Malthusian Theory of Population Growth

Thomas Malthus was a demographer and economist. His main interest was in studying the impact of growing population on the economy of a country and welfare of its people. Malthus explained his theory of population growth in “An Essay on the Principle of Population” published in 1798. Malthusian theory of population growth is based on the empirical experience of Western Europe. He is considered the pioneer of demographic studies.

Basic Idea

Malthus observed that the population grows faster than food supply. Therefore, growing population absorbs any economic gains. Above that, the economy is not able to fulfill the economic needs of surplus population. Hence, there is a natural decline in population due to famines, poverty, malnutrition etc.

Assumptions of Malthusian Theory

  1. Food is essential for humans to survive.
  2. The passion between the two sexes is necessary and will remain so in its present intensity.

Assertions by Malthus

  1. Population growth is always greater than the food production capacity of the Earth.
  2. Population grows at geometric rate whereas the food grows at arithmetic rate.
  3. Size of Population doubles every 25 years.

Given the above assumptions and assertions, Malthus argued that the growth of population at geometric rate will lead to shortage of food resources. The carrying capacity of Earth becomes lower than the needs of population. Therefore, population starts to die out and natural balance is restored.

Means of Population Control

Malthus was in favour of welfare state. However, he believed that the welfare of people can be maximized by controlling the population. There are two types of population checks.

  1. Positive Checks: Malthus was a pessimist and considered the wars, epidemics, droughts, famines, poverty etc. as positive means of controlling the population. These events occur due to increase in population. As a result, wars break out for control of resources and shortage of food leads to hunger and poverty.
  2. Preventive Checks: These checks are aimed at preventing the population growth beforehand. These checks include moral restraint from sexual intercourse, delay in marriage and vices such as adultery, birth control and abortions.
  • Malthus argued that the imbalance between needs of population and carrying capacity (resources) of Earth is primary cause of misery of people.
  • Malthus did not support the idea of using contraception because use of contraception did not generate same drive to work hard as postponing the marriage. He meant that the men will work hard and earn money to marry the best woman in society, whereas, if they use contraception before marriage, they will not work hard to for marriage.
  • Malthus argued that greater number of children leads to higher tension in life.
  • He supported better education for poor and better wages for labor class.

Criticism of Malthusian Theory

  1. Malthus completely ignored the role of institutions in family planning and control over population.
  2. His theory is pessimist and completely ignores the role of technology in increasing food supply and reducing birth rate.
  3. The desire of sexual intercourse and having children are not synonyms.
  4. The empirical data of population growth of world shows that the population did not double in 25 years.
  5. Natural calamities such as war, famines, drought can occur in sparsely populated areas also. These are not specific to densely populated regions.
  6. Calling wars, famines, and droughts etc. as positive checks is inhuman. These are events of great misery.

After Malthus, many theorists has explained the trajectory of population growth but the Demographic Transition Model explains the population growth more appropriately.