Economics

Malthusian Theory Of Population: Features Criticism Applicability

Story Highlights
• Population of a country always increases in geometrical progression and doubles in every 25 years
• Food production increases in Arithmetical progression
• Population increases at a rapid race when compared to food supply
• As population increases in geometrical progression and food production increases in arithmetical progression, after sometime population growth exceeds supply of foods
• Preventive checks are applied by individuals. These checks limit the increase in birth rate.
• Positive checks are applied by Nature by increasing the death rate.
• This theory is applicable to the third world countries or developing countries in Asian and Latin America

Malthusian theory of population is a well known theory of population. It was associated with the name of Thomas Robert Malthus. According to Malthus, population increases at a rapid race when compared to food supply. He observed that population tends to increase at a geometrical progression where food production of a country increases in arithmetical progression.

This theory has some notable characteristics as laid down by Thomas Malthus, a British economist. The following are the important features of Malthusian theory of population.

Features of Malthusian Theory Of Population:

1. Population increases in Geometrical progression : Malthus stated that population of a country always increases in geometrical progression. He considered that population doubles for every twenty five years. He observed that population tends to increase at a geometrical progression namely 2, 4, 8, 16, 32. 64. etc.

2. Food production increases in Arithmetical progression : Another proposition of Malthus is that food production of a country increases in arithmetical progression, that is 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 etc. The arithmetical progressive increase in food production is due to the Law of Diminishing Returns in agriculture. As land is inelastic and fixed, it is not possible to increase the supply of food grains on par with the increase in population.

3. Population exceeds food supply : As population increases in geometrical progression and food production increases in arithmetical progression, after sometime population growth exceeds the supply of food stuffs. When the food supply becomes less compared to population growth, people face sufferings and they are plunged into starvation.

Checks To Population Growth :

Malthus pointed out that there are two possible checks which limit the population growth. These two are : 1) Preventive checks, 2) Positive checks.

1. Preventive checks : Preventive checks are applied by individuals. These checks limit the increase in birth rate, late marriages, self-restraint during married life, practice of celibacy etc. are some of the methods to be applied by the individuals to limit the size of their families and to reduce the birth rate.

2. Positive checks : Positive checks are applied by Nature. They influence the growth of population by increasing the death rate. They bring sufferings and hardship to the human beings. When population exceeds food supply, famines, epidemics, diseases, wars, earthquakes, floods etc. will occur. So, Positive checks are painful. Hence preventive checks are desirable to reduce the growth rate of population.

Criticism of Malthusian Theory Of Population :

This theory is not free from defects or criticisms. Several economists criticized Malthusian theory of population on the following grounds :

1. Increase in population in Geometrical progression is not correct: Malthus stated that population increases in geometrical progression. But his view is not correct. Such a mathematical calculation of increase in population is not possible in the case of mankind. Several economists have pointed out that even in England, population has not doubled in twenty five years. Besides, in some countries population is much below and negligible.

2. Exaggeration of facts regarding population and means of subsistence: Malthus exaggerate the facts regarding the increase in population and the corresponding decline in the means of subsistence. Malthus was of the opinion that increase in the means of subsistence leads to increase in population. But this is not the case in several countries.

3. Population growth leading to increase in labor force: Malthus has forgotten the fact that increase in population also increases the supply of labor. This further leads to the efficient utilization of natural resources and development of the economy. His view that additional population only acts as consumers is wrong. Because every man is born not only with a stomach to be fed but also with two hands to work. Hence Malthus ignored the aspect of labour force in population.

4. Excessive emphasis on Law of Diminishing returns: Malthusian Theory of  Population is based on the Law of Diminishing Returns. Malthus said that food production could not keep pace with population growth. But food production could be increased by following intensive and extensive cultivation in agriculture. Thomas Malthus failed to prophesy this matter.

5. Comparison between population and means of subsistence a wrong assumption: Malthus developed his theory of population by taking into consideration only two elements namely population and means of subsistence. He stated that a country is over populated when the food stuffs are inadequate for maintaining its population. This is a wrong comparison. For example production in England is not in ‘tune with the increase in population. However, England faced no problem of overpopulation. Instead, it, by exporting machinery and technology and by imparting the necessary food stuffs, was able to overcome the problems of shortage of food stuffs and large population. Thomas Malthus failed to consider the changes in the production of all goods for estimating the problems of over population.

6. Increase in population due to fall in death rate : The Malthusian theory of population considered that increase in birth rate is the unique cause for increase in population. He has forgotten the fact that fall in death rate also leads to increase in population.

7. Not applicable to all countries: The Malthus theory of population is applicable only to over populated countries. But it is not applicable to the under populated countries.

8. Interpretation regarding positive checks – not correct : Malthus stated that when a country is overpopulated, excessive population is reduced by positive checks like famine, floods, cyclones, epidemics, earthquakes etc. But these positive checks applied by Nature occur not only in overpopulated countries but also in under populated countries. In fact there is no relationship between overpopulation and positive checks.

9. Practice of self-restraint by individuals — an impossibility: Malthus suggested late marriages, Celibacy and self-restraint as preventive checks for limiting Population growth. But these methods are not practicable due to the under-education, ignorance and illiteracy of the people. Malthus did not advocate modern methods of family welfare for limiting the size of family.

Applicability of Malthusian Theory :

Despite the criticism leveled against Malthusian theory of Population, the theory is not completely irrelevant and unreal. There are many advantages and disadvantages with Malthusian theory. This theory is applicable to the third world countries where population growth has been alarming and distressing. The backward and developing countries in Asian and Latin American continents are burdened with overpopulation. For example in the case of India, Malthusian theory of population became real as its population almost doubled between 1940 and 1970. As a result the efforts made through five year plans for eliminating inequalities, poverty, exploitation, ill-health etc. have not succeeded completely.