Margaret Sanger, "Population - Everybody's Business," 1944.

Published Article. Source: Tomorrow, 1944, pp. 16-18 , Margaret Sanger Microfilm S72:0480 .

For an earlier draft version see Margaret Sanger Microfilm S72:0380 titled "Children of Tomorrow's World."


Population - Everybody's Business

By Margaret Sanger

Control of the Birthrate a Necessary Consideration in Peace Building

Population is a dull technical word that unfortunately means little to the average man. He knows when the birth rate rises sharply or drops sharply because he sees this fact either lauded or deplored in the public press. But the problems of population he is willing to leave to the experts, feeling that they don’t concern him at all. The idea that population is actually himself has never occurred to him; the idea that population problems are a factor in having caused the war he is fighting would doubtless baffle or possibly even amuse him.

In his vague concern over "postwar plans," he doesn’t realize that an intelligent population policy for the world is one of the things that may keep his son out of a war like the present, only far worse, because modern ingenuity figures out each year more and deadlier means of killing human beings. Population control can contribute to your happiness, security and prosperity, on the one hand, just as lack of it must inevitably result in poverty, famine and--too often--war.

If somehow the little man could be made to realize the importance to himself and his family of that vague word "population," peace might come nearer to realization in our time.

One thing is certain, global war must be followed by global peace. The gains we are struggling to achieve in this country must be expanded throughout the world if they are to be effective for us and future generations. In the United States we have achieved a favorable balance between population and resources which has contributed greatly to the raising of our national standard of living. But it will avail us little in the long run if European and Asiatic countries and some of our own possessions continue to overrun their boundaries and their resources and to breed themselves into greater poverty, famine, and many of them ultimately into war. Therefore, it is time that the planning and intelligent limitation of populations become the concern of the world.

It is difficult to think in world terms, so I would like to consider the case for world population control through the eyes of the one nearest us, the solider son, or husband, or brother, Private Jones, who will return, when his job is finished, to his wife and their future. Specifically, what does our world hold for him and particularly for that hope of our future, his child?

Since we are reducing population to one family, let us see how the Joneses are solving their “problem.” Mrs. Jones has been working in a defense factory to augment her slender allotment pay. Fortunately she chose one with a liberal maternal health policy, so when she became pregnant she was not immediately fired but put at a lighter task and eventually given time off with no loss of seniority to have her baby. Being a GI wife, she had a GI baby--that is, the government paid for her prenatal care, delivery and postpartum care. Again being fortunate, she has been able to leave the baby at a nursery conveniently located near the factory. The government paid for pediatric care during the child’s first year. Mrs. Jones has no parents or other relatives to whom she could turn: this is the case with so many young women during these days of family dislocation.

The time comes for young Jones to be mustered out of the army. He needs care and treatment before entering the competitive business world again. He must rest after the magnificent and arduous job he has helped to do. So it’s better for his wife to remain a little longer at the job. It is very important even that she postpone the next desired baby until her veteran husband is on his feet again and able to take his proper place as head of the family.

In America Mrs. Jones will find medical assistance in child spacing available to her in all states but Massachusetts and Connecticut. If she lives in one of eight southern states, she may go to the public health maternity centers for this advice. There are child spacing services and more then 3000 referral doctors throughout the country with which she may make contact by writing to the Planned Parenthood Federation at 501 Madison Avenue in New York City. The number of clinic services is still limited to 600, so that in spite of the fact that the knowledge is available it is estimated that 13,000,000 married people in this country still lack access to child spacing advice. Mrs. Jones is one of the fortunate ones who have been able to adjust their own population problems: she can keep things going until her husband has found himself and become adjusted to his job again. When he has, she’ll go right ahead with that family they’ve planned, for like most human beings in the world Mr. and Mrs. Jones love children and have the human urge to produce as many as they can care for. Our all time high birth rate of more than 3,000,000 babies for 1943 is testimony to the strength of the reproductive urge.

The colored American private, returning to his wife, doesn’t face quite such a bright future. He may not know it in cold figures, but the death rate for his race in the United States is 50 per cent higher than that of whites. His wife, when she faces maternity, will run double the risk of the white mother in this country, and his infant is subjected to the even greater risk of a death rate one and a half times that of a white baby. In fact, 40,000 Negro babies die every year, of our 13,000,000 Negro population. So it is even more important that this American who has been fighting to uphold democracy be given the right to plan his family, space his babies and have them when the health of his wife permits and when he will be best able to care for them.

The Puerto Rican soldier is also an American citizen. Induction into the army has meant a life of square meals for him, of living conditions on his native island beyond his wildest dreams. For very little has been done about the fact that tiny Puerto Rico, an island 100 miles long by 35 or 40 miles wide, supports about 2,000,000 people, with from 33,000 to 40,000 new ones being added each year. Since the island can’t be stretched and war has kept the people from emigrating, and since American health and sanitation measures have lowered death rates just sufficiently to produce an added population boost, conditions become progressively worse in this American possession. Pedro, together with about 250,000 others, lives in a slum indescribable in filth. His children are among the 200,000 without any schooling. His young daughter was one of the many girls seen in the streets of San Juan at night offering themselves to our soldiers to obtain food; then Pedro was taken into the army and able to send his allotment home.

Pedro and his people have cost the American taxpayers $247,000,000 in relief money during the past eight years and will cost them much more in the future unless some drastic measure is taken to adjust population at least to living space.

Although birth control has been made available to Puerto Rican citizens, the work is hampered by religious opposition, by legal restrictions. In addition, a vast educational campaign is needed to make those parents who need it most aware of its efficacy and importance to their happiness and well-being.

Farther from home and in even sharper contrast to our soldier is Private Rami of India, who volunteered and is now returning from fighting for the Allied cause. What does he face in his native land after the great struggle is finally over? He lives in Bengal, where his allotment of rice has decreased sharply because in his particular district there are more than 2000 people per square mile. Rami does not know this in statistical form but in the pinched feeling of his stomach, in the hungry eyes of his babies, and in the sad expression of his wife, who knows that with his return there will be more mouths to feed on the pitifully small amount of food that comes to them. Rami has heard that prospects are a little better for himself and his family, that health measures have improved. But he doesn’t realize that without the knowledge of how to space his babies this will merely mean more babies kept alive to be fed; more human beings to starve in the next inevitable famine. He accepts famine as the natural order of things in a land of 403,000,000--one fifth of the world’s population squeezed into an area only 60 per cent of the size of the United States. Since 1876 periodic famines and the 1918 influenza epidemic have wiped out more than 15,000,000 Indians. Rami accepts famine as the Chinese do.

Rami is so accustomed to death that he might not be horrified to learn that during a recent year when only 48 American babies per thousand died, more than three times that number, 167 little Indian babies, were sacrificed. Rami is too busy trying to wrest a meager existence from the soil to worry about the shortness of his life expectancy, but the statistician could tell him that his offspring will have a brief life expectancy of 27 years as compared with the 64 years which are the life outlook for a baby born in the United States.

There isn’t much in life for him anyway but work and worry about his family, so why should it be prolonged?

Sir John Megaw, ex-Director General of the Indian Medical Service, has stated with regard to the problem in India:

“Suppose for a moment the public health services of India were to achieve a complete success in stamping out malaria, cholera, smallpox, tuberculosis and all other great killing diseases of India, and suppose nothing were done to increase the production of food or to restrict the growth of population, the inevitable result would be the replacement of the tragedy of death from disease by the greater tragedy of death by starvation.”

Not a very happy prospect for the returning warrior, Private Rami, who has been giving everything he possessed to bring democracy and freedom to the world. What freedom has he achieved when he lacks the basic means to plan his own family, to help in his small way to stem the horror of overpopulation and starvation in India? To improve the economic status of India is a step forward, but one that will prove only a palliative if there are always more mouths than the resources of a country can comfortably feed. In every country where living standards are high the lifting of the economic levels has gone hand in hand with a conscious regulation of human fertility.

In many respects the Chinese solider returns to the same situation as the Indian does. Mechanization of the vast country, further cultivation of its broad acres and development of its resources won’t solve the problem of mere numbers, of too rapid breeding. There must be an intelligent population policy to balance subsistence with numbers, so that nations no longer need rely on famine and disaster for relief, or, as in the cases of the Axis nations, be provided with an excuse to burst their boundaries seeking Lebensraum.

I have tried with a few specific examples to indicate how important intelligent population policies will be in the postwar world, in terms of human happiness and in terms of world peace and well-being. The nations of which I have written all belong to the Allied cause. It is even more important for the peace of the world that we encourage sound population control among the defeated Axis nations. None of our postwar plans will be effective if this vital matter is omitted. No matter what punishments and restrictions we impose upon the losers, if they are allowed to breed beyond the capacity of their resources or to use their dense numbers as a justification for aggression, we will again inevitably face the problem of violence; we will create new misery and a basis for new global conflicts.

Far from welcoming population checks, the Axis nations have competed and vied in a race for more and more babies. They have systematically decimated their enemies, drawn off the younger male populations into concentration camps and forced labor, when they have not actually slaughtered them with a view to making Germany eugenically and numerically--as well as in a military sense--the ruler of the world. The Nazis have encouraged illegitimacy in their mad desire to create more little Nazis, given these children the dubious honor of having Nazi dignitaries for godparents. We can’t prepare for a decent world, its population in proportion to resources, if fascist-minded leadership is allowed to promote unrestrained breeding. So far this important consideration has not appeared in any of the postwar plans under consideration or in any of the proposed “solutions” for what to do with the enemy. Only the demographers who have little to do with the concrete peace plans have expressed concern about the postwar population policies of the world.

I want to emphasize finally that any measure for solving the problems of population should not be treated in a vaccum--that is, apart from other problems.

Application of intelligence in this direction must of course be accompanied by measures which will permit the free flow of world trade and an equitable access on the part of all nations to raw material and natural resources. In my opinion, minerals and raw materials used for armaments must be directed and rationed to each nation for its legitimate uses. Only in this way can aggressive nations, like Germany and Japan, be prevented from monopolizing natural resources in preparation for war, while other peaceful countries are unable to obtain the necessities for ordinary subsistence.

We must protect tomorrow’s Chinese baby and Hindu baby, English and Russian baby, Puerto Rican, Negro and white American babies who will stand side by side to heal the scars of this conflict and to bring promise of a better future. In addition, the war-shattered European mothers who will produce so many of tomorrow’s children must be allowed a chance to return to strength and sanity before continuing their child-bearing. Never before in history have we realized how important it is to all of us that each of these children be born strong and with a prospect of growing into useful and decent adulthood.


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Copyright 2003. Margaret Sanger Project


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