Is the Malthusian Theory Valid in Today’s Context?

Malthusian Theory

Thomas Robert Malthus, (1766 – 1834) was an English cleric, scholar and influential economist in the fields of political economy and demography. Malthus believed that population tends to grow at an exponential rate making it difficult for food production to keep catching up with its demand. Malthus, in his writings, now commonly referred to as Malthusian Theory suggested two schools of thoughts on population control, which are as follows:

  1. Preventive Checks
  2. Positive Checks
  • We may explain preventive checks as follows: 

People shouldn’t be getting married until they are confident about their livelihood. This point would mean that any person before getting married should finish their education, secure a job and establish themselves enough to sustain a family. Unless in a position to do so, they shouldn’t get married. Malthus termed these as Moral Restraints.

  • Where-in, we may review positive checks as follows: 

This theory refers to wars, disease, famines, which will bring down the currently increased population, forcing it back to normal levels.

The merit of Malthusian theory is that it is valid in today’s context too almost after 222 years of its conceptualisation. 

Now let us discuss the preventive checks and if they hold validity in today’s scenario.

  • While listing out the measures of population control, we lay great emphasis on the following points:
  1. Late marriage
  2. Education completion
  3. Securing a sustainable job
  4. Women empowerment

We must note that these attributes are common in a developed society with low population. Higher education and securing a job takes time and maturity, which effectively pushes back the age of marriage for both the genders pursuing these goals. Where-in with such understanding it is natural for a couple to plan their family better and not getting carried away by social norms and practices. To dive deeper, the attributes listed above are not easily achievable in rural areas, and people will need to move towards urban areas to realises their life goals. While in urban areas, expensive cost of living has given rise to the prevalence of nuclear families; additionally, this high-cost factor involved has also rationalised the urge to produce more children. 

The ‘Positive Check’, in our opinion is a thing of a by-gone era. (Disclaimer: At the time of writing this article though the world is facing an unprecedented crisis in the form of an endemic against which the human race doesn’t have immunity or a cure yet, and it is a bit early to comment on it with regards to the perspectives we are discussing here-in). 

It is common knowledge that improvement in medical science has increased the average age of human beings. We are aware that these are the most peaceful times of recorded human history where-in the industrial revolution and technological advances have increased agricultural production many-folds. As a result, we no longer face any real threat of warfare, famines or diseases with a potential to wipe out an entire population.

Hence we may conclude that the neutralisation of positive checks by developments achieved by humankind is putting more pressure on the implementation of ‘Preventive Checks’ suggested by Malthus. However, some modern scholars still don’t rule out the possibilities of a positive check; this though is a topic for another article.

With the change in societal thought process over time, some of the norms prevalent during Malthus’ era are not prevalent any longer. This factor gave rise to a new school of thought termed as the Neo-Malthusian Theory. We will discuss the difference between the two in our future articles.

In the meanwhile, please let us know your thoughts by writing to us in the comment section. Thank you for taking the time out and reading this article, we whole-heartedly value it.

Posted by Deepika

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