Courtesy Reuters

Malthus and the Principle of Population

The Future in Retrospect

AN ESSAY ON THE PRINCIPLE OF POPULATION AS IT AFFECTS THE FUTURE IMPROVEMENT OF SOCIETY, WITH REMARKS ON THE SPECULATIONS OF MR. GODWIN, M. CONDORCET, AND OTHER WRITERS. BY THOMAS ROBERT MALTHUS. London: 1798.

NEVER was a book more perfectly timed than Thomas Robert Malthus' "Essay on the Principle of Population." It appeared in 1798, in the midst of the Demographic Revolution, and in the land whose population was to increase at a faster pace in the coming "British century" than that of any country on the Continent. One hundred and fifty years before, Europe had a static population of approximately 100,000,000. One hundred and fifty years later the advanced nations of Western Europe were to face a problem of declining numbers. But in 1798, when Europe's population of about 187,-000,000 was beginning to multiply -- and, despite vast migrations, was to reach a total of 550,000,000 -- the principles of population increase propounded in the "Essay" had a terrifying importance.

In 1650 the population of the world had been approximately 500,000,000; in 1940 it was to be two billion. Half a billion of this growth came in the 150 years from 1650 to 1800, and more than a billion has come since then. The major characteristic of the whole period is the swarming of Europe. In 300 years the number of Europeans -- counting those of unmixed descent living abroad -- increased more than sevenfold. "Viewed in long-run perspective," writes Kingsley Davis, "the growth of the earth's population has been like a long, thin powder fuse that burns slowly and haltingly until it finally reaches the charge and then explodes." The most remarkable aspect of the increase in the population of the west which is called the Demographic Revolution is the growth of the English-speaking peoples; they multiplied from an estimated 5,500,000 in 1600 to 200,000,000 in 1940. In the last 150 years of statistical history the British Isles increased their population more than fourfold, while at the same time they contributed more than 17,500,000 people to the settlement of North America and the overseas Dominions.

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