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Malthusian Theory Of Population, Sociological and Economic View of The Population Issue

Industrialization, revolution in agriculture, deep-rooted economic and social transformations such as immigration from the countryside to cities, and rapid urbanization took place in Western Europe in the 19th century. In the same period, there was a significant demographic change. Throughout the 19. century, deaths in the West, especially infant deaths, declined. Despite this change in fatalities, the fertility rate did not decrease immediately. Prolonged life expectancy and not falling of fertilities immediately caused the rise of the population rapidly.

1801 1850 Rate of Increase
France 28,2 million 36,4 million %30
England 16 million 32 million %100

In the first half of the 19th century, while the population increased by 30% in France, in England.

There was a 100% population increase. In 1911, the population of England reached 45 million. The culminating point has been realized between 1870 and 1880 in Western Europe.

Malthus: The Controversial Name of Modern Demography

Malthus argued in his “An Essay on the Principle of Population” that

“population, when unchecked, increases in a geometrical ratio; subsistence only increases in an arithmetical ratio.” (Chapter I, paragraph 18, lines 1-2)

His second argument is that population growth reduces material welfare due to diminishing returns to labor on fixed land supply.

According to Malthus, the difference between population growth and food sources needs to be balanced. But how? The fertility of the population has to be controlled.

There are two ways to do it:

  1. Repressive or negative obstacles: They are defined as “the uncontrolled obstacles,” such as famine, wars, plagues that increase the death rates.
  2. Preventive measures: These measures aim at reducing the fertility rate. For instance, prostitution (non-reproductive sexual activity), moral restrictions (moral values that do not allow to have children without getting married), later marriage age (thereby delaying the age of having children), preventive checks to the population that limited birthrates.

Besides, Malthus strongly opposes social aids, which can be defined as the core of a social state. According to him, these aids spread poverty, contrary to ending poverty. The struggle for life is by nature and prevents people from laziness. Poverty is the guilt of the poor!

After Malthus, Neo-Malthusians, who was influential in the 20th century, suggested controlling poverty through contraceptions. What surprising is that even though contraceptives were suggested to prevent poverty, they were used to guarantee the future of kids by non-poverty families. Families had children as they can provide a bright future to their kids. That is to say; it made an adverse effect.

When Malthus asserted his theory, the world population was 990 million. Now, the world population is 7,8 billion. In this period, agricultural production increased due to developments in agricultural technology. However, the increase in the production of food products is continuously progressing in a way that will disrupt the balance of nature, pollute the environment, change the structure of foods, and make living conditions difficult for the next generations. 

It is necessary to look at Malthus’ thesis again from this point of view and to answer the question of what we can do to leave a better world to the next generations without polluting the environment more.

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