JAMA 100 Years Ago Section Editor: Jennifer
Reiling, Assistant Editor.
In view of the alarmist tendency of one or two recently published papers
on the falling birth rate, it is perhaps worth while to look at another aspect
of the question. To some extent this has already been done in the editorial
columns of THE JOURNAL; attention has been called to the unreliability of
the data on which much of the pessimistic deduction has been made and to the
fact that a falling birth rate and death rate were both accompaniments of
thrift and easy circumstances in a population. Dr. A. L. Benedict in a recent
article1 handles the subject elaborately. He shows that a diminished
birth rate depends on many factors and not all of them, or those most efficient,
are necessarily immoral or objectionable. The advance in the age of matrimony
during the past century is alone effective, he holds, in reducing the birth
rate nearly 50 per cent., and he quotes genealogic records to show that the
high birth rate of earlier generations was associated with an equally high
death rate and possibly with a degeneracy that tells on the prolificity at
the present. If our grandparents, he suggests, had not overtaxed their reproductive
powers their descendants might perhaps have been more numerous. Moreover,
the extinction of well-known families cannot be credited altogether to lowered
fecundity; in many cases the descendants are still numerous under other surnames.
Sociologically the fact that the well-to-do multiply scantily has a conservative
tendency; it affords a chance of social circulation from below upwards. Society
dies at the top but grows upward from the roots.
THE LESSENED BIRTH RATE.. JAMA. 2002;288(1):18. doi:10.1001/jama.288.1.18