The upcoming discussion will update you about the differences between Malthusian theory and the Optimum theory of population.

Every country has a fixed land area, and a certain fixed quantity of natural resources like coal, iron ore, timber and good farmland. If the population is too small to make the best use of its natural resources it is said to be under-populated. If its population is so large that there are not enough resources for productive use, it is said to be overpopulated. If the country has just about the right size of population for its resource, it is said to have an optimum population.

The two theories of population, the Malthusian theory and the optimum theory, differ from each other on the following points:

1. Perspective of the Study:


Malthus, an English economist, analysed the problem of population in relation to a country’s food supply. But, Cannan, the chief exponent of the Optimum Theory, studied the problem of popu­lation against a broader perspective of a country’s total productive re­sources and wealth.

2. Nature of the Two Theories:

The Malthusian theory of population is a growth theory as it discusses how population grows in a country over a period of time and how such growth affects the economy. But, the optimum theory is not a theory of growths of population; it has studied the problem of population in relation to a country’s productive resources as it exists at a particular point of time.

3. Tests of Overpopulation:


In Malthusian theory, the question of over­population is discussed with reference to a country’s food supply; the persistent food shortages followed by famine, starvation, malnutrition, etc. constitute overpopulation. But, in the optimum theory, over-population is discussed with reference to the level of per capita income of the people; a country is said to be overpopulated when the per capita income of the people decreases with the increase in population.

4. Implication of Growing Population:

According to Malthusian theory, every increase of population is harmful to a society, as that creates the problems of food shortage, starvation, hunger and misery. But, in the Optimum theory, every increase of population is not considered to be harmful; on the contrary, such an increase at the stage of under-population would increase the per capita income and bring a greater prosperity to the nation.

5. Future Trend:


The Malthusian theory has given a gloomy, distressing future for mankind as man is destined to go through a dreadful cycle of overpopulation, misery, a temporary balance between food and population and again overpopulation. In this respect Malthus was highly pessimistic. On the other hand, the optimum theory is optimistic, as, according to it, the population of a country does not create any problem so long it does not exceed the optimum number.

Application in India:

The application of these two theories in India leads to conflicting conclusions. The Malthusian theory indicates the state of overpopulation in the country as the food supply has failed to increase proportionately with the increase in population. Thus, the population in India rose by 21.5% during 1951-61, by 24.8% during 1961-71 and further by about 25% during 1971-81.

But, the food supply did not increase in the same proportion during the same period. Of course, the recent breakthrough in food production due to Green Revolution has raised the supply of food considerably. On the other hand, the optimum theory suggests that the country is not yet overpopulated as the per capita income in the country has been increasing although the rate of such increase has not been satisfactory.


It can be said that neither of these theories is quite satisfac­tory as the population question is to be studied against the background of various social and economic factors of a country. The Malthusian theory has still some followers, and it has been amply demonstrated in the acceptance of the goal of “Zero Population Growth” in most of the advanced countries because of the current global shortage of food.

In fact, the population explosion has assumed such a critical proportion in most of the less devel­oped countries like India that the population control, as suggested by Malthus, has become an imperative necessity in such countries for acceler­ating the rate of economic growth. On the other hand, modern economists have practically discarded the optimum theory of population because of its highly static and abstract nature.