Thomas Robert Malthus 1766 - 1834
- English; British
- born in:
- Wotton, Surrey, England, United Kingdom
Malthus was a clergyman and political economist whose controversial views on population growth made him a pivotal figure throughout the 1800s and beyond. His theories were outlined in his 1798 book, An Essay on the Principle of Population. They greatly influenced economics and social demography, and also impacted on Charles Darwin’s development of evolutionary theory, and emerging birth control and eugenic movements.
Malthus was born into a wealthy family. He was educated at home before studying at Cambridge University, where he became the institution’s first Professor of History and Political Economy. British society became increasingly industrialised and urbanised with a rapidly growing population, and Malthus grew concerned by his perception of a consequent decline in living conditions. He saw this as the inevitable consequence of the inability of resources to keep up with a rising population, but blamed the irresponsibility of the ‘lower classes’. Malthus proposed a population could only remain within its resource limitations by ’positive’ and ‘preventative’ checks. ‘Positive’ checks, such as disease, war and starvation, raised death rates. ‘Preventative’ checks, such as birth control, late marriage and celibacy, lowered the birth rate.
Malthus’s ideas were seen by many as harsh and uncaring, but his work influenced several major social changes in Britain. Most notable was the reform of the Poor Laws in 1834 to introduce the grim regime of the workhouse. Darwin read Malthus’s work in 1838 and was struck by Malthus’s observation that animals and plants produce more young than could survive. This creates a ‘struggle for existence’, which fitted with Darwin’s natural selection theory.
1784 - entered as a pensioner at Jesus College, Cambridge
1788 - graduated BA and ninth wrangler
1789 - ordained deacon by the Bishop of Winchester
1791 - graduated MA
1793 - became a fellow of Jesus College, Cambridge
1798 - published (anonymously) An Essay on the Principle of Population
1799 - travelled with Otter, E. D. Clarke, and J. M. Cripps to northern Europe
1803 - appointed Rector of Walesby, in Lincolnshire
1805 - was appointed Professor of History and Political Economy at the newly founded East India College, set up by the East India Company to educate young men for service in India
1815 - published a pamphlet on rent (he is credited with being one of the discoverers of the classical theory of rent)
1818 - became a Fellow of the Royal Society
1820 - published his Principles of Political Economy
1821 - was one of the initial members of the Political Economy Club
1824 - licensed perpetual Curate of Oakwood Chapel, Wotton
1825 - became a fellow of the Royal Society of Literature
1834 - along with Richard Jones, Charles Babbage, and others, he inaugurated the Statistical Society of London (later the Royal Statistical Society).