Fillers One hundred years ago

The diminishing birth-rate

BMJ 2004; 328 doi: (Published 17 June 2004) Cite this as: BMJ 2004;328:1469

Sir,—The subject of the diminution in the birth-rate has undoubtedly brought to light some ingenious theories, particularly as regards the case of the middle class. But why muscularity in the poor woman should produce such totally different results as the same condition amongst the more refined is not explained. Is it not probable that any attempt at an explanation would demolish the theory entirely? I feel some diffidence in coming forward with yet another hypothesis. But since I have for 25 years practised exclusively amongst the professional class—having neither poor nor wealthy patients—and having since boyhood moved in that society alone, I cannot help thinking that I may have had peculiar advantages of forming an opinion regarding them.

The question I opine is entirely an economic one. There is, as far as I have observed, no loss of virility or fecundity, but children are now universally undesired, mainly from the increasing difficulty in educating them and placing them in life.

To find a girl a suitable husband with a home, or a boy with an avocation suited to a gentleman, will in the near future tax the ingenuity of the most capable mother or father.

When we have realized that we are being made to pay, in order that our coachman's sons may be able to compete against our own sons for daily bread, the contemplation of the situation in front of us must give us pause. Thus it is that many men dread matrimony (notably amongst the clergy) and almost all practise Malthusian methods.

It is my solemn conviction that the professional class, as a distinct order, is being obliterated. In the past the upper class depended on its estates (funded or real), the merchant class upon its capital, the poor on their labour, and the professional class upon its education. The new education legislation has robbed the latter of its patrimony, and there is therefore no sure living for its children.

This is a saddening prospect, for the old refined ways of thought and living, of which this class were the custodians and examplars, are passing away. England will become Germanized or Americanized by this process alone, and the English gentleman, apart from the jeunesse doré, will become as extinct as the British yeoman.—I am, etc.,


(BMJ 1904;i: 807)

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