What evidence supports the Malthusian theory

Population development

Herwig Birg

To person

Prof. Dr. rer. pole. habil. From 1981 to 2004, Herwig Birg was head of the chair for population science and managing director of the Institute for Population Research and Social Policy (IBS) at Bielefeld University. His main research areas are population theory, fertility theory, migration theory, mortality analysis and life expectancy, population forecast and simulation models, and population projections. Contact: »[email protected]« Homepage: »www.herwig-birg.de«

Population science took off in the 18th century with controversies about the earth's carrying capacity. For the first time, the relationship between the level of the birth rate and material living conditions was discussed. In the 19th century, biological and economic central ideas dominated, in the middle of the 20th century empirical-statistical ones dominated.

Thomas Robert Malthus was one of the first population scientists. Charles Darwin took up Mathus' population laws in his theory of evolution. (& copy public domain)


Population science consists of four major subject areas, the theory of fertility, mortality and migration, as well as theories dealing with the structure of the population. Modern population science is characterized by interdisciplinary collaboration between several specialist disciplines. Subdisciplines such as population economics, population sociology, population statistics, population mathematics, population geography, historical demography, medical demography and population ecology emerge from the collaboration.

The beginnings of population science, like many other sciences, go back to Greek and Roman antiquity. Even the seemingly modern discussions about the population decline due to low fertility, including their interpretation as selfish behavior of the younger generations, did not only arise in our time, as the following quote from the Greek historian Polybius from the 2nd century BC shows:

"In the period in which we are living, the number of children and the population in general has declined to such an extent that the cities are deserted and the land lies fallow, although we have not suffered from long-term wars or from epidemics had [...] because people have become addicted to big manhood, greed and carelessness, neither marry nor, if they do, want to raise the children they are born with, but mostly only one or two so that they can Growing up in luxury and inheriting the wealth of their parents undivided, that's the only reason why evil has spread quickly and unnoticed.If there are only one or two children and one of them is wiped out by war and the other by illness, house and yard naturally remain orphaned back, and the cities, like a swarm of bees, are gradually becoming poor and passed out. " (Quoted from Bernhard Felderer, Economic Development with Shrinking Population, Berlin et al. 1983, p. 128).

The development of population science thinking can be greatly reduced and simplified in the following stages: In ancient Greece, the discussion of population science issues by the philosopher Plato begins in "The State" and "The Laws". He made modern and up-to-date descriptions of the environmental problem, the connections between population growth, deforestation, overgrazing, soil erosion and other ecological problems. The idea of ​​breeding people through a targeted state influence on the choice of spouses at marriage and through a kind of official regulation of procreation and child rearing are already a topic in the Greek classical period and not just in the racism of the 19th and 20th centuries: "It must [ ...] the best men attend the best women as often as possible [...] and the children of the former have to be raised, the others not [...]. " (Plato, The State, All Dialogues, Vol. V, translated by Otto Apelt, Hamburg 1988, p. 192).