Land cover has changed rapidly across the tropics over the past century; however detailed 18 historical information describing the extent and possible drivers of such change is widely 19 lacking. Here, we constructed a history of land cover change at the district level in Malawi 20 over a 37 year period from 1972 to 2009, the immediate post-colonial phase. Overall, there 21 was a loss of 12,760km2 (36 of original forested area but also 11,161km2 of new forest 22 establishment resulting in a relatively modest overall net loss of 1,599km2 (5. We 23 correlated changes in deforestation and forest establishment with changes in socioeconomic 24 variables derived from spatially explicit data from the same time period. Deforestation was 25 positively correlated with (in order of influence) changes in male school attendance, sex ratio, 26 population density, hospital bed numbers, protected areas, and dependency rate, but 27 negatively correlated with changes in cattle density; with forest establishment broadly 28 showing the inverse relationships with the same variables. Although direct drivers of 29 deforestation are well known for Malawi and much of Africa, the significance of 30 socioeconomic variables within this study can help understand the underlying social 31 pressures behind such drivers. In particular, development, population pressure, and 32 demographic factors are important predictors of deforestation rate within our study area.