Optimum and Malthusian theory of population

What is the Optimum theory of population? Comparison between Optimum and Malthusian theory.


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Modern economists rejected the Malthusian theory of population. We are concerned with the size of population in relation to the total wealth of a country and not merely with the food supply alone. Once should not be frightened by the mere size of population in a country. If the productive system is efficient, a country can certainly support a large population. A country should develop its resources nature and economic and procedure wealth. Moreover, the wealth should be evenly distributed among the people. So the problem of population is neither of numbers not of food supply. As Seligman, observed the problem of population is not one of mere size but of efficient production and equitable distribution.

Meaning of Optimum :


The problem of population should be studied in relation to the total health of country. In this connection, ‘Cannan’ and others have introduced the idea of optimum population. Optimum population means the total population that a country should have considering its resources. Given the natural and capital resources and the state of technical knowledge, a country should have certain size of population to utilize the resources. Optimum population is that population which secures the maximum real income per head.

Over and Under Population :

If the actual population of a country is less than the optimum size, the country is said to be under populated. The population is less than the number required to work out the natural and economic resources properly. Then the real income per head is less than what is could be as the resources could not be worked properly. With every increase in population there will be increasing returns if the output will increase more than proportionately. When increasing returns are fully exploited the average product is at its maximum. The population which provide this optimum number of labourers is optimum population.

If population increases beyond this level there would be diminishing returns. The productivity per head diminishes. The population is more than what is required to work out the resources properly. The country is then said to be over populated.


Optimum size if not fixed size :

So the optimum size of the population is not a fixed size. It depends upon the natural and economic resources and the sate of technical knowledge. If new resources are developed, a county can support larger population. On the other hand, if some of the resources are exhausted, the existing population may become overpopulation. The change in the sate of technical knowledge will also alter the optimum size.

Formula :

Dalton framed the following formula for judging the character of a country’s population. If ‘A’ stands for the actual number of people. ‘O’ for the optimum number of people and ‘M’ for the degree of maladjustment,


M = (A-O)/ 0

When M is positive, we have population, if it is negative we have under population and if it is equal to zero, the population is of optimum size, Since, changes in ‘O’ cannot be measured, the formula is of doubtful utility to us.

Comparison between Malthusian & Optimum Theories

Let us make a comparison between optimum theory and Malthusian theory of population. We may try to find out in the first instance how optimum theory is an improvement on the Malthusian theory.

1. Optimum theory is optimistic and Malthus was pessimist :

He made the glory prophecy that all are bound to die whenever population increases. Beyond the means of subsistence. The optimum theory is highly optimistic. Growth of population is not always a curse. An increase in population is desirable if the actual number is less than the optimum size. As long as increasing returns operate growth of population is desirable.

Further, Malthus is always concerned with securing food is to an individual. The goal of optimum theory are concerned with securing maximum income per head.

2. It hold correct ratio :

Malthus established are ratio between population and food supply. The ratio ought to have been held between population and total wealth. A country which produces enough quantity of manufactured goods and export them and important food stuffs. It is thus enable them to maintain large population even though it does not produce enough population is relation to total health. The theory places the problem of population in an altogether new and right perspective.

3. Test of overpopulation :

According to Malthus, a country is said to be over populated when positive checks like famine, disease, war etc. are positive checks that operate. But according to the new theory, the criteria are altogether different. If the real income per head can be increased by increase in population, country is said to be overpopulated. Even a country of millionaires may be regarded as overpopulated if per capita income increases by a reduction in population.

Defects of Optimum Theory:

1. Not a population theory :

The optimum theory is not a population theory. It is merely discusses the relationship between population and productive resources. It does not state anything as to how population grows.

2. Difficult to know Optimum :

It is very difficult to know the population that gives maximum per capita income and technical knowledge and resources do not remain the same. The search for optimum is therefore, a search often the mirage. Unless optimum size is known one cannot say whether a country is overpopulated or under-populated. The economists have introduced merely the familiar concept of optimum in population problem.

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