Welfare and Fertility

Is the goal of the so-called welfare state fundamentally dysgenic in nature? In 1936, the famous biologist Julian Huxley laid out a hard-hearted version of the hereditarian view in his Galton lecture, delivered before the Eugenics Society: The lowest strata…, allegedly less well endowed genetically…, must not have too easy access to relief or hospital treatment lest the removal of the last check on natural selection should make it too easy for children to be produced or to survive; long unemployment should be a ground for sterilization, or at least relief should be contingent upon no further children being brought into the world.

We must remember that this was written at the depths of the Great Depression, and that many of those on welfare were simply victims of failed financial policies, not bad genes. While the average welfare mother receives payments for only two years, never-married mothers who have babies in their teens average eight years or more of dependency.70 These are the so-called chronic welfare cases. On average the mothers of illegitimate children score ten points lower in IQ than mothers of legitimate children. These babies make an incommensurate contribution to the future pool of rejected, abandoned, and battered children.

The mechanism would appear to be economic. A young woman of average or greater ability can look forward to life’s many opportunities and finds little temptation in a modest welfare payment, whereas a woman of low intelligence may rationally see government assistance as a ticket to independence and freedom from the hand-to-mouth realities of a minimum-wage job. It would seem logical that the higher the payments, the greater the temptation. Nonetheless, the link between economics and fertility has been challenged as still unproven. Demographer Daniel Vining, for example, has pointed out that lower welfare payments in southern states has not led to significantly reduced fertility patterns.

We are faced here with a terrible dilemma. Society has an obligation to care for its weakest members, but the flip side of the coin is that in doing so we have significantly increased the fertility of low-IQ women (who generally tend to marry low-IQ men in what is known as “assortative mating”). And we pay them more for each child. Mothers on AFDC had an average of 2.6 children each; non-AFDC mothers averaged 2.1.74 This is a major factor in American fertility patterns. What to do? Deny poor women and their children financial assistance? Bribe the upper classes into childbearing? Or throw up our hands in dismay and allow society to be genetically dumbed-down? Indeed, given political realities, what can we do? Certainly, at the very least, it would behoove us to increase family-planning services to the poor.
It is a simple fact that current state policies – both domestic and foreign – already influence differential fertility patterns, despite the fact that the current political climate makes it virtually impossible even to discuss this factor. Since future generations by definition represent a zero constituency, the public sphere is largely defined horizontally, whereas vertical or longitudinal effects are mostly relegated to the private domain and thus ignored – that is, remain unregulated.

Eugenics opposes this horizontal/vertical opposition, maintaining that, since the unborn constitute a vastly greater potential population than do the currently living, their rights take precedence. Politics is, by definition, a struggle among the currently living, and what may well be a victory for some faction in their midst may well be a disaster for their children, just as the disasters of the parents may be to the children’s good fortune. We are now able to separate sex from procreation; either may occur without the other. It is now even possible for women to bypass the male’s sperm.75 Thus, while leaving the right to sexuality within the private sphere, eugenicists argue that procreational rights – inasmuch as they define the very nature of future people – can be ignored by society only to its own detriment.

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