Ester Boserup & Population Growth Theory: Biography & Comparisons

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  • 0:01 Population Growth Theories
  • 0:42 Ester Boserup
  • 1:29 Boserupian Population Theory
  • 4:27 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Christopher Muscato

Chris has a master's degree in history and teaches at the University of Northern Colorado.

Ester Boserup is one of the many researchers to develop a theory about human population growth. Explore what makes her theory unique and test your understanding with a brief quiz.

Population Growth Theories

This is Ester Boserup.

Ester Boserup

She's a 20th-century Danish economist, and she's going to solve world hunger. Go ahead Ester. We'll wait.

Why is Boserup trying to solve world hunger? Well, in case you didn't notice, the world population is getting a bit out of hand. Many people are afraid that the rate of population growth is too great for the food supply to keep up, which has some pretty troubling implications for the future. So, Ester Boserup over here is trying to figure out what's going on with our population growth - identifying trends, predicting future behaviors - and she's going to tell us just how bad this is going to be. Let's let her work.

Ester Boserup

While Ester Boserup works out that population growth problem, let's take a minute to get to know her. Born in 1910 as Ester Børgesen, she studied economics and agricultural development at the University of Copenhagen. In 1935, she graduated with her degree in theoretical economics, but not before marrying Mogens Boserup. After graduation, Ester Boserup worked for the Danish government studying trade economics. She actually held this position throughout WWII, during which Denmark was occupied by the Nazis. In 1947, she and her family moved to Geneva to work with the newly-formed United Nations and later consulted on economics issues around the world.

Boserupian Population Theory

Ok Ester, we're ready. Hit us with it - how much trouble is the world facing? Very little. Oh. Well, that's very comforting. And also surprising. Before Boserup, one of the leading population theories in the world was the Malthusian theory, which stated that the human population grows faster than the food supply. According to this theory, human population will essentially grow as fast as it can until population greatly outpaces available food, at which point the excess population will die off through warfare or famine. This theory was first proposed by Thomas Robert Malthus in 1798, so this view was pretty established by the 20th century.

Then along comes Ester Boserup who says that this isn't the case at all: our food production doesn't determine how much our population can grow; instead, it's the other way around: our population growth determines our food production.

The basic idea behind Boserupian population theory is that while human population grows quickly, people have always adapted their agricultural practices to adjust. So, when food is short, people don't have to be killed off. Instead, they invent new ways to make food. Boserup's theory is general and broad, but it's based on trends she observed in agriculture. Boserup observed that agricultural practices of various communities are determined by their population size and density.

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