THERE are more than a million empty desks in the elementary schools of America this year. In 1930 the total enrollment was 21,300,000; in 1938 it had fallen to about 20,000,000. Consider what these empty desks signify in terms of jobs for teachers, school building programmes, textbook sales, school budgets, taxes, public finance. This is only the beginning. If present trends in population continue, by 1960 there will be 10,000,000 empty desks in schools and colleges. But by 1960 the army of people over sixty-five will be 8,000,000 greater than it was in 1930. Consider what this means in terms of armchairs, ear trumpets, spectacles, house lots in St. Petersburg, doctors’ services, and old-age pensions.
The curve of American population, after three hundred years of unprecedented growth, is now rapidly leveling off. As it levels, its composition changes, cutting down the proportion of children and expanding the proportion of old people. Footballs give way to foot warmers. As it levels, the era of boomer, booster, bigger and better, onward and upward world without end, draws to a close. Chambers of Commerce and realtors will issue their optimistic statistics and beat their breasts in vain. They are confronted with a massive and irreversible trend in human fertility which affects not only the United States, but all the western world.
The empty desks are but one indication of the drift. Why has the Townsend Plan received such mammoth popular support? Why do millions of American farmers suddenly demand crop controls? Why have there been so few opportunities for new capital investments in recent years? The population curve by no means answers these questions in full, but it offers some clues. As population becomes relatively older, demands for old-age security are bound to increase. As total population slows to a halt, an agriculture geared to expansion is bound to have trouble with surplus crops — owing to the sad but indisputable fact that no man has more than one stomach. As the growth rate of consumers declines, investors are bound to have difficulty in finding profitable outlets for their savings in new factories and capital goods.
In short, when an economic system built on three centuries of steady expansion encounters a population curve that is rapidly ceasing to expand, it is bound to buckle and crack — until adjusted to the new conditions.
The handwriting has been on the wall for some time, but few have stopped to read it. It was not good reading for those who were counting on bigger markets, higher skyscrapers, fancier prices for subdivisions. Up to 1860, every decade in American history since early colonial times showed an increase of population of better than 30 per cent. Then the growth rate began slowly to drop: 21 per cent in the decade ending in 1900, 15 per cent in 1930, and for the decade of 1940 only 7 per cent, according to the calculations of the National Resources Committee. In the early 1920’s, population was increasing about 1,900,000 persons per year. By the early 1930’s, the figure had fallen to 900,000 persons — more than cut in half.
To-day most of us know that population is slowing down. But few of us understand very clearly what it means and will mean. Some of us have curious misconceptions about the probable effects. Only recently have statisticians refined their figures to the point of clear prediction. Their work is dramatic. They now realize that the zero hour is only a few years ahead. Presently not only will the growth rate disappear, but there will actually be fewer Americans on the continent. The repercussions are already considerable, and promise to be tremendous. Every business man, every government official, every banker, every school board, every citizen, will feel them.
As the level of a great river is governed by the level of its tributaries, so the curve of population depends on four other curves. They are: (1) the number of babies born, (2) the number of people who die, (3) the number of people moving in, (4) the number of people moving out. The first two things, in turn, are heavily influenced by the age distribution of the community. Thus, if the community happens to be an Old Folks Home, few babies may be expected, and many deaths.
When these four factors are given in periods of time, say a year, they become rates, and we say population is determined by the birth rate, the death rate, the immigration rate, the emigration rate — or, combining the last two, the net migration rate. No single rate tells the whole story; one must have them all to make reliable predictions about the future. If the birth rate falls, population may still grow if the death rate falls faster. If the birth rate falls and the death rate increases, population can still grow if the net migration rate inward offsets them both.
Taking the United States as one community, its population has grown from about 2,500,000 in 1776 to 122,775,000 in 1930, the last census. This is an increase of almost fiftyfold. The birth rate has been relatively high most of the time. The death rate has been low, relative to other countries. The number of immigrants moving in has been huge. The number of emigrants moving out has been negligible. Thus all four rates have been favorable to tremendous growth.
The population of the so-called white race is estimated to have increased from 150,000,000 in 1770 to 635,000,000 today, while the population of the whole world more than doubled in the same period. These vast increases have paralleled the growth in applied science, inanimate energy, and the industrial revolution. More than a parallel, the population rise is probably a direct effect of science and the machine. Better sanitation and medicine have prolonged the life span. Power machines have permitted a tremendous expansion of cities, fed by a narrowing base of farms. At the beginning of the period, nine out of ten Americans lived on farms; at the end, only about two in ten. Nothing like this expansion has ever been known before, or probably will be known again. The nineteenth century was a population freak in the long span of human history.
Twenty years ago, students of population looked forward to further huge increases. Some estimates ran as high as three hundred million Americans by 2000 A.D. In a mathematical frenzy, a certain Professor Knibbs calculated that at the 1900-1910 rate of growth the population of the world would reach 221,840,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 by 12,000 A.D. This was held perhaps excessive, but reflects the spirit of the times. Plans of business men, bankers, telephone companies, realestate operators, were based confidently on the expectation that population would expand in the twentieth century as it had done in the nineteenth. The New York Regional Plan Association prophesied 21,000,000 people in the metropolitan area by 1960.
Early in the 1920’s, Dr. Louis I. Dublin of the Metropolitan Life Insurance Company, and a few other careful statisticians, began to distrust this picture more and more. The facts they were collecting on the four fundamental rates did not bear out the upward sweep. Furthermore, they began to take into consideration the factor of age distribution and calculate potential mothers in future years, with even more startling results. Their figures were met with disregard, if not hostility. Promoters were then racing to see who could put the most stories on a skyscraper or a holding company pyramid. Slowly the facts began to penetrate; it is a pesky habit facts have. To-day the picture stands revolutionized, and all experts agree on its broad outlines. Instead of predicting a population that shoots steadily upwards for hundreds of years, they draw a curve shaped like a bow, whose rounded crest is only a few years off.
What has happened to produce the dramatic revision in estimates? This question brings us back to the four basic rates. Each rate has received a special blow since 1920. The birth rate has fallen more rapidly than was expected, especially since 1925. The death rate has dropped to its minimum and must now increase a little. The immigration rate has all but ceased; the emigration rate has grown, leaving a small net migration rate out of the country at the present time. Finally, improved statistical methods — developed by Kuczynski, Dublin, Lotka, Osborn, and others — give a much clearer and more dependable picture of future trends. Let us briefly review each factor.
The birth rate in America has been falling for a century. In 1875 it was 37 babies per thousand people per year. One thousand people means, roughly, two hundred families, and a new baby in every fifth family each year. In 1912, the rate was 26 babies, one a year in every eight families. In 1935 it was down to 17, and still falling. A similar trend is noticeable all over the world, especially in western countries. The Swedish rate is now down to 14, the English and French to 15. The German rate was 17 in 1930. It has increased slightly, under Hitler’s régime of forced parenthood, but experts think the gain will be temporary. Mussolini’s attempt to stimulate babies has had no appreciable effect. The Italian birth rate fell from 27 in 1930 to 23 in 1935. According to Lotka, while birth rates have been falling in civilized countries for a long time, there was a marked down pitch after 1920. All authorities expect them to fall for years to come. Why do they decline so universally and persistently? Here are some of the reasons.
It is now biologically possible to control conception. Birth-control methods are reaching every economic class in all civilized nations.
There seems to be an obscure biological factor which makes fertility lower in cities than in the country. Most of us are now living in cities or towns.
Young people marry later than they used to.
Many young people wish small families, or no families. Why do they not wish large families? For many reasons which are deep and complex. The World War had something to do with it. Widespread insecurity and unemployment frighten many prospective parents. Children in the handicraft age were an economic asset, helping around the farm; in the machine age, particularly in cities, children are an economic liability. Higher living standards have encouraged smaller families. A standard having been established, people are loath to slide down the scale.
I should guess that following the bombing of women and children in Spain and China, following the Czechoslovakian war crisis in Europe, — with the hourly fear of 5000 bombers in the air over Prague, Berlin, Rome, Paris, London, with gas masks issued by the millions to noncombatants, — the birth rate is now due for an additional pitch downward. The thought of bringing up children to be gassed and mutilated in the streets is not very encouraging to young parents.
Like the birth rate, the American death rate has been falling for many years. In 1900 it was 18 per thousand; in 1920, 13; in 1934, 11. For a long time it masked the effect of the falling birth rate. Fewer were born per thousand, but fewer died. The masking process is now over. As an example, take Bridgeport, Connecticut, the nearest big city in my neighborhood. It is far from a Yankee city, for it has large numbers of foreignborn. I have collected its vital statistics for the last ten years. In 1927, the excess of births over deaths was 1370 persons; in 1930, 1140; in 1932, 622; in 1937, 504. Yet the total population of Bridgeport was larger in 1937 than in 1927.
Furthermore, Dublin and Lotka have conclusively demonstrated that the American death rate cannot go much below 10 per thousand. Why not? Because older people persist in dying faster than young people, and our population is steadily getting older, as we have seen. To bring the death rate below 10 and keep it there, the average life span would have to be one hundred years! The present life expectancy at birth is about sixty years. Assume that public health measures can boost it to seventy years. At this life span, the death rate would stabilize around 14 per thousand. ‘Toward this figure,’ says Lotka, ‘one must be prepared to see our death rates tending in decades to come.’ So the death rate is bound to rise, no matter how healthy we keep ourselves. Death rates in European countries have also reached this critical level: 12 in England, 11 in Germany, 11 in Sweden.
Finally we come to migration rates, which have had a large influence on population in the United States. From 1900 to 1913, net migration into America averaged close to 1,000,000 persons a year, mostly young persons. During the war, immigration dried up, to be resumed after 1920 at an annual rate of about 300,000. But since 1930 the figure has gone into the red, and we now show a net movement out of the country of 50,000 persons a year. A strict quota law was passed by Congress in 1924. Baker and Folsom, of the Department of Agriculture, sum up the situation: ‘Immigration is now an almost negligible factor in population increase, and restrictions on immigration seem likely to remain so long as unemployment persists.’ How long will unemployment persist? Large-scale immigration is politically impossible until unemployment is virtually eliminated. It will not be next year. Even then, other factors may prevent the wide-open gates of the nineteenth century. We no longer have a West to conquer, or any more free land. Curiously enough, the population curve, by slowing up opportunities for new investment, encourages unemployment. Unemployment encourages a further decline in the birth rate. For a time, at least, a vicious circle is created.
Thus the birth rate, the death rate, the migration rates, all point to a failing population curve for the United States as a whole. Of course, communities within the country vary widely — some growing briskly, some declining, some stationary. To make matters more conclusive, the experts have taken age distribution into account, and worked out what is called a ‘reproductive index’ applicable to any sizable community. The method concentrates on potential mothers rather than on total population, and is thus more exact. If a community is getting steadily older, owing to a falling birth rate, a time must come when the present groups of fertile mothers become older women, and the present crop of girl babies takes their place. But the present crop of girl babies is smaller and less fertile than a generation ago. In turn, this crop will produce a smaller crop of girl babies. The effect compounds.
A reproductive index of 1.0, or unity, indicates a stable population, where 1000 mothers produce enough girl babies to become 1000 mothers in their turn. If the index is above unity, there is a surplus of potential mothers and the population will expand. If the index is below unity, there is a shortage of girl babies and the population must fall. The Old Folks Home would have a reproductive index of zero.
Around 1930, the American index dropped below unity for the first time in history. It is now about .98. England is down to .74, Germany to .75, Sweden to .86, France to .93. Says Lotka, reviewing the evidence: ‘The current effective fertility of American women is not adequate to guarantee even a stationary population, when accounts are ultimately squared.’ The reproductive index is like a telescope into the next generation. It prevents us from being fooled by large gross numbers now.
There is almost complete agreement as to the facts, and the shape of the American population curve in the years before us. The crest of the bow varies, however, according to the assumptions on which it is plotted. If low fertility is assumed, the crest is hard upon us; if medium fertility is assumed, it retreats a little; if substantial immigration is assumed, it retreats again. In the summer of 1938, the National Resources Committee at Washington released a report entitled The Problems of a Changing Population. Curves were plotted for a variety of assumptions. The report is undoubtedly the most authoritative and complete yet compiled. The authors favor two curves as most probable. The figures are shown in Table I.
In the first estimate, the crest is reached in I960; in the second, soon after 1980. If high mortality, low fertility, and no immigration are assumed, the crest comes in 1955 at 137,172,000, and by 1980 population has dropped to 127,571,000, less than it is to-day. If high fertility, medium mortality, and annual net immigration of 100,000 persons a year are assumed, population will reach 173,000,000 by 1980 and still grow slowly for a while after that. This is the maximum estimate, but nobody takes any stock in it. The consensus of expert opinion, as I have checked it in this report and elsewhere, expects a peak by 1960 of 140 to 150 million. We are close to 130 million to-day. This gives us another 10 to 20 million, and twenty years to go before a decline in total numbers sets in. Crests in most countries of Western Europe are expected sooner — in England during the 1940’s.
Taking the first assumption of low fertility, medium mortality, and no immigration, let us see in Table II how the numbers of young folks and old folks will change in the coming years.
TABLE I. AMERICAN POPULATION ESTIMATES
|Low fertility Medium mortality No immigration||Medium, fertility Medium mortality No immigration|
|Under 19||19 to 64||65 and over|
Youngsters under 19 drop steadily, falling from 48 million in 1930 to 28 million in 1980. People over 65 climb steadily, from 6.6 million in 1930 to 22 million in 1980. The middle group gains to 1970 and then begins to decline. Observe that the total number of youngsters loses more than the old folks gain.
How reliable are these estimates? The statistical method behind them is superb. They can be reduced by further startling declines in the birth rate, by a great epidemic raising the death rate. They can be expanded by a flood of immigrants in the next two decades. They cannot be seriously upset by an increase in the birth rate, for the effect of the increase will not be registered for another generation.
Technical students of population have established other detailed conclusions of high significance, among them the following : —
1. Most American cities are not reproducing themselves. They must grow, if at all, by migration from the farms.
2. This migration all but dried up during the depression. Indeed, there was a large movement outward. City folks went back to live with parents and uncles who raised food crops. Migration inward will not be resumed on the old scale so long as unemployment is high in metropolitan areas. Cities are losing population in their centres and gaining at the peripheries. Urban growth appears to be stagnant for the indefinite future. Some large cities, owing to special circumstances, will gain; some will actually lose population in the next few years — an almost unheard-of thing in America.
3. Most rural areas are reproducing themselves, with a reproductive index above unity. This is especially true of hillbilly belts in the South, but not so true of New England farms. But birth rates in rural sections are falling faster than in the cities — because, being higher to start with, they have further to fall.
4. The proportion of Negroes in the total population appears to be decreasing-
5. The reproductive index of people with small incomes is higher than that of people with large incomes, but it is falling faster. Birth control appears to be gaining steadily in the low-income groups.
6. Lorimer and Osborn show that all classes of women — native-born, foreign-born, Negro — in all age groups are declining in fertility.
What is the bow-shaped curve going to do to us here in America? It has begun to do strange things already, and promises stranger. Fortunately, it moves slowly and nothing need happen very suddenly. If, however, we pretend it is not there and one day suddenly wake up, some unpleasant things might happen very dramatically — say in city real estate, or on the stock market. If we face the situation with our eyes open, we can probably handle it. As I see it, the curve is going to affect particularly (1) young people, (2) old people, (3) investments, real estate, and business activity, (4) government planning and control — all interacting one on the other. Let us take a look at each department, mingling known facts with prophecy. I will try not to get too far out on the springboard.
A curious population wave is passing upward through the schools, with a heavy undertow of empty desks behind it. The wave was caused by the large number of children born immediately after the war. It is now roaring through the high schools. The undertow is caused by the sharply declining birth rates which set in around 1925. The undertow is just reaching the first years of high school. The United States Bureau of Education estimates a high-school peak enrollment of 6,135,000 in 1938-1939; then a recession as the wave rolls on to the colleges, and the undertow moves in. High schools are now stationary in New York, Ohio, Washington. Total publicschool enrollment in New York City dropped from 804,000 in 1930 to 753,000 in 1936 — 50,000 empty desks in one city. But effects of ‘the heavy losses in births between 1930 and 1937 are still to come.’
Overcrowding is ceasing to be a problem in many elementary schools. Classes are being consolidated rather than expanded. Cleveland reports its teaching staff reduced by more than 600. Orders for textbooks and supplies are declining. School building programmes in the elementary grades are not so urgent as they were. School budgets can halt their upward march. Teachers’ colleges and regular colleges, where large numbers of students prepare to become teachers, must revise their plans, and young women will not say with such confidence as in the past, ‘I can always teach for a few years.’ Contractors, builders, supply houses, publishers, will be deeply affected.
The smallest effect will be felt in those mountain districts of the South where the birth rate is still high, and where schools are most bitterly needed. ‘Our future population is stemming from states least able to provide adequate education.’ Hence we are already hearing a demand for federal subsidy to equalize school facilities. This demand is bound to grow louder, and it seems reasonable. States which will now begin to save on school budgets might pass some of the savings on, via the Federal Government, to those whose birth rate does not yet permit them to save. Remember, even Southern birth rates are falling fast, and the subsidy will not be needed indefinitely.
Elementary-school enrollment must decline. The case is not so clear as to high schools and colleges; it depends on job opportunities, child-labor laws, levels of prosperity. If children leaving grade school at fourteen are not permitted to work, relatively more of them will enter high school than in the past, and thus offset the undertow. If we have a series of relatively prosperous years in the near future, relatively more students will go to college at eighteen than to work, as in the past, and colleges may surmount the undertow — which will hit them about 1941. By 1945, it is safe to say, many of them are going to have a stiff problem on their hands. We must also remember that many teachers’ jobs may be saved if the movement for adult education expands in the future.
Children consume 50 per cent more milk than adults. The milk industry is in for some painful readjustments. Manufacturers of infants’ clothing, — and presently youths’ and misses’ clothing, —of toys, bicycles, perambulators, bottles, baby carriages, kindergarten equipment, must prepare for a slackening demand. As children become scarcer, they may be valued more highly, and spoiled more thoroughly. Fees to pediatric specialists may hit the stratosphere. But there will be less call for obstetricians, wet nurses, and lying-in hospitals.
As obstetricians decline, morticians will thrive. All industries catering to the aged will be stimulated. When government budgets are relieved by a decline in school outlays, they will be simultaneously burdened by an increase in old-age pensions. Will the one offset the other? It is too early to know. What we can be sure of is a sharp crescendo in demands for social security, of which the Townsend Plan and the California ‘Ham and Eggs’ referendum are only the first faint chords. Publishers who lose in the textbook department stand to gain in the general trade department. Older folks like to read. Golf will expand, as more violent games contract. Real estate in Southern California and Florida, contrary to real estate generally, is likely to be in brisk demand. Manufacturers of clothing should prepare for warmth, economy, durability, and conservative styling, while dealers in armchairs, footstools, earphones, canes, and poodle dogs will do a land-office business. (This is not just good clean fun. I am following, in part, a sober warning to business men recently issued by the Kiplinger Service at Washington.)
As population ages, firing at forty will tend to be modified, and special provision be made to retain, and if necessary retrain, older industrial workers. Group insurance may disappear. The mobility of labor may decline, also labor turnover, as personnel is drawn from stable persons with settled habits. Political opinion may drift more to the conservative side — except in the matter of government pensions. Church memberships may grow, and esoteric cults become increasingly popular. ‘ Homo sapiens, as he edges toward eternity, is still prone to consult a shaman.’ We catch a hint of the trend already in the metaphysicians of Southern California. Three times as many of us will be edging toward eternity by 1970.
The housing industry presents a curious future. When the wave of post-war babies gets through high school and college, it ought to send the marriage rate up for a short time, and create a brisk demand for homes. This demand may help the building trades and the realestate market, say along about 1942. It will not last. The undertow is right behind it.
Population pressure is the chief determinant of land values. To-day, despite the depression, real-estate prices in both city and country are often based on what dealers think the future demand will be. Few real-estate operators have studied the reports of the National Resources Committee. They have often discounted the future on a curve which no one will ever see. What is going to happen to these capitalizations of future expectations when they are found invalid? What is going to happen to mortgages, bonds, savings banks, lifeinsurance companies? Some, of course, will be all right; some may be very, very wrong.
But, as an offset, houses may not follow the population curve. The number of families may increase long after the curve passes the crest. There will be fewer children, but more families. We have about 33,000,000 family units today. The National Resources Committee calculates 43,000,000 by 1960. More families naturally require more houses. Fewer children per family require smaller houses. Perhaps the construction and house-furnishings industries, pulled from two directions, will about break even. But perhaps the whole shelter concept will be first revolutionized by prefabrication, or government housing, or both.
We can be reasonably sure that, whatever happens, the decentralization movement will continue. Cities will lose population at the centre, while suburbs and surrounding rural areas gain. Tenements, business blocks, office buildings, will be wrecked for downtown parks and parking places. Cities ought to be pleasanter to live in, but the general property tax will be knocked galley-west. Perhaps it will disappear altogether in the turmoil, to be replaced by income, luxury, and nuisance taxes.
This brings us to what I believe will be the most important effect of all. What the World War started the population curve is destined to finish. The economic system of every nation was jolted from its base by the war and its aftermath. The population trend provides an additional and decisive jolt. We must prepare for a whole new set of economic arrangements.
If 10,000 people live in a region and their numbers do not increase, they do not need any more houses, more farms, more stores, more mills. They need better houses, more efficient farms and stores, new machinery in the mills. Their problem is not one of expansion, but one of replacement. As scientific advance makes the farms, stores, and mills more efficient, the people can enjoy either higher standards of living, shorter hours of work, or both.
Business men, bankers, economists, are agreed that under the present financial system an expansion of capital goods — meaning new mills and stores — is cardinal in order to put savings to work and keep the system in equilibrium. But, as population becomes stationary, it is obvious that the need for such expansion will be greatly reduced. Meanwhile savings pile up, and workers who formerly produced capital goods lose their jobs.
The outstanding economic problem of the next few decades will be to get an economic system geared for expansion, remodeled to operate in a community which grows slowly or not at all. Business men assert that if only ‘confidence’ could be restored they could push right ahead, and savings would be profitably invested as in the old days. How are they going to get the birth rate up? Says Alvin Hansen, professor of economics at Harvard: ‘Let the perennial optimist reflect on the enormous masses of capital that found investment outlets during the nineteenth century, for no other reason than that the population of England quadrupled, that of Europe trebled, while that of the United States increased fifteenfold.’ Business activity grew almost automatically in the past. More customers were at the counter every year. Thousands of citizens became rich simply by buying in at the 50 million population level and selling out at the 100 million level. You could n’t lose. Those carefree days are over. There is not much increment in buying in at the 130 million level and selling out at 130 a generation later.
Theoretically, each citizen in a stable population has more land, natural resources, capital, at his command than a citizen in a rapidly growing population. Pressure on resources is eased. Quality can take precedence over quantity. Investment becomes ‘intensive’ rather than ‘extensive.'
The trouble is that we have had no experience with ‘intensive’ investments; we have had no experience with an economy which does not expand in numbers. Apparently there is no other course than to allow the government to take the lead in finding a new formula. A stationary community needs more planning than an expanding one, especially when it is taking the place of an expanding one. The whole financial mechanism must be restudied and eventually overhauled. Millions of citizens must be protected during a stormy transition period. Savings and investment outlets must be found in public works, as the demand in the private field slackens. It must slacken as we approach a replacement basis.
Such public investments need not compete with private investment. They can be devoted rather to producing and conserving wealth outside the normal field of private enterprise, in such projects as soil conservation, flood control, reforestation, public health, highways, waterways, airways, parks and recreation areas, reclamation, rural electrification, slum clearance, and housing for low-income groups.
Many people want a return to the good old days of automatic expansion and little government interference. When they realize—say five years hence — that the Republican Party cannot give it to them, and that the population curve has much to do with it, we must brace ourselves for a terrific outburst of wild schemes to reverse the birth-rate trend. Congress will swarm with lobbies for taxes on bachelors, bonuses for twins, free trousseaus and curly-maple suites for brides, ‘Mrs. America’ cups for prolific ladies of all ages, penalties for the use of contraceptives, guaranteed jobs for bridegrooms. Pulpits will rock; editorial writers will let down their hair; statesmen will thunder about race suicide; generals will ask where our future defenders are to come from. The hullabaloo will be shattering — and the population curve will go serenely on its downward course. If Mussolini could not turn it, what chance has a democratic state?
This brings us to another group of viewers-with-alarm, who are already making the welkin ring. They are distressed by what they call negative eugenics, or the fertility of the unfit. What they mean is that they are afraid of large families among the poor. Are well-to-do families to die out, and be replaced by the more numerous offspring of poor families? The figures undoubtedly show a tendency in that direction. The reproductive index of low-income groups is higher than that of well-to-do groups. But two things should be remembered. First, the poor-family birth rate, though still higher, is falling faster. In Sweden, with birth-control information almost universal, it has fallen below the birth rate of the well-to-do group. Second, most well-to-do families in America today were poor families — farmers, peasants, artisans — three or four generations ago.
I should not worry very much about this distinction. It makes little sense biologically, and none at all democratically. Alarmists who are greatly concerned about what they consider poor heredity in prolific families usually overlook what better environment might mean to the children of those families. They should read J. B. S. Haldane. Once a baby is born on the wrong side of the tracks, they seem to think it is all over, forgetting that Americans are a race of poor immigrants, born the wrong side of tracks from 1620 onward.
Indeed, there is a definite bright side to this picture. With immigration greatly restricted in the future, the American people for the first time in history will have a breathing spell to become more integrated and homogeneous. There will be an end of ‘little Italys,’ ‘Wops,’ ‘Hunkies,’ ‘Yids,’ ‘Greasers,’ ‘ignorant foreigners.’ The melting pot will really melt. Household servants may become scarcer, which will cause their wages and status to rise. Educational standards can be lifted all around, as pressure on the schools relaxes. What we call ‘democracy’ can be brought nearer.
The population curve promises to remake our economic system as we pass from an era of growth to an era of maturity. Industrial changes will be profound, and to a degree painful. The outlook for higher living standards and a more integrated democracy — provided we do not lose our heads in the transition period — is bright. In the long run, the good effects ought to outweigh the bad.
One last prophecy, and I am done. The reproductive index will move up again when children are wanted so badly that parents are at last ready to sink their prejudices and really safeguard the community against insecurity, unemployment, and war. Will the instinct for survival take care of this in due time? I think it will. It is a tough instinct.