Malthus Theory of Population

The British economist and demographer Thomas Robert Malthus undoubtedly was the first scholar two propound a population theory based on scientific and natural law. His book on the principles of population growth was published in 1798. Malthus traveled various West European countries and collected many important data in support of his population theory. Thus, the Malthus theory of Population was based on his experience and observations.

His motive was definitely humanitarian, as he was always thinking and trying about the welfare of humanity.

Assumptions of the Theory:

While formulating his population theory, Malthus assumed the following postulates:

  • Food is necessary to the existence of human being and the population is necessarily limited by the means of subsistence.
  • The passion between the two opposite sexes is necessary and will remain nearly in this present stage.
  • Law of diminishing return applies to agriculture.

Having assumed these postulates, Malthus stated that the power of population to reproduce is indefinitely greater than the power in the earth produce substance for the population.

His general view was that population tends to increase faster than the means of subsistence, thus absorbing all economic gains, unless uncontrolled by what he termed ‘preventive’ and ‘positive’ checks. He maintained that population, if unchecked, tended to increase at a geometric rate (i.e. 1, 2, 4, 8, 16…….) while subsistence increased at an arithmetic rate (1, 2, 3, 4, 5…….).

Malthus Theory of Population

Malthus concluded that the population doubles after every 25 years. According to him, in two centuries the proportion of the population would be to the means of subsistence as 256 to 9, in three centuries as 4096 to 13, and in two thousand years, the difference would be almost incalculable.

Thus, giving these ratios Malthus intended to highlight the differences between the power of population to increase and the power in the earth to produce subsistence for people.

Malthus believed that the table of nature is laid for a limited number of guests and those who come uninvited must starve.

Malthus believed that the passion between the sexes led people to marry at a relatively early age and would result in such a large number of births that the population increase sharply and doubles itself in few years if not checked by misery and vice.

The widening gap between population and subsistence will increase a human tendency to press upon the means of subsistence. Consequently, society gets divided into two class of people: one rich and the other poor which gives rise to capitalistic setup.

Rich people are the owners of the means of production, earn profit and accumulated capital. Rich people with the increased income enhance their conception but do not like to increase their population as they are feared of decline in their standard of living.

On the other hand, the poor constituting the labor class are engaged to increase their population as their source of income depends only on manpower. In such a way, the rich will continue to grow richer and the poor to grow poorer.

In the opinion of Malthus, the increasing gap between the population and resources or subsistence shall ultimately lead to the point where misery and poverty shall become inevitable. According to him when the growth of population reached that point, it could be kept in check only by war, vice, and misery.

According to Malthus, the fast-growing population can be checked naturally or artificially. The excessive population is controlled by two types of checks: the positive checks and the preventive checks. The checks in the human population to prevent excessive growth relate to practices affecting death rate and birth rate respectively.

His positive checks included wars, flood, earthquake, disease, hunger, poverty and particularly lack of food.

His preventive checks included mainly moral restraint like the postponement of marriage, birth control and abortion.

Malthus observed detention between population and resources as a major cause of the misery of much of the human population.

The chart given below illustrates the process of increasing population with geometric progression and food supply with arithmetic progression starting from a balanced stage between population and food supply and ending at a new balanced stage between population and food supply. Thus, it explains the cycle of population growth.

Criticisms of the Malthus Theory:

Malthus’s use has been challenged in a great variety of wages. Some drawbacks of Malthus theory of population are given below.

  • Malthus’s basic premise on the passion between the sexes has been criticized on the plea that the desire to have children cannot be mixed up with passion and desire for sex because the desire for sex is a biological instinct, whereas the desire to have children is a social instinct.
  • The application of geometrical growth rate for population and arithmetic growth rate for means of subsistence is also challenged. The population has rarely grown in geometrical progression and means of subsistence have rarely multiplied in arithmetic progression.
  • The period of 25 years assumed by Malthus as the doubling period for a population is far away from reality because this very much from country to country depending upon the stage of its economic and demographic advancement.
  • Malthus is also criticized for ignoring the role of changing technology and consequent improvement in the level of subsistence and transformation of the social and economic setup of a society. Ignore the potentials of the industrial and technological revolution in increasing the means of subsistence. The economic and demographic history of modern Europe has disproved Malthus theory of population.
  • The Malthus theory is based on the false hypothesis that the rate of increase of population remains invariable during many continued series of generations. This hypothesis has been denied by irregularities in the rate of population increase experienced by the United States, France, Japan, and many other countries of the world particularly by East European countries.

In spite of all these criticisms, Malthus theory of population growth has been successful to highlight the urgent need of maintaining a balanced relationship between population and means of subsistence. It is the influence of Malthus principle of population that people of today realize the need of restoring to contraception to keep their family size within a reasonable limit.