In this remarkable table the percentage of births to total membership gradually rose from 21.76, in 1866, to 24.72, in 1880, and then gradually declined to 14.67 in 1896.
This is a striking instance of the fact that the decrease in the total birth-rate is due more to a decrease in the fecundity of marriage, than to a decrease of the marriage-rate.
Mr. Webb adds:—“The well-known actuary, Mr. R.P. Hardy, watching the statistics year by year, and knowing intimately all the circumstances of the organisation, attributes this startling reduction in the number of births of children to these specially prosperous and specially thrifty artisans entirely to their deliberate desire to limit the size of their families.”
The marriage-rate in England and Wales commenced to decline about three years before the sudden change in the birth-rate of 1877, and continued to fall till about 1880, but has maintained a fairly uniform standard since then, rising slightly in fact, the birth-rate, meanwhile, descending rapidly.
Family Responsibility—Natural fertility undiminished.—Voluntary prevention and physiological knowledge.—New Zealand experience.—Diminishing influence of delayed marriage.—Practice of abortion.—Popular sympathy in criminal cases.—Absence of complicating issues in New Zealand.—Colonial desire for comfort and happiness.
There is a gradually increasing consensus of opinion amongst statisticians, that the explanation of the decrease in the number of births is to be found in the desire of married persons to limit the family they have to rear and educate, and the voluntary practice of certain checks to conception in order to fulfil this desire.
It is assumed that there is no diminution in the natural fertility of either sex. There is no evidence to show that sexual desire is not as powerful and universal as it ever was in the history of the race; nor is there any evidence to show that the generative elements have lost any of their fertilizing and developmental properties and power.
Dr. J.S. Billings in the June number of the Forum for 1893, says that “the most important factor in the change is the deliberate and voluntary avoidance or prevention of child-bearing on the part of a steadily increasing number of married people, who not only prefer to have but few children, but who know how to obtain their wish.”
He further says, “there is no good reason for thinking that there is a diminished power to produce children in either sex.”