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JAMA 100 Years Ago
July 3, 2002


Author Affiliations

JAMA 100 Years Ago Section Editor: Jennifer Reiling, Assistant Editor.

JAMA. 2002;288(1):18. doi:10.1001/jama.288.1.18

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.