The Endowment of Motherhood, by H. G. Wells
Looks at the World
Some few years ago the Fabian Society, which has been so efficient in
keeping English Socialism to the lines of "artfulness and the
'eighties," refused to have anything to do with the Endowment of
Motherhood. Subsequently it repented and produced a characteristic
pamphlet in which the idea was presented with a sort of minimising
furtiveness as a mean little extension of outdoor relief. These Fabian
Socialists, instead of being the daring advanced people they are
supposed to be, are really in many things twenty years behind the times.
There need be nothing shamefaced about the presentation of the Endowment
of Motherhood. There is nothing shameful about it. It is a plain and
simple idea for which the mind of the man in the street has now been
very completely prepared. It has already crept into social legislation
to the extent of thirty shillings.
I suppose if one fact has been hammered into us in the past two decades
more than any other it is this: that the supply of children is falling
off in the modern State; that births, and particularly good-quality
births, are not abundant enough; that the birth-rate, and particularly
the good-class birth-rate, falls steadily below the needs of our future.
If no one else has said a word about this important matter, ex-President
Roosevelt would have sufficed to shout it to the ends of the earth.
Every civilised community is drifting towards "race-suicide" as Rome
drifted into "race-suicide" at the climax of her empire.
Well, it is absurd to go on building up a civilisation with a dwindling
supply of babies in the cradles—and these not of the best possible
sort—and so I suppose there is hardly an intelligent person in the
English-speaking communities who has not thought of some possible
remedy—from the naive scoldings of Mr. Roosevelt and the more stolid of
the periodicals to sane and intelligible legislative projects.
The reasons for the fall in the birth-rate are obvious enough. It is a
necessary consequence of the individualistic competition of modern life.
People talk of modern women "shirking" motherhood, but it would be a
silly sort of universe in which a large proportion of women had any
natural and instinctive desire to shirk motherhood, and, I believe, a
huge proportion of modern women are as passionately predisposed towards
motherhood as ever women were. But modern conditions conspire to put a
heavy handicap upon parentage and an enormous premium upon the partial
or complete evasion of offspring, and that is where the clue to the
trouble lies. Our social arrangements discourage parentage very heavily,
and the rational thing for a statesman to do in the matter is not to
grow eloquent, but to do intelligent things to minimise that
Consider the case of an energetic young man and an energetic young woman
in our modern world. So long as they remain "unencumbered" they can
subsist on a comparatively small income and find freedom and leisure to
watch for and follow opportunities of self-advancement; they can travel,
get knowledge and experience, make experiments, succeed. One might
almost say the conditions of success and self-development in the modern
world are to defer marriage as long as possible, and after that to defer
parentage as long as possible. And even when there is a family there is
the strongest temptation to limit it to three or four children at the
outside. Parents who can give three children any opportunity in life
prefer to do that than turn out, let us say, eight ill-trained children
at a disadvantage, to become the servants and unsuccessful competitors
of the offspring of the restrained. That fact bites us all; it does not
require a search. It is all very well to rant about "race-suicide," but
there are the clear, hard conditions of contemporary circumstances for
all but the really rich, and so patent are they that I doubt if all the
eloquence of Mr. Roosevelt and its myriad echoes has added a thousand
babies to the eugenic wealth of the English-speaking world.
Modern married people, and particularly those in just that capable
middle class from which children are most urgently desirable from the
statesman's point of view, are going to have one or two children to
please themselves but they are not going to have larger families under
existing conditions, though all the ex-Presidents and all the pulpits in
the world clamour together for them to do so.
If having and rearing children is a private affair, then no one has any
right to revile small families; if it is a public service, then the
parent is justified in looking to the State to recognise that service
and offer some compensation for the worldly disadvantages it entails. He
is justified in saying that while his unencumbered rival wins past him
he is doing the State the most precious service in the world by rearing
and educating a family, and that the State has become his debtor.
In other words, the modern State has got to pay for its children if it
really wants them—and more particularly it has to pay for the children
of good homes.
The alternative to that is racial replacement and social decay. That is
the essential idea conveyed by this phrase, the Endowment of Motherhood.
Now, how is the paying to be done? That needs a more elaborate answer,
of which I will give here only the roughest, crudest suggestion.
Probably it would be found best that the payment should be made to the
mother, as the administrator of the family budget, that its amount
should be made dependent upon the quality of the home in which the
children are being reared, upon their health and physical development,
and upon their educational success. Be it remembered, we do not want any
children; we want good-quality children. The amount to be paid, I would
particularly point out, should vary with the standing of the home.
People of that excellent class which spends over a hundred a year on
each child ought to get about that much from the State, and people of
the class which spends five shillings a week per head on them would get
about that, and so on. And if these payments were met by a special
income tax there would be no social injustice whatever in such an
unequality of payment. Each social stratum would pay according to its
prosperity, and the only redistribution that would in effect occur would
be that the childless people of each class would pay for the children of
that class. The childless family and the small family would pay equally
with the large family, incomes being equal, but they would receive in
proportions varying with the health and general quality of their
children. That, I think, gives the broad principles upon which the
payments would be made.
Of course, if these subsidies resulted in too rapid a rise in the
birth-rate, it would be practicable to diminish the inducement; and if,
on the other hand, the birth-rate still fell, it would be easy to
increase the inducement until it sufficed.
That concisely is the idea of the Endowment of Motherhood. I believe
firmly that some such arrangement is absolutely necessary to the
continuous development of the modern State. These proposals arise so
obviously out of the needs of our time that I cannot understand any
really intelligent opposition to them. I can, however, understand a
partial and silly application of them. It is most important that our
good-class families should be endowed, but the whole tendency of the
timid and disingenuous progressivism of our time, which is all mixed up
with ideas of charity and aggressive benevolence to the poor, would be
to apply this—as that Fabian tract I mention does—only to the poor
mother. To endow poor and bad-class motherhood and leave other people
severely alone would be a proceeding so supremely idiotic, so harmful to
our national quality, as to be highly probable in the present state of
our public intelligence. It comes quite on a level with the policy of
starving middle-class education that has left us with nearly the worst
educated middle class in Western Europe.
The Endowment of Motherhood does not attract the bureaucratic type of
reformer because it offers a minimum chance of meddlesome interference
with people's lives. There would be no chance of "seeking out" anybody
and applying benevolent but grim compulsions on the strength of it. In
spite of its wide scope it would be much less of a public nuisance than
that Wet Children's Charter, which exasperates me every time I pass a
public-house on a rainy night. But, on the other hand, there would be an
enormous stimulus to people to raise the quality of their homes, study
infantile hygiene, seek out good schools for them—and do their duty as
all good parents naturally want to do now—if only economic forces were
not so pitilessly against them—thoroughly and well.