23 February 2013 | Leicester Mercury

(Headline by Leicester Mercury)

Explanation: A correspondent had written “we had no family planning before the 1960s! Mr Danaher links, without any evidence, hunger and civil unrest in the developing world to the increase in population. Does he really mean to say these problems did not exist before the glorious advent of contraception?” The letter below was my attempt to clarify the matter.

Francisca Martinez writes “we had no family planning before the 1960s” (“It’s always ‘blame poor'” Mailbox 19 Feb). The term ‘family planning’ did indeed only become popular in about 1960, before that it was usually called birth control. This started to be used widely after 1877, when the sensational trial of Charles Bradlaugh and Annie Besant for publishing a pamphlet on birth control informed people about it.

In 1877, the birth rate in England and Wales was 35 births per 1000 population. This rate fell in every decade from then until the 1930s, when it was below 15 births per 1000 population. The United Kingdom’s birth rate is now 12 births per 1000 population.

Before this fall in the birth rate the condition of the poor in England was horrendous and can be read about in the works of Charles Dickens and Karl Marx. It was rather like the conditions in parts of Africa today.

Gerald Danaher

Note: I felt that I had to keep the statistics down to a minimum, but here are a few taken from the United Nations Population Division and from The Oxford History of England

  • In Africa in 2005-2010 the birth rate was 34 births per thousand population.
  • In Africa in 2005-2010 the death rate was 11.9 deaths per thousand population. (The young population in Africa explains this low death rate.)
  • In the United Kingdom in 1877 the death rate was 21 deaths per thousand population.
  • In the United Kingdom the death rate in 2005-2010 was 9.5 deaths per thousand population.

(For note on ‘it’s always “blame poor” ‘ see ‘A prolonged tragedy‘ December 2011)