These considerations go far to explain the desire on the part of married couples to limit offspring; and, if there were no means at their disposal of limiting the number of children born to them, a great decline in the marriage-rate would be the inevitable result of the existing conditions of life, and the prevalent ideas of the people.
Hopeless poverty appears to be a cause of a high birth-rate, and this seems to be due to the complete abandonment by the hopelessly poor of all hope of attaining comfort and success.
Marriage between two who are hopelessly poor is extremely rare with us. Each is able to provide for his or herself at least, and in all probability the husband is able to provide comfortably for both.
If he is not, the wife can work, and their joint earnings will keep them from want. But, if one of the partners has not only to give herself up to child-bearing, and thus cease to earn, but also bring another into the home that will monopolise all her time, attention, and energy, and a good deal of its father’s earnings, how will they fare?
If a man’s wages has to be divided between two, then between three, then four, six, eight, ten, while all the time that wages is not increasing, have we not a direct cause of poverty, and, moreover, is not that cause first in time and importance?
Later on in the history of the family their poverty will become a cause of an increase in the children born to them. At first they may struggle to prevent an increase, but, when they are in the depths of hopeless poverty, they will abandon themselves to despair.
Could they have had born to them only one, or two, or three, during their early married life, they might not only have escaped want, but later in life may have had others born to them, without either their little ones or themselves feeling the pinch of poverty.
It must be remembered in this connection that fecundity and sexual activity are not convertible terms.
It is certainly not true to say that the greater the fecundity of the people the stronger their sexual instinct, or the greater the sexual exercise.
A high fecundity does not depend on an inordinate sexual activity.
Fecundity depends on the child-bearing capacity of each female, and a sexual union at an appropriate time once in two years between puberty and the catamenia is compatible with the highest possible fecundity.
It would be quite illogical, and inconsistent with physiological facts, to aver that, were the poor less given to indulge the pleasures of sense, their fecundity would be modified in an appreciable degree.
ETHICS OF PREVENTION.
Fertility the law of life.—Man interprets and controls this law.—Marriage law necessary to fix paternal responsibility.—Malthus’s high ideal.—If prudence the motive, continence and celibacy violate no law.—Post-nuptial intermittent restraint.—Ethics of prevention judged by consequences.—When procreation is a good and when an evil.—Oligantrophy.—Artificial checks are physiological sins.