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Theories Of Population

Theories of Population
Malthusian Theory

Thomas Malthus was the first economist to declare a methodical doctrine of population in the year 1798. This theory was regarded a highly contentious since it had many incorrect senses with the economic changes that occurred in Europe in 19th and 20th century. Let us see what Malthusian Theory had to say.

Malthus appalled against the existing sanguinity shared by his father and Godwin that an ideal state could be accomplished if human fetters could be isolated. Malthus’ hostility was that the heaviness of mounting population on the food supply would devastate perfection and there would be depression in the world. Malthus was relentlessly censured for his cynical outlook which directed him to trek on the continent of Europe to congregate statistics in sustaining his hypothesis.

Malthusian Theory elucidates the affiliation amidst the growth in food supply and in population. It declares that population amplifies quicker than the food supply and if unimpeded it would consequent to desolation. The principles are:
  • There are natural combining of genetic traits in human beings to increase at a fast rate. As a consequence, increase in population in statistical sequence if unimpeded two-folds itself every 25 years.

  • On the other hand, the food supply increases in a slow numerical sequence due to the function of that law of diminishing returns based on the presumption that the supply of land is invariable.

  • Since population increases in statistical progression and the food supply in the numerical sequence, population is likely to elude food supply. Thus an imbalance is created which directs to over populace.

  • To control over population consequent from imbalance of food and populace, Malthus proposed preventive measures and optimum checks.
The preventive measures such as control of birth rate, late marriage, celibacy, ethical moderation etc. has to be taken by man in order to control population. This was requested by Malthus to his country men to avoid depression.


The Malthusian Theory had the following Criticisms. The geometrical and arithmetical theory was incorrect regarding population and food supply. He failed to anticipate the opening up of new areas in other countries like US, Australia and Argentina which had extensive farming. His law of mathematical progression regarding food supply pertain to any one point of time and not as a whole. One of the chief weakness of this theory is he failed to evaluate the man power. Malthusian failed to analyse and compare populace with the national wealth, instead he compared just with the food supply. Malthus only requested his men to control birth rate and was one sided. He failed to look into death rate which is diminishing which is the ultimate cause of population. In reality pragmatic evidence substantiates this thesis to be incorrect. Actually the population has to be matched up with the per capita income since when this increases, the fertility rate is lowered and the population rate declines. Preventive measures cannot be taken in the case of ethical moderation, late marriage, celibacy etc. to control population rate. Thus Malthus is regarded as a false mystic.

Its Applicability

Despite weakness, Malthusian doctrine contains much truth. This thesis may not be applicable to the countries like England and Europe but for some other countries which has a meagre landscape. In fact, the people of Europe were made miser by Malthus who forewarned them of the evils of the over populace. The very fact that people use preventive measures like late marriage, birth rate control on an extensive scale and various other contraceptives evidences the significance of the Malthusian Law. Thus Malthusian thesis is applicable to the countries like India. Walker was right when he wrote "The Malthusian Theory is applicable to all communities without any consideration of colour and place. Malthusian has stood unshattered, impregnable amid all the controversy that has regard around it."

The Optimum Theory

The Optimum theory of population was propounded by Edwin Cannan in his book Wealth Published in 1924 and popularised by Robbins, Dalton and Carr-Saunders. Unlike the Malthusian Theory, the optimum theory does not establish relationship between population growth and food supply. Rather it is concerned with the relation between the size of population and production wealth.


Robbins defines as "the population which just makes the maximum returns possible is the optimum population or the best possible population." Dalton defines as "Optimum population is that which gives the maximum income per head." Carr-Saunders defines as "that population which produces maximum economic welfare."


The natural resources of a country are given at a point of time but they change over time. There is no change in techniques of production. The stock of capital remains constant. The habits and tastes of the people do not change. The ratio of working population to total population remains constant even with the growth of population. Working hours of labour do not change. Modes of business organisation are constant.


Based on the postulations the optimum populace is that ultimate size of population which affords the utmost income per head. Any climb or dwindling in the size of the populace above or below the optimum stage will lessen earnings per head. Specified the stock of natural resources the technique of production and the stock of capital in a nation, there is an explicit size of population matching to the highest per capita income. Other things being equal, any divergence from this optimum sized populace will direct to a drop in the per capita income, the nation is under populated and it can give to boost its population till it attain the optimum level. Alternatively, if the rise in populace leads to lessen per capital income, the nation is over populated and requires a decline in population till the per capita income is maximised. This notion is shown in the pictorial representation as shown below.

In the first sketch, OE populace is weighed along the horizontal axis and per capita income on the vertical axis. In the beginning there is under-population and per capita income rises with the growth in population. The per capita income is EN which is less than the maximum per capita income FM. The OF size of population represents the optimum level where per capita income FM is the maximum. If there is a continuous rise in population from OF to OG then the law of diminishing returns applies to production. As a consequent the per capita production is lowered and the per capita income also declines to GH due to increase in population. Thus FG represents over population. This is static version of the thesis. The per capita income is the highest at the point where the average product of labour starts falling. This is represented in the following sketch.

The size of population is measured on the horizontal axis and the average product of labour on the vertical axis. NP is the average product of labour or income per head curve. Up till the level OP increase in population direct to a rise in the average product of labour and the per capita income. Beyond OP, the average product of labour and per capita income drops. Hence when population is OP, the per capita income is the highest at point L. Thus OP is the optimum level of population. To the left of OP the country is over populated and beyond OP, it is over populated. However OP is not a fixed point. If due to inventions there are improvements in the techniques of production, the average product of labour might increase and push the level of per capita income upward so that the optimum point rises. This is represented in the diagram where NP1 curve represents the higher average product of labour and point L1 shows the maximum per capita income at the new optimum level of population OP1.

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