The arguments presented by Thomas Robert Malthus through An Essay on the Principle of Population are
certainly one of the most dramatic in this history of human thought; addressing
the limits of the earth and the potential dangers of population growth. He
lived as a British economist from 1766 up to his death in 1834. The paper he
produced was subsequently updated from its initial publication in 1798 up to
the sixth edition. While later publications were not done anonymously like the
initial publication, their purpose was to address the vast criticism he
received whilst also expanding on the detailed evidence used for his work and
his conclusions from that data.
The development of the Malthusian theory of population growth
isolated population growth as geometric progression whilst the sole other
factor, food production, only increases arithmetically. The rate at which
geometric progression occurred was at a common ratio of 2 every 25 years. This
meant every 25 years, from generation to generation, there was exactly double
the population on each cycle. The availability of food production only
increased arithmetically within the same cycle. This would mean over many
cycles, the difference between how much larger the population is in relation to
food production would become near incalculable; the population and its
requirements for food outstrip the possible amount produced. Thus showing how
the latter factor of population growth is much faster than economic growth
which incorporates agriculture.
A point of crisis is avoided through the regulation of
preventive as well as positive checks; ensuring that population does not
supersede its resources. Positive checks are actions that essentially lower the
lifespan to ensure population is regulated through increased mortality.
Examples of these are disease, warfare, famine and poor living environments.
The other is preventive checks which instead reduce a populations growth rate
through conscious choices individuals in the population make. Being a man of
religion, he did not support what he considered specific immoral restraints
such as birth control and prostitution but instead concentrated on methods such
as abstinence and marrying late. The difference between these tow checks is
preventive relays more on affecting the birth rates whilst positive checks,
which brought him much criticism, worked off of higher death rates in order to restrain
a swelling population.
Industrialisation and Green Revolution:
Malthus presented ideas that opposed many of the economists of
his own time where he deemed a somewhat dire future for humans through a
potential Malthusian catastrophe whereas many other economists believed that
technological progress may support population growth successfully whilst
Malthus believed these resources one arth will limit us indefinitely. Industrialisation
began in the 18th Century which transformed the long-term outlook on
Industrialisation whilst beginning in Britain which much of the
earnest being because of large resources of coal was followed shortly alongside
other European countries. The industrial revolution itself transformed European
countries so that agriculture, which was seen to be the centre of the economy
before by Malthus, was no longer the centre of the economy. The growth of
technology brought along many changes. The first was the advancements made in
agricultural science. This allowed farmers
Malthus suggested that’ positive checks’ of higher mortality
such as famine would be necessary to prevent population exceeding the amount of
food. However, positive checks did not contribute to the reason why
industrialised capitalist European countries escaped the Malthusian trap.
Instead the resources that he believed would solely increase to a much smaller
degree underwent large amounts of change due to advances in technology in
agriculture; increasing the carrying capacity.
One of the most prominent mistakes made by
Malthus involves this failure to either appreciate or anticipate the growth of
technology. These technological advancements were in the field of agricultural
science and consequently allowed farmers to make greater use of their lands
providing larger yields of product upon harvest.
underestimated the human capcity to increase food supply. He believed that food
supply would only increase arithmetically (1,2,3,4,5, and so on) however it
increased at a much faster rate with the help of technology and innovation
speeded up by the industrial revolution. “since 1961 food production per head
has risen by 20%” This increase in food production was aided by an expansion in
trade and low-cost agricultural producers like Argentina and Australia joining
the world economy. Even during Malthus’s lifetime, crop land was being expanded
rapidly as forsts were felled, and innovations such as crop rotation and
selective breeding brought large increases in yields. Developments in agricultural
technology arose, “specifically the mix of pesticides, better irrigation and
new strains of crops that constitute the so-called ‘ Green Revolution’ which
substantially aided food production. Technology has voosted agricultural
productivity hugely, allowing food production to keep pace with the
unprecedented global population boom of the 20th century. The green
revolution results in a spreading of technology to developing countries that
was previously only seen in those industrialised countries. Althought the
industrialising capitalist countries of Europe were not directly involved in
the ‘Green Revolution’ they were able to benefit from increase in production of
core foodstuffs such as rice, maize and wheat. With
an increase in agricultural productivity, many countries were able to exploit
the opportunity of economic growth without hinderance.
When it came to his predicitons on economic growth and population
growth going hand in hand, the capitalist countries of Europe demonstrated a
different notion where industrialisation lead to a decline in fertility rates.
This was first experienced in France. There are differing reasons behind the
fertility rate falling in France than there would be in England. It seems that in some poor rural French villages,
increasing social mobility went with a revolution-aided cultural change in the
status game, encouraging families to focus their social ambitions on raising a
fewer higher quality kids. High status folks focused their resources on fewer
kids, and your kids had a big chance to grow up high status too if only you
would also focus your energies on a few of them. This would create a
compounding effect over generations. With a revolution having taken place, much
of the social stratifications had weakened. This in turn facilitated individual’s
social ambitions and the limitation of family size allowed for this upward
social mobility. This link was further justified through the proposition that
wealth increases upon there being less children. It was the richest families
who reduced fertility, opposing a point of higher fertility suggested by
Malthus. With more wealth, there would be higher living standards, better investments
and more education for these children. There was a significant shift from what
was once child quantity to child quality.
One of the reasons for fertility falling at a higher rate in areas
such as Europe than around other parts of the world is the spread of female
education. There is a strong correlation between falling fertility rates and
literacy programmes. Educated women are more likely to go out of work, more
likely to demand contraception and less likely to want large families.
Demographers noticed it was these educated women that brought about major
changes in fertility out of the population. Compounded by this was efforts made
during these times by influential media through newspapers, radio, television
to strive for more females subsequently entering work. Through these means what
was previously nations with large-scale differences in fertilitry between
regions, it was after these means of media did influence spread reproductive
behaviour. Simple herd behaviour could lead everyone to adopt a specific option
in temrs of amount of children even though they could have potentially
preferred more. This describes how demographic transitions can become a
compounding domino effect.
The basic assumption of Malthus on passion between the sexes
has been questioned on the ground that the desire to have children cannot be
mixed up with passion and desire for sex. The desire for sex is a biological
instinct, whereas the desire to have children is a social instinct.
Contraception now provided a means for this biological instinct to be fulfilled
without sub sequential children being involved. He development of effective
contraception also made “restraint” a non-issue in terms of checking
population growth. Numerous schemes to educate individuals on contraception I
given under the NHS in the UK. Further technological advances through the
introduction of oral conception. Malthus
overemphasized the ‘positive’ checks and did not visualize the role of
‘preventive’ checks like contraceptives and family planning. It’s crucial to remember he still did account for
preventative checks but did not possibly account for how advanced contraceptive
methods would become or how prevalent it would be.
Industrialisation brought about an improvement within medicine
itself. This subsequently lead to a decrease in mortality rates. Specifically,
infant mortality. As incomes improved throughout this period in addition to
families with less children having more disposable income, access to medicine
was available for many, further decreasing mortality rates. Social mentalities
towards raising many children began to undergo changes. With the average
lifespan increasing, people would want fewer children. Changing views on having
many children just to ensure that some can make it to adulthood but rather than
all children can sustain life without the need to consider some dying. They
realised they no longer needed several babies to ensure that a couple would
survive. As people came to expect to live longer and with a higher quality of
health, they wanted fewer children.
Due to uncertainty about child survival, parents have a
precautionary demand for children. Rising survival probability leads to falling
fertility, eventually to investment into schooling and the demise of child labour.
Child labour can be an obstacle to development since it lowers the incentives
of parents to educate children. However, with legislation imposed several times
up till 1867 in the UK, the view on children was to be educated as opposed to
labour, especially within major cities.
Urbanisation played a large role in the decreasing Europe’s
fertility rate because as people moved from country to town or city, they also
found that children were no longer an economic asset that could be set to work
at an early age to earn money for the family, but a liability to be fed, housed
an educated. Worse, with too many children, a mother would find it hard to take
and keep a job, to add to the family income. Children were longer a guarantee
against penniless old age because in the new industrial society there were
likelier to go their own way rather than stay to look after their elders.
Europe was well on its way
through demographic transition from the mid-nineteenth century and reached the
replacement level of fertility at the end of the 20th century. The ‘replacement
level of fertility’ is the magic number that causes a country’s population to
slow down and eventually stabilise. ‘Europe went from peak. This helps
us visualise the population growth within industrialising capitalist European
countries and see over the time period the effect that certain changes had on
1: Showing demographic model thingy…
using demographic data from the UK constructively over the years we can
visualise changing rates prior to and during the 20th century
quantitatively whilst denoting the reasons behind these specific changes.
Looking at the death rate we see a gradual decrease from 1800 to the data
collected in 2000. Over the course of these two centuries we see that
improvements in medical care such as sterilisation, vaccines, better sewers,
water supply and sanitation. As well as the contributions by improving food
supply. Towards the latter part of the 20th century we see further
medical advances such as transplants and preventative medicine that further
reduce the mortality rate, negating the spikes in data from the world wars.
the other hand, reducing fertility is clearly shown here through the trend of
the birth rate line. Initially Birth rates up to 1900 was very high relative to
the current birth rate. With strong religious values that promote large
families, and the mindset of raising children for work in farming. High infant
and child mortality so the view on having many children to ensure survival of
some children. In addition to the technological advancements that brought along
contraceptives and family planning. With falling rates at the start of the 20th
century we see this demographic transition in place. Here falling infant
mortality as well as laws against child work so fewer needed in addition to
improved medical care and diet changed social perceptions on having a large
amount of children. Towards the end of the 20th century after 1950,
we see that the emancipation and education of women as well as changing from
large families to smaller ones in order to increase quality of life/
materialism. Later marriages as well as many family planning options changed
the birth rates. The government within Britain made major impacts through
initiation of family planning etc. Other countries within Europe such as France
also followed the same demographic pattern. There were also specific acts and
schemes used by the UK government to restrict birth rates. One key example was
the 1967 abortion act. Through making abortion in the UK legal birth rates
would only decrease birth rates. Religion that was perhaps a lot more prominent
is less prominent therefore there is less promotion of large families.
Malthus’ principle did not hold for the industrialising capitalist
countries of Europe as he got his demographic prediction wrong. He foresaw that
populations would carry on growing in times of economic prosperous. This model occurred
in many European countries, undergoing demographic transition. With birth rates
and death rates decreasing despite economic growth it was clear that his
predictions did not follow through.
Mass emigration out of Europe which did control the population
conclusion, assimilating the information discussed, I believe Malthus’s
principle failed to apply here because…
To conclude, there are several reasons that
Malthus’s principle failed to apply in the case of industrialising capitalist
countries of Europe in the 20th century. They include a decrease in birth and
death rates, urbanisation, a rise in female education and the industrial
revolution which resulted in new technology being developed such as that in
agriculture. They all collaboratively contributed to the escape of the
The specific intrinsic value of Malthus’ principles should not
be devalued having faced the test of time as is often the case where dead
writers are remote from our own understanding due to us knowing much more
information then they did. In hindsight, whilst easy, it is important to not
lose sight in his writings through ‘An Essay on the Principle of Population’
where we shouldn’t subject it solely to discussing Malthusian theory on his
observation of a pessimistic demise for humanity. Instead, dwell upon his actual
conclusion of the fact that humans have not all starved therefore, economic
choices must be at work. As with him, it is as an economist that we choose to
pursue and study these choices as well as their implications.
In Malthus’s defence, a demographic transition had never happened
before and therefore he was highly unlikely to correctly predict the future.
For most of history, people have had lots of children with many dying in
infancy therefore if there were no wars, epidemics or famines, more would be
born, more would survive longer and therefore population would increase. From
about 1000 to 1300, Europe enjoyed a spurt of economic growth. A lot of new
land was taken into cultivation, and the number of cities multipled. The population
doubled or trebled. These trends and statistics were most likely what Malthus
based his predictions on.
Perhaps he underestimated the role technology and innovation
could play in population growth.
sticking point with a lot of Malthus’s critics is his religious beliefs and how
they were incorporated into his theory.
In the past two hundred years, Europe has undergone
the demographic transition from high levels of fertility and mortality to low,
modern levels of birth and death rates. This led to lower rates of population
growth and the aging of the populations. Increased longevity, very low infant
and child mortality, and remarkably improved education and health have all been
part of this modernization process.
comparing the idea behind a technology-led decline in fertility in contrast to
a demography-led decline we can see that the significance of both is prevalent
but a demography-led change if one that is more prevalent within the 20th
century, explaining how an increase in income le to a fall in fertility.
all collaboratively contributed to the escpae of the Malthusian prophecy.