Article Text

Download PDFPDF
Thomas Malthus (1766–1834): population growth and birth control
  1. Peter M Dunn
  1. Department of Child Health University of BristolSouthmead Hospital Southmead Road Bristol BS10 5NB
  1. Professor Peter Dunn.

Statistics from

Request Permissions

If you wish to reuse any or all of this article please use the link below which will take you to the Copyright Clearance Center’s RightsLink service. You will be able to get a quick price and instant permission to reuse the content in many different ways.

Thomas Robert Malthus was the second and last son in a family of eight. He was born with a hare lip and cleft palate at the Rookery, near Dorking in Surrey on 14 February 1766. His father Daniel, a close friend of Jean-Jacques Rousseau, arranged for him to be educated privately. In 1784 at the age of 18, he entered Jesus College, Cambridge, where he skated, rowed, played cricket and had a lively social life. He also won prizes for declamations in Latin and Greek, and in 1788 graduated as Ninth Wrangler. The same year he took Holy Orders and in 1796 accepted an Anglican curacy at Albury in Surrey. Meantime he had been made a Fellow of his college and resided there intermittently until 1804 when he married Harriet Eckersall. The following year he was appointed to the East India Company’s newly founded college at Haileybury as the first professor of political economy in the British Isles (fig 1).

Figure 1

The Rev Thomas Robert Malthus, 1766–1834.

In 1798 Malthus had published, anonymously, An essay on the principle of population as it affects the future improvement of society.1 In it he called attention to the disparity between the rate of population growth and the slower increase in the food supply. War, famine, and disease, he pointed out, had to be the eventual alternatives to the limitation of family size. His book caused furious controversy and led him to prepare a more scholarly work. First, though, he took two extensive tours on the continent with friends, collecting statistics and noting local customs and social history. He also made a careful study of population trends in North America. His second book, published in 1803, was a much larger sociological treatise deploying …

View Full Text