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Population and the Environment

Sara R. Curran

Subject Sociology » Demography and Population Studies, Environmental Sociology

DOI: 10.1111/b.9781405124331.2007.x


The relationship between population and environment is a topic that has garnered attention from many disciplines, including sociology, economics, ecology, history, anthropology, demography, and geography. An early and important essay, which continues to serve as an intellectual starting point for characterizing the population and environment relationship, is T. R. Malthus's “First Essay on Population” (1798). In it, Malthus draws a direct link between population and environment, stressing that the growth of human population tends to outstrip the productive capabilities of land resources. However, Malthus also argues that growth rates will change in response to reduced natural resource quality and quantity. Malthusian theory predicts that changes in population growth occur because famine increases mortality or decreases fecundity or social behavior shifts to decrease family sizes, through delayed marriage, non-marriage, or reduced fertility. Although this framework has undergone significant challenges, it remains one of the central paradigms within the field. For most scholars, the population and environment relationship is a dynamic one with assumed reciprocity, which is affected by the quality, amount, and regenerative or resilient capacity of the environmental resource at stake. Environmental change can induce population change and population change can also induce environmental ... log in or subscribe to read full text

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