in the United Kingdom for more than ten years past, notwithstanding the largely increased population. But the case may be one where a great many partial explanations contribute to elucidate the phenomena, so that this particular explanation cannot be overlooked.
4. There remains, however, the question which many people have rushed in to discuss—viz., whether the reproductive power of the populations in question is quite as great as it was fifty or sixty years ago. We have already heard in some quarters, not merely that the reproductive energy has diminished, but suggestions that the populations in question are following the example of the French, where the rate of increase of the population has almost come to an end. Apart, however, from the suggestions above made as to the abnormality of the increase fifty or sixty years ago, so that some decline now is rather to be expected than not, I would point out that the subject is about as full of pitfalls as any statistical problem can be, for the simple reason that it can only be approached indirectly, as there have been no statistical records over a long series of years showing the proportion of births to married women at the child-producing ages, distinguishing the ages, and showing at the same time the proportion of the married women to the total at those ages. Unless there are some such statistics, direct comparisons are impossible, and a good many of the indirect methods of approaching the subject which I have studied a little appear, to say the least, to leave much to be desired. We find, for instance, that a comparison has been made in Australasia between the number of marriages in a given year or years and the number of births in the five or six years following, which show, it is said, a remarkable decline in the proportion of births to marriages in recent years as compared with twenty or thirty years ago. It is forgotten, however, that at the earlier dates in Australasia, when a large immigration was taking place, a good many of the children born were the children of parents who had been married before they entered the country, while there are hardly any children of such parents at a time when immigration has almost ceased. The answer to such questions is in truth not to be rushed, and the question with statisticians should rather be how the statistics are to be improved in future, so that, although the past cannot be fully explained, the regular statistics themselves will in future give a ready answer.
5. One more remark may, perhaps, be allowed to me on account of the delicacy and interest of the subject. To a certain extent the causes of a decline in reproductive energy may be part and parcel of the improved condition of the population, which leads in turn to an increase of the age at marriage, and an increase of celibacy generally through the indisposition of individual members of the community to run any risk of sinking in the scale of living which they may run by premature marriage. These causes, however, may operate to a great extent upon the birth-rate itself without diminishing the growth of population, because the children, though born in smaller proportion, are better cared for, and the rate of excess of births over deaths consequently remains considerable, although the birth-rate itself is low. The serious fact would be a decline of the rate of the excess of births over deaths through the death-rate remaining comparatively high while the birth-rate falls. It is in this conjunction that the gravity of the stationariness of population in France appears to lie. While the birth-rate in France is undoubtedly a low one, 21.9 per 1,000 in 1899, according to the latest figures before me, still this would have been quite sufficient to ensure a considerable excess rate of births over deaths, and a considerable increase of population every ten years if the death-rate had been as low as in the United Kingdom—viz., 18.3 per 1,000. A difference of 3.6 per 1,000 upon a population of about 40 millions comes to about 150,000 per annum, or 1,500,000 and rather more every ten years. In France, however, the death-rate was 21.1 per 1,000, instead of 18.3, as in the United Kingdom, and it is this comparatively high death-rate which really makes the population stationary. The speculations indulged in some quarters, therefore, though they may be justified in future, are hardly yet justified by the general statistical facts. The subject is one of profound interest, and must be carefully studied; but the conclusions I have referred to must be regarded as premature until the study has been made.
Such are a few illustrations of the importance of the ideas which are suggested by the most common statistics—those of the regular records which civilized societies have instituted. It is, indeed, self-evident how important it is to know such facts as the growing weight of countries of European civilization in comparison with others; the relative growth of the British Empire, Russia, Germany and the United States, in comparison with other nations of Europe or of European origin; the dependence of other European countries as well as the United Kingdom upon imports of food and raw materials; the ability of old countries and of old centers in new countries to maintain large and increasing populations; and the evidence which is now accumulating of changes in the rate of growth of European nations, with suggestions as to the causes of the changes. It would be easy, indeed, to write whole chapters on some of the topics instead of making a remark or two only to bring out their value a little. It would also be very easy to add to the list. There was a strong temptation to include in it a reference to the relative growth of England, Scotland and Ireland, which has now become the text of so much discussion regarding the practical question of diminishing the relative representation of Ireland in Parliament, and increasing that of England and Scotland. It is expedient, however, in an address like this, to avoid anything which verges on party politics, and I shall only notice that while the topic has lately become of keen interest to politicians, it is not new to statisticians, who were able long ago to foresee what is now so much remarked on. This very topic was discussed at length in the addresses of 1882-83, to which reference has been made, and even before that in 1876 it received attention. Another topic which might have been added is that of the economic growth of the different countries which was discussed in the address in 1883; and such topics as the increase of population in a country like India under the peace imposed by its European conquerors, by which the stationariness of the country in numbers and wealth under purely native conditions has been changed, and something like European progress has been begun. Enough has been said, however, it may be hoped, to justify this mode of looking at statistics, and the ideas suggested by them.
May I once more, then, express the hope, as I have done on former occasions, that as time goes on more and more attention will be given to these common statistics and the ideas derived from them? The domination of the ideas suggested by these common figures of population statistics, in international politics and in social and economic relations, is obvious; and although the decline in the rate of growth of population in recent years, the last of the topics now touched on, suggests a great many points which the statistics themselves are as yet unfit to solve—what can be done with a great country like the United States, absolutely devoid of bare records of births, marriages and deaths?—still the facts of the decline as far as recorded throw a great deal of light on the social and economic history of the past century, prepare the way for discussing the further topics which require a more elaborate treatment, and enforce the necessity for more and better records. We may emphasize the appeal then, for the better statistical and economic education of our public men, and for the more careful study by all concerned of such familiar publications as the 'Statistical Abstracts,'" the 'Statesman's Year-book,' and the like. The material transformations which are going on throughout the world can be substantially followed without any difficulty in such publications by those who have eyes to see; and to follow such transformations, so as to be ready for the practical questions constantly raised, is at least one of the main uses of statistical knowledge.
- Address of the President to the Economic Science and Statistics Section of the British Association for the Advancement of Science. Glasgow, 1901.
- Cf. Essays in Finance, 2nd series, pp. 275–364, and Proceedings of Manchester Statistical Society, October 17, 1900.
- This does not include population of Indian reservation, etc., now included in the official census for the first time.
- See Essays in Finance, 2nd series, p. 290 et seq.; p. 330 et seq.; and 1st series, p. 280 et seq.