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Marxist vs. Malthusian Theories of Population Growth

Marxist vs. Malthusian Theories of Population Growth
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  • 0:00 Population Growth
  • 1:14 Malthusian Population Growth
  • 3:36 Marxist Population Theory
  • 5:22 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.

Population growth is an issue that has concerned people for quite some time. In this lesson, explore two major theories about human population growth and test your understanding with a brief quiz.

Population Growth

According to the United Nations, the world population is somewhere just over seven billion people, as of 2015. That's a lot of people! I mean, have you ever been to New York City and seen how crowded it is? That's about nine million people. So, multiply that by about 780, and you've got the world population. Seriously, that's a lot of people. And that number just keeps growing. The UN also predicts that we'll reach nine billion people by 2050, and almost 11 billion by 2100. So many people! So, naturally there are questions that arise: like how do we feed this many people, where will they live, can social media handle that many accounts? Important things like that. Well, it may surprise you to learn that we're not the first people to ask these questions. I mean, yeah, 19th century sociologists weren't concerned with social media, but they were worried about population growth. And, they had their own ways of explaining it.

Malthusian Population Growth

For a long, long time, human population grew at a pretty steady rate. Obviously, this rate was fast enough for us to spread out of Africa and around the world, but it was steady. Then, in the 18th century, population suddenly exploded, thanks to the invention of machines and rapid technological growth known as the Industrial Revolution.

This sudden population boom caused people to start worrying, and they began developing theories to explain these changes and predict for the future. One major theory came from Thomas Robert Malthus, published in his 1798 'Essay on the Principle of Population.' Malthus stated that population growth had to be understood through two aspects: the need for food and the passion between the sexes. That's it. Human population grows so quickly because men and women are so sexually attracted to each other, causing them to overpopulate and run out of food. According to Malthus, this means that population can potentially double every 25 years.

Now, this means that human population multiplies, meaning it has a geometric progression. So, 2 becomes 4, 4 becomes 8, 8 becomes 16, etc. The problem is that food supplies only increase as an arithmetic progression, steadily increasing through addition. 1, 2, 3, 4; that's an arithmetic progression. So, it was pretty obvious to Malthus that human population would completely outpace food supplies over time.

However, nature has its ways of keeping balance. As human population gets closer to the limit of food, natural disasters, famine, war, and other terrible things greatly reduce human population. So, these awful things, in which hundreds of thousands of people die, are just nature's way of maintaining balance. So basically, Malthusian population theory states that human population will just grow and grow until naturally reduced by some disaster. Malthus did support birth control, abstinence, and smaller family sizes, but he didn't think that these measures would be as effective as the others.

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