Neo-Malthusianism

Malthusianism derives its name and thought from the political and economic work of the Reverend Thomas Malthusis. Malthusis was concerned with population control and believed that population growth was potentially exponential to that of the food supply which he saw as linear. Thus, the needs and demands of the growing population were greater than the food being produced. His thinking has been linked to various social and political movements

The term Neo-Malthusianism was coined in 1877 by Dr Samuel Van Houten, a member of the Malthusian League. Neo-Malthusianism held a particular perspective on the effects of human behavior and stressed the importance of birth control. It located the problem of over population in the working classes and viewed their overcrowded slums as sites of moral degeneration, hence diverting issues of population from poverty to the need for birth control.

The elite, who felt threatened by the burgeoning numbers of working class saw birth control as a solution to protecting their property. Neo-Malthusianism thus promoted capitalist ideology alongside that of individualism and private property ownership.

Prevailing attitudes towards birth control were resistant until the 1920s, as it was considered as immoral and unhealthy. However, in 1921 British Medical Professionals made the Anglican Church reconsider its position on birth control and in 1929 a court ruling in America gave doctors the right to prescribe contraceptives. Subsequently birth control clinics were set up over America and Europe spurning a new stage of the birth control movement.

Later with the establishment of the United Nations, the reduction of the world’s population became a major priority. Examples of Neo-Malthusianism include China’s one child policy aimed at slowing China’a population rate and preventing overpopulation. A further example is the wide use of contraceptives in India to inhibit population growth. There are various organisations that set up clinics in developing countries and provide access to contraception, abortion and health education. Such Neo-Malthusian initiatives, as already mentioned, are based on capitalist ideology and the concerns of the elite who wish to protect their ‘property’ by decreasing or slowing the population of those in the developing countries.

Whilst Neo-Malthusianism had its own population agenda, by forging the way for the development and access to birth control such as contraceptives, sterilisation and abortion, it also paved the way for the greater sexual freedom of women and was an essential ingredient in enabling the success of the sexual revolution.