What is Malthus theory on population?

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Thomas R. Malthus pioneered population studies and most of the debates about population pressure etc., still swirl around his classic study Essay on Population (1798).

Malthus noted that people increase through multiplication, whereas the food supply increases only by addition and is constantly being outrun by the growth of population.

Any increase in food production enables more people to survive until they have eaten up the increase. Malthus urged later marriages to keep down the birth rate, but he was doubtful that this policy of 'preventive checks' would be followed.

He saw no practical possibility of averting hunger famine and pestilence, which he termed as 'positive checks'. Organised charity and relief would only enable a few more to survive today so that they might starve tomorrow.

In the 1920s it was popular to believe that the events of the preceding century had disproved the Malthusian hypothesis. The world had seen the greatest population growth in its history, and at the same time the standard of living had improved rather than declined.

One reason is that Malthus failed to foresee the widespread use of improved methods of contraception. The contraceptive devices of his day were so crude and inefficient that he and other writers paid little or no attention to them. Another reason was that Malthus did not foresee the magnitude of the industrial and agricultural revolutions of the nineteenth and twentieth century's.

Great new land areas in North and South America and Australia were brought under cultivation. Improvements in agriculture rapidly boosted output per acre. For a time, birth rates' in the western world were falling so sharply and production was rising so rapidly that Malthus began to sound more like a gloomy old man than a gifted thinker.


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