Page 3, 23rd May 1941

23rd May 1941
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Page 3, 23rd May 1941 — Parents Have a Grievance
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Parents Have a Grievance

AS soon as we begin to consider the

practical business of building up a social order we find the question of population obtruding itself. For numbers set the scale of society. And the scale of society is a powerful influence in shaping its character. Were we Utopia-building we might pause to argue with Plato about his figure of 5,040 as the ideal number of male citizens in a State. But our task is more practical, more specific and more immediate. We seek to reform an existing social order, our own. The scale of our social order is given, and we have perforce to work to that scale. Recent discussions in the CATHOLIC HERALD have demonstrated quite clearly the complexity of the social problems that face us. The more or less rapid decline in population with which we are threatened only serves to emphasise this complexity and to set us many new and grave problems. Stability of populatien would interfere least with our plans and therefore I suggest that we should make it one of our immediate goals.

It is true that we still lack sufficient knowledge to be able to embark confidently forthwith on a detailed population programme designed to parry the threat of depopulation. But the experience of those countries which have tackled the planning of a comprehensive programme, notably Germany, France, Italy and Sweden, will help us to sketch at least the general lines of our policy.

Much Wastage of Life

There is still much wastage of life in this country. A population policy that aims at combating depopulation should first attend to this side of the question. It is true that the average expectation of life has risen in England and Wales from forty years in the middle of the last =century to nearly sixty at the present time. )3ut in Scandinavia it is two or three years, and in New Zealand wine years, greater.

It is true that infant mortality has de dined steadily from 154 per 1,000 live births ITS 1900 to 53 in 1938. But its incidence is significantly uneven as betweendifferent areas and different social classes. It is true that the material mortality rate of 2.97 in 1938 was the lowest on record in England and Wales. But it has been officially estimated that in something like 40 per cent. of the cases there was an avoidable factor. Thetc

Is thus plenty or scope for further efforts.

But our population problem cannot be solved merely by the negative approach. Even if we were able to reduce the wastage of fir to a minimum and attain forthwith the remarkably low mortality rates of New Zealand, we should still be a long way from replacing our population. There can in fact be no solution without a very definite increase in fertility. The fashionable " two-child " family is not enough. The focus for our policy must be how to ensure somewhat larger families.

Conscious Restriction

It is generally agreed that the striking decline in fertility during the last sixty years has been due to more or less conscious restriction and not to any increasing physiological incapacity to bear children.

It is generally agreed, too, that this restriction has been effected largely by means of contraception. This being so, it is often suggested that a simple solution lies ready at hand, the banishment of contraception. This remedy, however, ignores three important facts. As Dr. Halliday Sutherland says, "For better or for worse, whether we like it or not, birth control has conic to

stay.'' Knowledge once widely diffused is not easily banished by mere legal enactment.

The second fact is, that from the cold logic of arithmetic the bulk of replacement must come from the working classes, who are in no mood to be driven back to their reproductive duties and already tend to be suspicious of re-population propaganda.

The attempt at simple banishment of contraception by legal enactment would thus be bad tactics, for it is important that Such suspicions should not be aroused.

Thirdly, there is the fact that contraception is but an instrument. It is the means whereby the " strike of parents " has been made effective. Parents claim to have grievances. A population policy, if it is to have a moral basis, must enquire first into these grievances and seek to redress them.

When Children were Assets

The foremost grievance is an economic one. Two or three generations ago children were potential economic assets. They went early to work and helped to solve the budgetary problem of the home. They provided the assurance of provision for old age. Furthermore, they were an economic investment which called for a relatively smaller outlay, since standards of hygiene and care were then lower. The State could rely on enlightened self-interest to provide the next generation.

Nowadays crude economic self-interest works in precisely the opposite direction. Children are now rarely potential economic assets. They go later to work now that we have abolished child labour; the tradition of the family budget has largely broken down; their function as old-age pensions is now less essential. Children are now almost entirely an economic liability against which only psychological and moral compensations can be set.

The first aim ot oui policy should thus he to remove this economic deterrent to child rearing. This cannot be done by a mere system of loans and bonuses. It can only be done by a basic reorganisation of the whole wage system The economic rehabili tation of the family by means of family allowances has already been discussed in this series. Theii key position in any adequate population policy provides yet another argument in their favour.

Pernicious Educational Influences The growing cost of education has undoubtedly been a powerful factor in the limitation of family sizes. The whole matter is complex and admits of no simple solution. But the existence of our dual system of education, with its standardised system provided free by the State on the one hand, and its conipleir array of private schools possessing subtly graded hut always considerably greater prestige on the other, has all unwittingly emphasised our population problem.

We live in a more or less democratic society in which it is possible to rise in the social scale, but difficult. We liye in a society in which the desire to rise is widespread, especially where it is vicarious and concerned with the dreams of parents with regard to the careers of their children.

Education provides one of the most effective keys to advancement and it is freely offered for sale. Parents are thus wont to buy as much of it of as superior quality as they can afford. Unfortunately, increasing demand has sent up its price to a level where few parents can afford to endow more than two children. How can we avoid these pernicious influences of educational costs on fertility, the " nemesis of a plutocratic educational system "?

Housing—a Symbol

Another difficulty that the would-be normal family meets is that of housing. In an ideal society, housing accommodation would bear some relation to the size and needs of the family using it. In particular, it would ensure that those who most need the advantages of easily-run houses, namely, the mothers of large families, would enjoy them.

In our own society the larger families have usually perforce to accept the inferior accommodation. The remedy may be sought partly through the economic re-habilitation of the family through family allowances, and partly through the introduction of rent rebates in municipal housing estates. It is. of course, no good hoping for anything from

private enterprise. Housing families of a size that would ensure population replacement is not an economic proposition. and it is only with economic propositions that private enterprise can deal.

But the mischief done by our hoihing situation is f011 confined ,to the present. Houses are semi-permanent. The small modern house (and a fortiori. the small modern flat) implicitly demands the small modern family, and will demand it of the next generation, too.

Housing may serve as the symbol of the social institutions we are now forming. The small (two-child) family has become the norm and round it are clustering our habits, our opinions, our leisure standards and all the things we take for granted. Habits tend to harden into institutions and condition us as effectively as do our houses. It is necessary, therefore, for us to act quickly before we are caught in our shell.

Make Town Life Fit for -Children

As foal our towns, no one has ever claimed that they were healthy places in which to live and bring up families. They have always had IO rely on the country to supply

part of their population replacement. taloa that there is little difference between steal and urban fertility, towns'must take steps to provide for their own renewal. They must. therefore, be planned as places fit to real families in, and not merely as places in which to work. The ruralising of industs. the setting up of garden cities and satellite towns and the curbing of the relentless spread of our monster cities are obvious steps that must be taken.

The field of fiscal reform provides us with many examples of anomalies and lac tors working againat fertility, but it also tatovides a field wherein comparatively simple adjustments might be made to improve the situation. Income-tax tempers the fiscal wind to the shorn lamb, that is thc family man. But not so indirect taxation and local rates that bulk so large =n the contributions of the masses to the public purse.

Fertility M,51st be Made Fashionable

We have noted that fertility is susceptible to fashion. It is therefore important that a population policy should he backed by propaganda. But propaganda is a dangerous instrument. If it concerns itself mainly with bribes and high-pressure salesmanship it will in the long run fail, as it deserves to Propaganda that conissts in romantically sentimentalising over the joys of motherhood, that paints in glowing colours the picture of the large family, happy though poor,

will be left with its picture unsold. Propaganda that places too much reliance on moral

thunderings will call forth no echo. Our moral sentiments are now subtly developed or perverted, through the cinemas, radio, novels, books, newspapers and advertisements. It is, for example. the constant reproduction of things such as advertisements showing the smiling parents with their two smiling children that exerts such a strong influence on family fashions. It is therefore, to the conversion of these media and their practitioners to an appreciation of the great significance of population problems that we should work And in this direction there are already encouraging signs. Only this week 1 was heartened to read in a popular housewife's periodical the quite incidental remark of a journalist that " when we first married we decided that four was the smallest number of children that could be called a family."

Ten years ago we were singing instead " We will found a family. a boy for you. a girl for me, how happy we shall be !"—or words to that effect.

As a keynote to our whole population policy I would suggest " generosity." The problem is a large-scale one, it calls for latge-scale remedies. Half-measures and palliatives will not persuade parents that their difficulties and grievances are understood. And so long as these grievances remain parents are unlikely to want children, at least in sufficient numbers to secure the replacement of of our population.




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