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Malthusian model

  The economist Thomas Robert Malthus (1766-1834) published An essay on the principle of population in 1798 and it is to his ideas that subsequent thinking on the economic approach to demography may be traced. While he modified his own position (for example between the first essay of 1798 and the second, more detailed and reasoned, account of 1803), and subsequent developments of Malthusian theory are complex, his general view was that population tends to increase faster than the means of subsistence, thus absorbing all economic gains, unless controlled 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 …) and \'in two centuries 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\'. His \'positive and preventive checks\' which occur in human populations to prevent excessive growth relate to practices affecting mortality and fertility respectively. The \'positive\' checks included wars, disease, poverty and, especially, lack of food; his \'preventive\' checks included principally \'moral restraint\', or the postponement of marriage, and \'vice\', in which he included adultery, birth control and abortion. He saw the tension between population and resources as a major cause of misery for much of humanity. Malthus was not, however, in favour of contraception, since its use did not generate the same drive to work hard as would a postponement of marriage. He stressed the negative correlation between station in life and number of children and, in order to induce in the lower classes the self-control and social responsibility he saw in the middle classes, Malthus asserted that the poor should be better paid and educated (see class).

Malthus\'s views have been challenged in a great variety of ways. He certainly established the thesis that population was growing quickly and that people are biological as well as social beings, depending on sexual drive and food. Yet he has been criticized, for example, for confusing moralist and scientific approaches and for being a poor prophet of events. Marx was one of the most powerful critics of Malthus, asserting that poverty is the result of the unjust social institutions of capitalism rather than of population growth. No country of Europe or North America, except possibly Ireland, conformed to the Malthusian prediction. During the nineteenth century economic growth far outdistanced population growth, resulting in rising standards of living; and, despite this, birth-rates declined first in France and Sweden and then more generally. It has also been argued that Malthus\'s reactionary views impeded the development of demography as a science. Nevertheless, the power of the Malthusian argument lies in its acuity as a system of reasoning and it is for that reason that Malthus\'s ideas are still debated two centuries after their initial formulation. (PEO)

Suggested Reading Coleman, D. and Schofield, R., eds, 1986: The state of population theory. Forward from Malthus. Oxford: Blackwell. Dupâquier, J., Fauve-Chamoux, A. and Grebenik, E., eds, 1983: Malthus past and present. London and New York: Academic Press. James, P. 1979: Population. Malthus: his life and times. London and Boston: Routledge and Kegan Paul. Malthus, T.R. 1970: An essay on the principle of population and a summary view of the principle of population, ed. A. Flew. London: Pelican. Malthus, T.R. 1990: An essay on the principle of population; or a view of its past and present effects on human happiness; with an inquiry into our prospects respecting the future removal or mitigation of the evils it occasioned: the version published in 1803, with variora of 1806, 1807, 1817 and 1826, ed. P. James. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Petersen, W. 1979: Malthus. London: Heinemann; Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. Wrigley, E.A. 1969: Population and history. London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson.



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