New Essay for A2 Geography students - October and November 2008

Compare and contrast the population theories of Malthus and Boserup

There are two main theories of population sustainability. They are by Thomas Malthus and Ester Boserup. They have opposing theories on what happens when there are not enough resources for the population.

Malthus expressed a pessimistic view over the dangers of over population and claimed that food supply was the main limit to population growth. He believed that the human population increases exponentially (2, 4, 8, 16, 32 etc), whereas food supplies can only grow arithmetically (2, 4, 6, 8 etc).
Malthus said that there are therefore ‘checks’ on the population. He identified two different types of checks on the population which would limit further population growth. These are; preventative or negative checks and positive checks. With these checks he saw them as a natural way of keeping the population at a sustainable level. As if the population went over the crisis point there would be misery; were positive checks on mortality would kick in. As if a government wanted to stop or reduce population growth it would use moral restraint were negative checks on fertility would be enforced.
Malthus said that population increase had an increased demand on food supply and said that with increased demand would eventually decrease food production. This idea is based upon the law of diminshing returns were increased population would increase the pressure on to farm more intensively and culitvate poorer land leading to poorer yields.

There are limitations to Malthus theory though. He could not have seen the enormous changes in farming technology that enables us to produce tones of food. He also failed to predict that the reduced population growth as countries develop economically and progress through the later stages of the demographic transition model.

In 1965 Ester Boserup, a Danish economist asserted that an increase in population would stimulate technologists to increase food production. As boserup said any rise in population would increase demand for food and this would act as an incentive to change agrarian technology and produce more food. Her theory can be summed up by the sentence ‘necessity is the mother of invention’. Therefore population growth will spark innovators who will sovle the problem s the increasing population has caused therefore making it sustainable for a growing population.

The limitations to Boserup’s theory are that her idea is also based on a ‘closed’ community. In reality they are not closed because of migration in and out and therefore it would be difficult to test Boserup’s theory.

Even though they are two opposing theories they do have some similarities. They are both based on ‘closed’ communities which at a global scale is not true. They are similar by the way they both agree that an rise in population will increase demand for food. Hwever they completely differ on what the consequences will be.
As malthus says increasesd demand for food will eventually cause food production to decrease due to the law of diminishing returns. Which in a nut shell is when over cultivation of arable land will result in soil erosion and crop failures. As boserup has a completely opposing view that increased population would increase food production.

We have to remember that Malthus wrote his essay in 1798 before the agriculture revolution therefore he excluded technology from his theory therefore making it slightly inaccurate. As boserup wrote her theory in 1968 and has seen the effect technology can have crop yield therefore the two theories contrast.
Also Mathus and boserup dissagree on the outcomes of increased population as malthus said that population cant increase above the food supplies otherwise in positive checks would occur. Basically malthus talks about about conrtolling a population by preventative checks and how the population must be kept below the crisis point otherwise these positive checks will occur. In contrast Boserup does the opposite and says famine and war will be prevented by human solutions increasing food production by technology.
Therefore the two thoeries have different answers as to how to make a sustainable population whch will survive in food resources.

Both of these theories show that there is always going to be population growth but the questions is how will it be kept in check? How will the production of resources keep up and how will technology cope?

If you are looking for the essay plan it is on the thinkgeography website ****.