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Population and Development

Peter McDonald

Subject Sociology » Demography and Population Studies

DOI: 10.1111/b.9781405124331.2007.x


While development can include a wide range of meanings, here development is taken to mean economic development defined to refer narrowly to economic growth, and then more broadly to the economic transformations leading to the emergence of modern economic institutions and practices and the disappearance of traditional forms. The processes of development are associated, both as cause and consequence, with population processes. The relationship between population and economic development is highly contested and has been so for centuries. Adam Smith saw population growth as a stimulus to economic growth because it enlarged the size of the market and provided opportunities for economies of scale, and hence more efficient production. This was contested by Thomas Malthus and David Ricardo, who argued that there was a law of diminishing returns to scale. Their view was that population growth would eventually lead to natural resource constraints, especially a shortage of cultivable land. This would lead to inflation, unemployment, and absolute scarcity. The Malthusian conclusion was that population growth should be reduced through “moral restraint,” a postponement of marriage that leads to a decrease in the birth rate. For a time, the preponderance of poverty-stricken landless agricultural laborers in Malthus's England in the 1830s and the Irish famine in the 1840s provided strength to the ... log in or subscribe to read full text

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