"The Population Problem: IV The Need for Birth Control"




Time and Tide(London), June 8, 1928, pp. 553-4


This article was reprinted in the Birth Control Review as "The Need for Birth Control," Aug. 1928, pp. 227-28. For an earlier draft see Margaret Sanger Paoers Microfilm, Library of Congress LCM 130:0235. A duplicate appears on Margaret Sanger Microfilm Edition, Smith College Collections S71:0144 and Margaret Sanger Microfilm Edition, Collected Documents Series, C16:293. The other parts of this series were written by different authors.


Declaration of Independence




The Population Problem: IV.

IV. The Need for Birth Control

The population problem of the world is no longer a mere question of quantity. It involves quality as well. Civilization can no longer be estimated by mere numbers. More important, from our modern point of view, is the kind of population a country or a century produces. The Florence of the Quattrocento was, from the point of views of numbers, ridiculously underpopulated, but it was rich in genius. On the other hand, the proportion of genius, of talent, of intelligence of inhabitants to the total number in any of our great world-metropolises to-day is deplorably small. Opponents of the Malthusian thesis may be right in their contention that the world is physically able to support a far greater population than at present lives upon it. But any such rapid increase of population would be maintained only by lowering the standard of living both physically and spiritually. It is already evident that even under present conditions, the defective, delinquent and dependent classes are multiplying with reckless irresponsibility and at an ever-increasing expense to society at large. Leaving aside, as purely hypothetical and academic all such questions as the ultimate saturation point in world population, and attacking this problem in its immediate and imperatively pressing aspects, we find ourselves here and now confronted with a tangibly definite qualitative overpopulation. Any intelligent analyst must admit that to-day there are too many of the wrong kind of people in our world, and too few of the right kind. Even the most compassionate and least snobbish of observers must admit this.

Education in Birth Control offers an immediate, practical and constructive method of combating this qualitative over-population. It is not proffered as a wholesale magic panacea which would cure the evils of the world overnight. It is immediate and practical because it can be taught--indeed, it is already taught--to the individuals involved without prohibiting their enjoyment of life, without interrupting "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness." It is constructive in its immediate and in its ultimate benefits. It is constructive from the educational point of view because it stimulates habits of intelligent self-direction and control, gives parents the autonomous conduct of their own lives, and awakens a sense of their responsibility in bringing children into the world. It is, moreover, based upon a recognition of the vast amount of native and latent intelligence among the mothers and fathers of the poor and upon the conviction that this intelligence can be awakened and created into an efficient instrument to control and eventually to eliminate that dysgenic tendency in modern societies whereby the elements least fit to reproduce and multiply do actually perpetuate themselves into a predominating and overwhelming class. Birth Control is of inestimable value not only to the individual parents; but its popularization would enable us to draw a definite line between the worthy, intelligent and self-respecting types of parenthood among the poorer classes and the delinquent and irresponsible. Until this dividing line is definitely established, it will be impossible for society to establish any definite, just, constructive and yet withal self-protective policy in its dealing with the complex problems of the criminal, mental defective and feeble-minded classes. Sterilization will undoubtedly become a necessity; but unsupported by the practice of self-directive Birth Control a policy of arbitrary sterilization could not without in justice be imposed upon the people at large.

The first great need of modern society is the encouragement of Birth Control education among potential parents of those poorer strata of society where poverty is correlated with disease, poor health, and physical or mental defect. It goes without saying that, first of all, parenthood should be forbidden to the insane, the feeble-minded, the epileptic and to all those suffering from transmissible diseases. Modern methods of sterilization make this possible without the infliction of undue hardships or unhappiness.

Women who are suffering from such maladies as tuberculosis, cardiac, kidney or other diseases which are aggravated by pregnancy and which make recovery impossible should not jeopardize their lives and those of possible infants by undergoing this risk until a cure is effected. When defective children are born of apparently normal adults the latter should refrain from further experiments in parenthood.

Birth Control makes possible the "spacing" of children. Each new infant can thus be given a proper start in life, physically and psychically, before a new arrival takes central place in the mother's care and attention. This system is of equal benefit to both mothers and children.

Financial, economic and social conditions cannot be lightly swept aside as unimportant, especially in the first years of marriage. These conditions should be courageously analysed by young husbands and wives, particularly in relation to the potential child or family. Surely it is injustice to an infant to be brought into a home that cannot provide necessities for a proper start in life. Even when these factors seem satisfactory, it is well that young wives who have just been released by marriage from the arduous labors of shops, factories, or any industrial or workaday employment, should have a year for rest and readjustment to the new duties of wifehood. It is a brief enough period for any young women before she plunges into the physiological strain of maternity. Mentally and physically she must be prepared for the long complex process of gestation.

Maternal and infant welfare centers would immeasurably increase their efficiency were they to inaugurate their ministrations, not merely with so-called pre-natal or ante-natal care, but with the education of young women from their maturity in the duties and responsibility of maternity. Maternal education begins with marital education, with the assurance of physical strength and emotional stability. It is just here that the Birth Control clinic, given adequate support and encouragement, might demonstrate its efficacy as a social agency. Yet the clinic need not attempt to supplant those social welfare agencies already existent. With little inconvenience or expense the latter might enlarge their scope to include this specific educational work. Ultimately such work would relieve the State from the expense of maintaining institutions for the delinquent and dependent, from the deadweight--the unproductive deadweight--of its dysgenic classes upon generations yet unborn, and would result in the creation of a self-directive instrument of population-control.