Malthusian theory: what it says, context, criticism

Malthusian theory or Malthusianism is a demographic theory developed by the English economist Thomas Malthus (1766-1834). According to his formulations, the population and food production grew at different rates, which would condition the lack of food and generalized poverty. Developed during First Industrial Revolution, the Malthusian theory was widely criticized for its pessimism and the way it suggested dealing with population growth.

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Summary on Malthusian theory

  • Malthusian theory was developed in the context of the First Industrial Revolution, marked by urbanization and population growth in Great Britain.

  • According to Malthusian theory, population grows in geometric progression (2, 4, 8, 16…) while food production increases by arithmetic progression (2, 4, 6, 8…), that is, in different rhythms.

  • Malthusianism is characterized by pessimism in the face of the constant growth of the world population, which, according to this theory, would lead to a devastating scenario of hunger and misery.

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  • The theory was criticized for its pessimism and the proposed measures to contain the population growth, which focused mainly on the behavior of the poorest strata of the population.

  • There was no materialization of the Malthusian theory, which did not take into account technological advances and responsible for improvements in several areas, especially in agricultural production and medicine.

  • The neo-Malthusian theory was developed in the mid-20th century and was based on the theory developed by Thomas Malthus.

  • The main criticisms of neo-Malthusianism were gathered in reformist theory.

Historical context of Malthusian theory

The Malthusian theory, so called because it was developed by the British economist and clergyman Thomas Malthus (1766-1834), was first published in the year 1798 in Great Britain, in a book called essay on O population principle. The work is contemporary to one of the fundamental historical periods for the world economic and productive system, which corresponds to the First Industrial Revolution, which began precisely in the England, and the consolidation of capitalism.

Industrialization represented the automation of production processes, which increased production capacity and definitively transformed the working relationships now inside the factories, and no longer in the workshops, and also in the countryside, where production took place agriculture. O rural exodus intensified in this period, with a huge population leaving the countryside towards the cities in search of work. As a result, English cities went through a period of rapid growth.

THE England's general population also grew considerably during the Industrial Revolution, jumping from almost 8 million inhabitants in the mid-eighteenth century, when its first phase began, to almost 20 million a century later, the same period in which the Second Industrial Revolution. This growth was conditioned not only by the new spatial and work dynamics arising from the urban and economic context, but also by recent medical discoveries, such as the smallpox vaccine, which mainly provided a reduction in the rates of mortality.

What does the Malthusian theory say?

Malthusian theory, or Malthusianism, correlates population growth with food production, which, according to Malthus, take place at different rates.

According to this theory, the population would grow at a rate of geometric progression (2, 4, 8, 16, 32, 64…), doubling every 25 years. Food production, on the other hand, grew more slowly, following an arithmetic progression (2, 4, 6, 8, 10, 12…). In general terms, therefore, the Malthusian theory says the human population growth capacity is very high compared to à capacity from the earth to produce food, which would thus generate a scenario of shortages and hunger.

Features of Malthusian Theory

Malthusianism is characterized by its pessimism about the continuous population growth world and the effects that this trend would have on large-scale food production, on the expansion of the poorest strata of the population and even on world conflicts.

As we have seen, Malthus believed that agricultural production would not be able to meet the increased demand for food resulting from population growth. The population growth capacity was infinite, while the limited food production would not be able to supply everyone. As a result of this discrepancy between population and food availability there would be the installation of a scenario of misery and hungryall over the world, which would result in the aggravation of extreme situations, bringing new diseases, installing conflicts and wars and several other social and economic ills.

In view of the solutions proposed by Malthus to prevent this scenario from materializing, his theory was also classified as conservative and even moralistic, making it the target of many criticism.

Read too: Population growth and scarcity of natural resources

Criticisms of Malthusian Theory

The Malthusian theory was the object of much criticism in the academic and scientific circles. In addition to his considerations about the dynamics of population growth, Malthus spoke about the measures that would be necessary to avoid a socio-economic collapse and the rise of world poverty that he himself preview.

According to Malthusianism, it was necessary to control the number of children per family, especially the poorest, which would be done not through the use of contraceptive methods, but through behavioral changes and enforcement of some rules, such as restricting marriage to younger people and abstinence sexual. Measures of assistance to the needy population were also not welcomed in Malthusianism, as well as the suggestion of reducing wages to discourage births.

Thus, Malthus' theory was much criticized by place the burden of population growth on the poorest part of the population, in addition to his belief in the inevitable misery to which the population was destined.

Why was the Malthusian theory considered wrong?

the malthusian theory did not materialize. The English economist analyzed two scenarios to compose his propositions, being that of Great Britain at the beginning of the Industrial Revolution and that of the United States at a time when the majority of the country's population lived in rural areas. Thus, the population dynamics considered by Malthus were temporally and spatially restricted.

malthus has not yet taken into account the impacts of scientific and technological progress brought by the Industrial Revolution both in food production, providing new cultivation techniques and ways to increase the productivity of the land, as well as in medicine, producing positive impacts on people's quality of life, reducing mortality and increasing yours Life expectancy. These impacts, it is important to remember, have spread worldwide.

Thus, we have that poverty and hunger in the world are not the result of population growth, but aspects linked to the economic system and poor income distribution.

Malthusian Theory vs. Neo-Malthusian Theory

THE Neo-Malthusian theory was developed approximately two centuries later of Thomas Malthus' theory, more precisely after the end of the Second World War (1939-1945), when there was a phase of intensification of urbanization and population growth in the underdeveloped countries.

Neo-Malthusians, like Malthus' early theory, believed that continued population growth would lead to the depletion of the planet's natural resources. There was also the idea that it was precisely population growth that was responsible for the lower level of socioeconomic development in these nations.

The main point of difference in relation to Malthusianism is the way to contain this growth, which would take place through policies of birth control to be implemented in underdeveloped countries, such as through the use of contraceptive methods, for example.

Thomas Malthus

Thomas Malthus
Thomas Malthus was the formulator of the Malthusian theory.

Thomas Robert Malthusborn in England on February 14, 1766, in a wealthy family and very close to great thinkers of the 18th century, such as David Hume.

Malthus began his higher education studies at the age of 18 at the Jesus College from the University of Cambridge, where he graduated in 1788 and at the same time was ordained an Anglican clergyman. In the year 1805, Malthus had already left the Jesus College and became professor of political economy at the College of the East India Company.

Thomas Malthus is best known for his population theory, Malthusianism, published in 1798 and revised in 1803. He died December 23, 1834 in the county of Somerset, England.

reformist theory

Reformist theory is one of the demographic theories developed from the second half of the twentieth century, emerging as a counterpoint to neo-Malthusian theory.According to the reformist theory, population growth would not be responsible for causing poverty and underdevelopment in the world, but it would, in fact, be one of its consequences. To solve this problem, there should be extensive investments in improving the population's quality of life, notably in sectors such as health and education, which would be able to control growth rates populational.

Read too: World population data

Solved Executions on Malthusian Theory

question 1)

(UFPB) In 1798, Thomas Malthus published Test on the population, in which he developed his demographic theory in which the population would tend to grow in a geometric progression, doubling every 25 years. On the other hand, food production would grow in arithmetic progression and would have a certain production limit, as it depends on a fixed factor: the territorial extension of the continents.

In this context, this theory, over the years, has revealed itself:

a) true, since food production is strictly related to the extent of arable land.

b) false, because the population would tend to grow in arithmetic progression, and food production, in geometric progression.

c) true, as there is currently a lack of food in many countries due to their small territorial extension.

d) false, because food production, with the use of technologies, can increase regardless of the spatial extent of planting.

e) true, because the population grows in geometric progression, mainly in emerging countries like Brazil.

Resolution: Alternative D

Malthus' theory has proved to be false, as the constant advance of science and productive technologies has provided an increase in the productivity of the land without necessarily expanding the cultivated areas, which facilitates meeting the demand for foods.

question 2

(Fatec) At the end of the 18th century, the English economist Thomas Malthus wrote a book in which he worked on the idea that hunger and misery result from the mismatch between population growth and production of foods. According to Malthus:

a) the pace of population growth tends to decrease as investments in education increase.

b) demographic growth accelerates the withdrawal of natural resources, causing irreversible damage to the environment.

c) the accelerated growth of the population in underdeveloped countries is a consequence and not the cause of misery and poverty.

d) the increase in population occurs in geometric progression, and food production increases in arithmetic progression.

e) the increase in population makes governments increasingly invest in health, leaving aside productive investments.

Resolution: Alternative D

Malthus claimed that population grew in geometric progression, while food production was slower and took place in arithmetic progression.

By Paloma Guitarrara
Geography teacher

Source: Brazil School -
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