The demographic transition as threat or opportunity: French and Swedish economists views on population, 1850 – 1930

Anders Ögren, Lund University
Nathalie LeBouteillec, University of Picardie Jules Verne (CURAPP-ESS) and Institut National d'Études Démographiques (INED)

The late nineteenth century was a period of a changing and different population patterns in Europe. France experienced a long sustained period of declining population growth, what later came to be referred to as the demographic transition, whereas the population still grew in most other European countries. These differences came to shape the theories and discourses surrounding population issues expressed mainly in the two views of nativists and neo-malthusianism. We study the debates within France and Sweden and how they relate to the present situation on population growth. Economists in general tended to be more positive towards the ideas of Malthus than what was the case in general. Broadly speaking the debate concerned population growth versus poverty. We find that the demographic transition shaped and changed economists view on population. Economists who had been sympathetic to Malthus came to re-evaluate his model as the low population growth continued. In France with low population growth poverty came to be seen as a result of this as it impeded economic growth. In Sweden neo-malthusianists would call for overpopulation as a cause for poverty whereas the more general view would argue that the poverty was a result of institutional factors. Later also in Sweden the concern for the low population growth would raise similar arguments as made by the French economists.

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Presented in Session 45: Demographic discourses in the 18-20th century