Tomorrow's Children


By CARLE C. ZIMMERMAN, Professor of Sociology, Harvard University

Delivered at the New England Conference on Tomorrow's Children, July 26, 1940

Conference is sponsored by Harvard Summer School and National Conference on Family Relations

Vital Speeches of the Day, Vol. VI, pp. 742-745

THE settlement of North Europeans in America made its first great gains in New England. Since that time America's great national movements have received their first and greatest support in New England. This section of North America was the first to declare itself free from the excessive domination of Lord's Proprietors, the Quit Rent System, and other vestiges of feudalism which Europe transplanted to America along with its first immigrants. Commerce began first here in opposition to the wishes of London. The English crown wished America to specialize only in those types of activities which would supplement and not conflict with activities in England. Here also was the primary support of the anti-slavery movement, which, whatever may have been its other meanings, was a death blow to states rights, anti-federalism and anti-nationalism. No section of the country is more fitting as the environment for a conference upon a nationalistic rejuvenation of the American family and national ideals concerning America's children of tomorrow.

In this history making period when all values of the 19th century and of the old Americanism of our founding fathers are challenged, New England must make two choices concerning Tomorrow's Children. First, what ideals or value systems will be set forth as standards for the future American family? Second, what role will New England play in the achievement of these ideals or values during these few remaining years of the 20th century? The answer to these two questions forms the ultimate end of this Conference upon the family and Tomorrow's Children.

The Normal Family

A first consideration is that of normal families. What is a normal family, considering our situation?

I propose to substitute for former inadequate structural definition of normal families, a functional description of normal families as determined by human needs. The fulfillment of these needs makes a normal family, as opposed to broken, subnormal or abnormal families created by failure to meet the functional requirements of familism. These functional needs may be broken down into those which are biological, demographic, social and economic in character. Doubtless there are other categories of human needs, but these are important as far as familism is concerned.

When the biological organism reaches maturity, it isready for procreation. Among humans this means marriage and child bearing. Humans generally recognize that marriage and child bearing should come in a definite space in the biological cycle. This time should not be too early, such as in the case of child marriages and marriages before a given period known as the age of consent. Neither should it be too late. Good parents are neither children—persons sexually but not physically and emotionally mature—nor older persons with neither the vitality nor the adaptability to get along with these young animals which are our human children.

Biologically speaking then, normal families must include as husbands and wives and parents of young children all of our young persons physically fit for parenthood who have gone far enough past adolescence to be emotionally and physically mature. Any exaggerated delay in either marriage or child bearing is bound to produce biological abnormalities either in parents or children. The rapid increase in involuntary sterility among our own women, much of it not explainable by other reasons, is according to my way of thinking, a sign of the increase of abnormality in the family group. While this results in part from the recent delay in marriage consummation, most of it seems due to the more exaggerated recent delay in child bearing and faltering with ideas of the restriction of the numbers of children to one and two.

Thus there is a definite determination of the limits of normal family life. Normal families are not made from the intermarriage of the incurably diseased, defectives, idiots, insane and unfit. Neither are they achieved by the failure in marriage or child bearing of our young, our fit, our successful, and our worthwhile candidates for family life and parenthood. The normal biological family must be a compromise to avoid many pitfalls. Child parenthood, menopause parenthood, involuntary sterility arising in part from previous voluntary sterility, lack of physical and mental fitness and the delusive ideals of the one and two child families are the limits or abnormal family traits to be avoided.

If a lack of a parent may be used as a "measure" of broken families, how about the lack of sufficient children to give the normal woman's body a chance to develop. Living without one parent is one difficulty. Living with a woman in a premature halty and long carried out menopause is another.

Demographic needs also help determine normal families. This applies particularly to imperialistic societies such as ours. No matter what we think we are, the fact is that we have adopted an imperialistic world power mood and are not willing to give it up. We talk of the Monroe Doctrine, "hemisphere defense," "a navy second to none," a world crusade for ideals, the "Open Door in China," and many other imperialistic doctrines. All these ideals and conceptions are those of a world power—not those of a second rate country which seeks to avoid conflict by biding its light under a bushel.

An imperial policy presupposes a population to support the doctrine. We must either keep up our population and keep it in shape to support the policy or give up the imperialism. I see no signs of any attempt to give up the imperialism. Rather, it is getting more virulent, if anything.

At the present rates of births our population is destined for a decrease in numbers. If America wishes or can revert to a second rate power and gives up what are considered the "American ideals," this may be accepted. If we cannot change our course, or do not wish to, the implications for a normal family from the demographic point of view are an average of 4 children. However, only in an intellectual sense can we take our choice. In reality, when a country has set its sail on a course of action, it must carry through a population policy to support it or go to its doom.

These demographic needs of an average of 4 children perfamily fit very well into the biological needs discussed earlier. They also indicate that about half our present families are shy one or two children necessary for this purpose. Persons who wish four healthy children dare not wait too long after marriage in a society where marriage is as late as in ours or they will in many cases be kept from their attainment of normal standards by the ravages of involuntary neurotic sterility. After all the modern American family does not live in that classic peace often attributed as the milieu of the 18th century peasant family.

In addition the social needs bears out the need of larger families in the U.S.A. as depicted above from the analysis of demographic and biological needs. Those who are particularly interested in this matter should turn to a careful study of a work called Le Suicide by that great French sociologist Durkheim. In this work written many years ago, and now tested by time, Durkheim takes the phenomenon of suicide and tries to test out the various influences which lead to an increase or decrease in its rate. He eliminates many factors ordinarily thought to be responsible for suicide, such as insanity, and finally comes to the hypothesis that the great mass of suicides are those in which people give vent to a final expression of unhappiness. This unhappiness arises in its ultimate sense when persons have no or too few social bonds or ties binding them to life. He finds that irreligious persons, the unmarried, the childless, the divorced have greater rates for suicide by far than the religious, the married, the familistic and the child-rich people. You can observe about you that the irreligious persons are generally more often childless or have fewer children than the others.

It is impossible for me here to go into any deep analysis of this most complicated problem of sociology and social causation. I can only point out that those who take the harder way through life are generally those who get the most inner satisfaction. In other words those who try to avoid the duties of parenthood and familism must pay a great cost in mental strain. Real happiness, like salvation, can not be bought from a slot machine. The normal social needs of a society point to a need for greater familism than is idealized at present by the academic and bourgeois classes in our contemporary society.

Now we come to the final functional determining trait of the normal family—the economic needs of a society. This is likewise a troublesome question. In societies such as ours, the poor have the children and the middle and upper classes do not have as many. This leads to movements seeking to bring about family restriction among the poor or the laboring classes. The idea is that if the poor reduce the size of their families, the middle and upper classes will increase theirs and those who have the money will also have the children. However, the real picture is more complicated.

Studies among people of our parent stocks in Europe demonstrate that the real situation is as follows. The upper and middle classes rapidly respond to birth control and family limitation propaganda, reducing their families to an average of a little more than two children per family—not enough replace these classes. Then a situation sets in for awhile in which the vacuums of the middle and upper classes are filled by the more qualified recruits from the lower classes. These lower classes have one or two children extra per family, more than enough to replace their numbers. They struggle for a livelihood and in that struggle many rise to middle and upper class positions where they also reduce the size of their families.

Such a situation has certain advantages and disadvantages. It does not drain out of the society some of the more aggressive stocks in that the ones successful in the struggle to rise sacrifice parenthood and reproductive fertility in so doing.

The situation is not so serious in countries where the lower classes are concentrated in agriculture in that its methods of social selection apparently keep many more of the qualified strains as breeders in the ranks of the masses than does an urban lower class.

The advantages are that the country still keeps on reproducing its numbers and can carry on. Further, at any time the ruling, the upper classes and the elite are composed only in part of former ruling classes but also of persons very familiar with the masses since they "rose from the wheelbarrow." Those portions of the middle and upper classes recruited most recently from the masses know the proletariat mind. They are capable of understanding the masses and at the same time are men who still are sufficiently earthy to rule them. A certain amount of earthy brutality is always necessary for a ruling class—a truth we recognize but seldom admit in public.

The situation however does not stop here. The lower classes also learn how to limit families. They don't stop at between 2 and 3 children per family but go to great extremes, finally ending with only one or two children per family. Then neither upper or lower classes are reproducing themselves. The deficits among the masses is greater than among the classes. A shortage of laborers and farmers develops. Immigrants enter the country in order to fill these positions.

This is the basic origin of the so-called fifth-column movements in Europe. The biggest fifth-column episode in Europe's history occurred in the breaking up of the Roman Empire. The barbarians filtered in as laborers, farm hands and tenants. The outside barbarian chiefs promised them the whole farms if they would support invasions by the barbarians. The Roman landlords did not want to see the Empire defeated but they did have to have some one to till the soil and bear the burdens.

One of the most interesting phenomenon of history has been this breaking down of Empires due to the expansions of more "barbaric" peoples who filter in to fill up the gaps caused among the masses by limitations of size of families. One reason this has not yet been felt in the U.S.A. is that up till now we have had no real powerful neighboring enemies.

There are other economic consequences of this change in the size of families. A decrease or a rapid decline in the rates of population growth brings about an economic stagnation due to the economic readjustments necessary. This in itself is too long a story to discuss here.

In the interim many countries try to "hire" their lower classes to have children. In the Roman Empire this was called "caducary" legislation. Tax paying, will making, inheritances, public office holding capacity, citizenship, and many other statuses, duties, privileges and obligations are affected by family size and the number of children. This is also too long a story to discuss here except that one or two pertinent points might be indicated.

Recent experience (as well as that of the Romans) proves that a country cannot hire its masses to have children. A country with the proper nationalistic revival can persuade its people to have children and can then help them bear the burdens. However, no country, to my knowledge, has been able to increase its birth rate materially by bonuses or exemptions for parents.

Thus a normal family, from the economic point of view, is, in the long run, one which will furnish a native born population for all needed economic classes in a country. No family system may be considered normal economically when the masses have been only 1 or 2 generations in the country, when the middle classes have been there only 2 or 3 generations and when even the upper classes are filled by a high

proportion of persons who can remember the time when their ancestors gave allegiances to other national systems. In such a country, the middle and the upper classes fight for political, economic and occupational control and the lower classes are debauched by undue favors from the struggling out-class which is seeking power and undue counter favors by the in-group seeking to retain power.

Much of these last few paragraphs describe the current American scene. It is put in neutral general terms to keep from angering anyone. Any well informed person can substitute the names of American groups and classes for the more general concepts used here.

Now what is a normal family, functionally defined? It is one of biologically-psychologically fit parents and children, economically independent and large enough to furnish a surplus of children to provide for the losses due to death, sterility, physical unfitness, wars, epidemics and natural expansion of a nation. It is large enough to provide for the biologic, social, demographic and economic needs of the nation and the individual. It certainly is at least two children larger than the middle class conceptions of small familism prevalent in our contemporary culture.

HowtoObtainNormalFamily Life

Interestingly about children is that a high proportion of the behavior concerning them lies in the realm of emotions. Family value systems not capable of "logical" prevision. One can see that in many cases persons well fitted to be parents from all points of view do not have children. Others, not considered so well fitted, do. But the important issue is not that parenthood is irrational but that the family is regulated by social and religious value systems. Its patterns of conduct are different from that logical system supposedly true of economic life. Children belong, at least partly, in that phase of life ruled by mysticism. A revival of mysticism or, what is a more apt expression, greater adherence to systems of religious and national faith often leads to an increase in the birth rate. A greater belief in the importance of sacrifice to insure long continued real happiness has the same effect.

Those who are having children in the world today fall into two categories. One is of the type which still keeps the value patterns of the past. They still believe in God, faith, sacrifice, work, and families. A few of them are undoubtedly simply animals who breed without thought, but most of the people who have children do the best they know concerning them. Our forefathers had numerous children. Of course they didn't know as much as we do but they knew enough to create this America for us, and that seems at times more than we know how to preserve.

The second type having children in this world today is represented by the person who has had a revival of faith, a new mysticism. In some countries these newly motivated parents are more plentiful than in others but generally in the western world there seems to be some signs of an increase of this type.

Population experts have told us what many knew beforehand, that in a country such as the United States the proportion of persons preserving the old traditions of parenthood are too few. Twenty-five years ago, population experts were predicting two hundred million people in the United States by the end of the century. Since then there have been numerous predictions of the population to be in the United States and every prediction dropped off a great many millions from the original estimate. The latest estimates indicate that unless there is an increase in fertility in America, the population 25 years from now will be considerably less than now.

Instead of standing room only, we don't have enough per sons to eat the food we produce each year. Since 1928 we have spent from a half to two billions of public money each year hiring the farmer not to grow so much food or storing the excesses on hand. We are also faced with a potential shortage of men to hold together this great nation of ours.

We have been so inculcated with the early 19th century Malthusian doctrines of population that many do not recognize the truth of this doctrine. However we must not ignore the importance of the forces of anti-familism in America. The same problems were faced in the later centuries of the Roman Empire and in the early history of the Christian Church.

It ought to be evident to us now that the problem of bearing and rearing Tomorrow's Children can no longer be left entirely to those few traditional families still remaining in the United States. Three million families with more than 4 children can't possibly make up for all the lack of sufficient children among the many millions with two children or less. If America, and New England, is to carry on well tomorrow, it must not only try to preserve its traditional families but to increase their numbers. This means the inculcation of new faiths of familism, a new mysticism, a willingness to sacrifice a "sensate" system of values for family life.

New England ought to be able to go far toward this psychological transition. In this area there are several basic population stocks which have always shown the ability to meet crises by a revival of effort and a rejuvenation offundamental social processes. Considerable depends upon the intelligence and solidarity of the leadership.

The next problem facing New England is that of the rearing of Tomorrow's Children. Studies of national efforts to increase the number of children by bounties, gifts and rewards have demonstrated that most of these are, in themselves, useless. A country cannot hire parents for its children. Children must come from motivations more strong than those stimulated by economic rewards.

On the other hand, aids in the form of employment, security of jobs, cheap food, improved housing and safe environment, medical care and greater public dignity and respect for parenthood do make the role of parent easier and do help to preserve the children already born. These things New England and America certainly can do in abundance.

New England and America possess no shortage of raw materials, land, and industrial technique. The organizing of these elements into a more suitable environment for Tomorrow's Children is again largely a question of leadership.

While one cannot predict what the New England of the future will do in regard to Tomorrow's Children, one can suggest what ought to be done in the light of present clearly discernible national and individual needs. One can point out that our people have met problems as serious as this before and have been able to surmount them. Finally, the ultimate victory will depend here, as in other areas of social behavior, upon the intelligence and virility of the leaders.