Malthusian Theory of Population


The population is the number of inhabitants living in a particular geographical area. In the present scenario, the population is the most discussed subject. The human population is ever-increasing day by day. The health, safety, and well-being of humans are a point of concern for all nations with respect to the increasing number. Managing growing populations with the available resources is a complicated task. The quality and quantity of food available for the present generation impact the health of future generations to some extent. There are many theories on the population among which Malthusian Theory is well known.

History of Malthusian Theory of Population

Malthusian theory of population was proposed by Thomas Robert Malthus in 1798 in an essay on the “Principle of the Population”.

Malthus was an economist and was born into a wealthy family in 1766. He witnessed the changes in people's lives during the industrial revolution. The human population in Britain along with many other countries has increased at an alarming rate along with the simultaneous growth in industrialization. This made living in cities miserable and survival was more of an issue to face the challenging conditions.

Malthus believed that humans can also reproduce in a manner that plants and animals do in large numbers. This can give rise to famines. His beliefs along with the existing conditions have put forward the proposal of Malthusian Theory.

Critical Elements

According to Malthus, the human population can increase in a geometric manner while the food supply can increase in an arithmetic manner only. Growth in the human population is largely controlled by birth rate and can experience food scarcity. The rising population can be controlled by certain obvious positive checks.

There are certain critical elements in the Malthusian theory.

Population - Food Supply

  • According to Malthus, if a population grows in a geometric fashion, its number gets doubles within 25 years while the nutritional supply increases slowly in an arithmetic manner.

  • For a better understanding, the geometric increase is 1, 2, 4, 8, 16, 32, 64, 132, and so on. While an arithmetic rise is 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, and so on.

  • In no manner does the geometric rise match with the arithmetic rate and if the population and food supply follow this rate of increase, there will be a definite imbalance between the rising population and the available food supply.

Checks on Population

  • With the existing disequilibrium between population and food supply, the conditions of food scarcity develop. Wars, famines, epidemics, and starvation can occur and humans may suffer starvation and can die off.

Positive Checks

  • Certain checks are positive checks that are posed by nature itself. Nature brings down the growing population to the available food needs. Conditions like famines, epidemics, earthquakes, tsunamis, and floods take up the action of balancing the population if it grows out of hand.

  • Also, conditions of poverty, unemployment, and poor health care pose definite risks for the human population. All of which can reduce life expectancy leading to deaths.

Preventive Checks

  • These are man-made checks to control the growing population. Malthus believed that large family size has a definite impact on the quality of living of a family.

  • In order to improve the living quality, humans have to involve in strenuous labor to support the members of the family.

  • Indulging in preventive checks like late marriage and self-control in marital life can limit the family size which has a positive side for human life quality and expectancy.

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Criticism of Malthusian Theory of Population

  • The Malthusian theory was in opposition to the optimistic approach. However, Western Europe witnessed an increase in food supply because of the simultaneous technological developments during that period. As a result, people's living standards were not much deviated which was contrary to that proposed by Malthus.

  • Malthus was more concerned with the limited food supply out of which the population may starve. However, technological outbreaks, fertilizers, manures, high-quality seeds, improved farming practices and the use of machinery in agriculture have led to agricultural expansion. All of this contributed to the increased food production which was again a contradiction to Malthusian theory.

  • Malthus focused on agriculture solely as the mode of food supply. And limited fertile lands cannot support the growing population was the belief of Malthus. However, globalization has given a chance to procure food using other natural resources. Many countries exchanged supplies of natural resources like coal and iron ores with food supplies to satisfy the hunger need of their populations.

  • Although Malthus predicted the growth rates of population and food supply, he has not provided the estimations.

Importance of the Theory

Although Malthusian theory experienced certain contradictions, it gained importance with its ideologies.

  • Humans can produce progeny at a rate as plants or other animals do in the living world. Although the progeny in a reproductive cycle is limited to one, two, or in some cases three, humans have an innate belief in promoting their ancestry and lineage. All of which can lead to the population last on a long-term base.

  • History encountered the occurrence of positive checks like natural disasters during population explosions as stated by Malthus.

Hence Malthusian theory is partially valid since it provided certain ideologies that cannot be contradicted.


Population explosion is a major challenge in many countries. Thomas Robert Malthus was an economist. He witnessed changes in human lives due to the industrial revolution. He proposed the Malthusian theory concerning the human population. Malthus stated that the human population increases geometrically while the food supply increases arithmetically only. This can lead to an imbalance between the rising population and the required food needs. Positive checks like natural disasters, and warfare limit the human population. Humans can adopt certain preventive checks to limit the population to avoid famines and poverty. Malthusian theory faced criticism although it provided valid ideas to some extent.


Q1. What is a Malthusian catastrophe?

Ans. A Malthusian catastrophe is an event that follows a population explosion when the dietary needs of a growing population are not met by the actual agricultural produce. It can be a famine or war.

Q2. What is a population trap?

Ans. Malthusian catastrophe is also called a population trap, Malthusian crisis or Malthusian crunch. It can be a famine or war that puts a check on an overgrown population.

Q3. How did industrialization influence the lives of Britain's population?

Ans. Industrialisation introduced new technologies and inventions in farming and also helped farmers grow more livestock. All of these have changed people's lives in Britain.

Q4. What are the current issues that the Malthusian theory excluded?

Ans. The Malthusian theory does not explain present-day issues like urbanization, migration, and reducing birth rates in poor and developing countries.

Q5. What was Malthus's opinion on Poor law?

Ans. Malthus was severely against Poor law. He believed the Poor law aided in the rapid population increase which can lead to poverty that he was fearing for.

Updated on: 09-Jan-2023


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