In S01E03 of Game of Thrones, Maester Aemon mentions to Tyrion that the Night's Watch is growing smaller in numbers, now to less than a thousand.

Since the Night's Watch consists mostly of bastards, criminals, rapists, etc., I'm finding it difficult to believe that these demographics of Westeros have plummeted to the point where the Night's Watch is nearly no more.

So, has there been any explanation as to why this has happened?

(Book-based responses equally welcome.)

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    Probably for the same reason the number of exiles to Australia went progressively down. Once you've deported all the criminals, there's a lot less crime. – Valorum May 28 '19 at 15:57
  • @Valorum Westeros has around 50 million people in it... only 1000 criminals + bastards + etc. being sent to the Night's Watch seems pretty low (and that's collectively over who knows how many years). – Charles May 28 '19 at 16:23
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    @Valorum I guess a side question would be, at what point does local government decide to not deal with the person and just send them to the Night's Watch (speaking only of criminals now). – Charles May 28 '19 at 16:24
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    Presumably a few hundred years ago, those being convicted of serious crimes would have been exiled to The Wall as a matter of course. Now it's only those that hit the sweet spot that sits between routine jailing and outright execution that get sent. – Valorum May 28 '19 at 16:35
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    I thought the idea was that no one in Westeros believes in the threats beyond the wall any more, so now they only send people to the Night's Watch to get rid of them. Kinda like in LotR when Gondor stops sending soldiers to man the walls in Mordor because no one thinks Sauron is coming back. – DaaaahWhoosh May 28 '19 at 17:00

The Night's Watch wasn't always made up of criminals avoiding execution and various people that others wanted exiled.

From https://gameofthrones.fandom.com/wiki/Night%27s_Watch

"The Watch was once highly regarded and their ranks were filled with volunteers from noble houses, as serving was a sign of selfless devotion to the protection of the realm."

The Wall and the Night's Watch were created thousands of years ago after The Long Night, which was the last winter the White Walkers made war on mankind. https://gameofthrones.fandom.com/wiki/Long_Night That particular war was so terrible that the survivors wanted to prepare for the event that the White Walkers returned, and so they made The Wall and the Night's Watch.

At first the memory of the Long Night was fresh, and so people volunteered to serve on the wall. It was also at that time considered an honorable alternative to execution for criminals.

But of course as thousands of years passed, most either thought the White Walkers were gone forever or else never existed in the first place. Those in the noble houses stopped volunteering because they saw no reason they should give up their titles and property to serve, and for criminals it was seen as a cowardly and perhaps miserable way to escape execution. It may even be the case that houses less honorable than Stark often denied criminals the option to serve, because people likely would have seen it as a criminal escaping justice.

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