Sir Thomas Robert Malthus (1766-1834) was a priest in England. He was the first to presents an important theory of population growth, in his book 'An Essay on the Principles of Population as it Affects the Future Improvement of Society' (first edition, 1798). This theory is famous know as 'Malthusian Theory of Population'.

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'Enquiry Concerning Political Justice, and its Influence on Morals and Happiness', a book of contemporary UK journalist William Godwin, has highly encouraged Sir Thomas Malthus to build up his theory.

Malthus mentioned some stages in his theory, such as :

  • Industrial Revolution : In this context, Malthus used the term 'class struggle'.
  • Deterioration of Economic Condition.
  • Discovery of natural laws.
  • Influence of contemporary thinkers, etc.

Assumptions

Malthus developed his theory based on some assumptions as follows :

  1. There is an urgent need of food for human survival.
  2. There exists a biological relation between each human being and it is necessary.
  3. There is a direct relation between standard of living and child bearing.
  4. Law of diminishing returns operates in agriculture.

Main Theory

According to Thomas Malthus, population of a country increases rapidly. But as the law of diminishing returns operates in agriculture, food supply does not increase such rapidly as of population.

He said that, population grows in geometric progress, e.g., 1, 2, 4, 8, 16, 32 and so on. It means each variable is two times greater than previous one. But, in the other hand, food supply increases in arithmetic progress, e.g., 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, and so on.

Malthusian_Theory_of_Population_Growth
Fig. : Diagrammatic Representation of Malthusian Theory of Population Growth

To him, as long as the food supply is sufficient, population will increase rapidly. But gradually a certain time will arrive when food supply will become insufficient for the population size of the country. Population will continue to increase. Consequently the society will divide into two classes – rich and poor, which will indirectly develop an capitalistic society.

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Way Out of this Imbalance

Malthus has mentioned two types of checks to mitigate this imbalance between population and food supply. These are as follows :

  • Preventive Check

Birth control is the preventive method in which people become aware of the future while voluntarily enhancing human characteristics. He points to the following as way of this method, such as, late marriage, birth control, etc.

  • Positive Check

Epidemic, starvation, etc. increase in a country for the insufficiency of food due to over population. As a result, the population begins to decrease. Not only the epidemic - starvation, but the natural calamities also may take part in this type of check, which is called Positive Check. Though a balance develops between food supply and population growth through positive check, however, it is highly transient. Because population again set in to increase at geometric progress.

Thus two checks act as two causes of slow increase of population.

Summary


  • Population should be limited according to the food supply.
  • Unless prevented by any checks, the population will increase.
  • The checks are influenced by moral thinking.

Criticism

His theory was a pioneer way of thinking. Though he first developed this unique theory of population growth, critiques have mentioned some criticism as follows :

  1. There is no certainty that the food supply will always increase in arithmetic progress. Supply may increase with the agricultural revolution. Thenceforth, it becomes possible to provide food for the increasing population.
  2. Population will increase along with the standard of living, but the control over birth was not as expected.
  3. His concept of food supply was not so strong, in the context of concerned country. It may be that the country is importing food or something else.
  4. There is no certain measure of optimum population. The idea of this theory is not always the case in all countries.
  5. The basis of biological relationship is groundless. The genetic method is in all human beings, but there is no certainty that it will be bred.
  6. Population increases geometrically, and food supply increases arithmetically – this concept is not applicable for all countries. There are many instances that, the population in USA has doubled in 100 years, in Japan it took 270 years, in Norway it took 280 years etc.
  7. As the population increases, supply of labour also increases as well. As a result, a country can become economically developed. But Malthus did not mentioned this point in his theory.
  8. Some critiques said that there is no certainty that the positive check will be effective for only when population grows.
  9. If a new resources are found in a new place, that resources can be utilized by establishing a settlement there. But Malthus did not lighten up this point in the theory.
  10. There is a positive relation between population growth and increase in labour force, but it was not mentioned by him in his theory.

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