Malthus Thomas

Malthus Thomas

(1766-1834) British clergyman, economist and demographer, particularly remembered for his thesis (in Essay on the Principles of Population, 1798) that there is a tendency for populations to increase at a geometric rate whilst food supply can only increase at an arithmetic rate. The implication is that a population, left unchecked, will reach a point where it cannot feed itself He argued that a balance between a population and food supply is maintained either through ‘positive checks’ such as famine, disease and violence, or by ‘preventative checks’ such as late marriage, moral restraint and chastity. The political implication of this philosophy is that systems of poverty relief are ineffective, and Malthus believed that the poor should be responsible for themselves. Although Malthus only claimed that there is a tendency towards overpopulation, his ideas were used to justify the 1834 Poor Law Amendment Act in Britain, which required all poor relief claimants to enter the brutal regime of the workhouse. See also POPULATION, DEMOGRAPHY, DEMOGRAPHIC TRANSITION.
Collins Dictionary of Sociology, 3rd ed. © HarperCollins Publishers 2000