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POPULATION

Throughout history, the thought of overpopulation has always concerned scientists. There have been quite a few theories about what would happen to the world if the population were to grow to a size breaking earth s carrying capacity. Of these theories, the two most probable are the Malthusian Theory and the Demographic Transition Theory.

Thomas Malthus, an English clergyman, wrote an essay in 1798, which is the basis of the Malthusian Theory. Malthus wrote that the rate of population growth increases at a geometric rate: 1, 2, 4, 8, 16… while the earth s seemingly infinite supply of food is really quite finite, increasing at an arithmetic rate: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 He believed that as our supply of food decreased, culture and laws would fall. Famine, death and war would prevail. Two things that will affect these events are positive checks and preventive checks. Positive checks such as war, famine and disease have an immediate effect in reducing the size of the population. On the other hand, preventive checks such as late marriage, abstinence, and altruism stop or slow positive checks. The problem with this theory is that Malthus did not take into consideration the impact that culture has on the population. He also lacked the technology and statistics that are available today. Another theory that has recently developed is the Demographic Transition Theory.

This theory holds that there are three stages of population. Two of them have zero population growth (ZPG). The first stage is the Traditional Stage in which they are a high death rate which cancels out a high birth rate, resulting in ZPG. The second is the Transitional Stage in which there is a high birth rate and a low death rate, resulting in a growth in the population. This is a result of better technology. Finally, there is the Stable Population Stage, which the U.S. is in currently. In this stage, there is not a high demand for a large nuclear family because no one farms anymore and having many children is no longer necessary. This results in a low birth rate equaling the low death rate of the Transitional Stage. Consequently, this stage has ZPG.

It is possible that the Malthusian Theory can tie into the Transitional Stage of the Demographic Transition Theory, the result being either the Traditional or Stable Population Stage.

The Malthusian Theory is a very pessimistic way to view the issue of population. If you dissect the name Malthus you see mal , which is Latin for bad , and a synonym for thus is a result . (Perhaps Malthus was preordained to be a pessimist). In the Malthusian Theory the lower class population will eventually die off, resulting in smaller population. This will save the human race. This would be a classic case of survival of the fittest. In the Demographic Transition Theory, the cultures in the Traditional and Transitional Stages will have to adapt to result in the Stable Population Stage or everyone will eventually die from overpopulation.


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