Tag: Gross Domestic Product

Policymakers around the world have used Gross Domestic Product as the main gauge of economic performance – and have often adopted policies that aim to maximise its rate of growth. Generation after generation of economists have committed significant time and effort to thinking about the factors that influence GDP growth, on the premise that an expanding and healthy economy is one that sees its GDP increasing every year at a sufficient rate.

But is economic output a good enough indicator of national economic wellbeing? Costanza et al (2014) (see link below) argue that, despite its merits, GDP can be a ‘misleading measure of national success’:

GDP measures mainly market transactions. It ignores social costs, environmental impacts and income inequality. If a business used GDP-style accounting, it would aim to maximize gross revenue — even at the expense of profitability, efficiency, sustainability or flexibility. That is hardly smart or sustainable (think Enron). Yet since the end of the Second World War, promoting GDP growth has remained the primary national policy goal in almost every country. Meanwhile, researchers have become much better at measuring what actually does make life worthwhile. The environmental and social effects of GDP growth is a misleading measure of national success. Countries should act now to embrace new metrics.

The limitations of GDP growth as a measure of economic wellbeing and national strength are becoming increasingly clear in today’s world. Some of the world’s wealthiest countries are plagued by discontent, with a growth in populism and social discontent – attitudes which are often fuelled by high rates of poverty and economic hardship. In a recent report titled ‘The Living Standards Audit 2018’ published by the Resolution Foundation, a UK economic thinktank (see link below), the authors found that child poverty rose in 2016–17 as a result of declining incomes of the poorest third of UK households:

While the economic profile of UK households has changed, living standards – with the exception of pensioner households – have mostly stagnated since the mid-2000s. Typical household incomes are not much higher than they were in 2003–04. This stagnation in living standards for many has brought with it a rise in poverty rates for low to middle income families. Over a third of low to middle income families with children are in poverty, up from a quarter in the mid-2000s, and nearly two-fifths say that they can’t afford a holiday away for their children once a year. On the other hand, the share of non-working families in poverty has fallen, though not by enough to prevent an overall rise in poverty since 2010.

Their projections also show that this rise in poverty was likely to have continued in 2017–18:

Although the increase in broad measures of inequality were relatively muted last year, our nowcast suggests that there was a pronounced rise in poverty (measured after housing costs[…]. The increase in overall poverty (from 22.1 to 23.2 per cent) was the largest since 1988. But this was dwarfed by the increase in child poverty, which rose from 30.3 per cent to 33.4 per cent. […]The fortunes of middle-income households diverged from those towards the bottom of the distribution and so a greater share of households, and children, found themselves below the poverty threshold.

A simple literature search on Scope (or even Google Scholar) shows that there has been a significant increase in the number of journal articles and reports in the last 10 years on this topic. We do talk more about the limitations of GDP, but we are still using it as the main measure of national economic performance.

Is it then time to stop focusing our attention on GDP growth exclusively and start considering broader metrics of social development? And what would such metrics look like? Both interesting questions that we will try to address in coming blogs.






  1. What are the main strengths and weakness of using GDP as measure of economic performance?
  2. Is high GDP growth alone enough to foster economic and social wellbeing? Explain your answer using examples.
  3. Write a list of alternative measures that could be used alongside GDP-based metrics to measure economic and social progress. Explain your answer.

Just how large is the UK’s Gross Domestic Product and how quickly is it growing? Well, the latest Quarterly National Accounts from the Office for National Statistics show that the value of our economy’s output in Q3 2010 was £365.9 million. When measured across the latest four quarters, i.e. from the start of Q4 2009 to the end of Q3 2010, the total value of our economy’s output was £1.440 trillion. Across calendar year 2009 the UK’s GDP is estimated to have been £1.394 trillion.

When analysed in terms of the expenditure on the goods and services produced in the latest four quarters, household final consumption contributed £910.4 billion towards Gross Domestic Product. In other words, household expenditure over these four quarters was equivalent to 63% of GDP, exactly in line with its average since 1948. This only serves to demonstrate just how important the spending by households is for our short-term economic prospects.

Another important expenditure-component of GDP is gross capital formation. This is capital expenditure by the private and public sector and is estimated to have been £202.9 billion over the latest four quarters, equivalent to 14% of GDP. This is an important component because as well as affecting current levels of GDP, it also affects our economy’s potential output. This points to changes in capital expenditure having both a demand-side and a supply-side impact. Interestingly, the long-term average share for gross capital formation in GDP is around 18% and so about 4 percentage points higher than is currently the case.

So we now have a number which reflects the size of our economy: a little over £1.4 trillion. But, what about the rate at which the economy is growing? This time we have to be a little careful as to which GDP numbers we are using. The numbers we have so far considered have been measured at current prices and so at prevailing prices. When analysing the rate of economic growth, rather than analyse GDP at current prices, economists look at GDP at constant prices. By doing this we can immediately see whether the volume of output has increased. This is important because in the presence of price rises, an increase in the value of output could occur even if the volume of output remained unchanged or actually fell. For instance, in 1974 the volume of output or real GDP fell by 1.3%, but because the average price of our domestic output (known as the GDP deflator) rose by 14.8%, GDP measured at current prices rose by nearly 13½%.

The latest ONS figures show that real GDP grew by 0.7% in the third quarter 2010. For the record, GDP at current prices (nominal GDP) grew by 0.9%. The 0.7% increase in GDP in volume terms is down on the 1.1% figure for Q2. While this appears to constitute a reasonable rate of economic growth we can see from the articles below the concern amongst commentators that this third estimate of growth for Q3 had seen a downward revision from the previous estimates of 0.8%. Nonetheless, when compared with Q3 2009, the output of the UK economy in Q3 2010 is estimated to have grown by 2.7%. This is the strongest annual rate of economic growth since the third quarter of 2007.

Despite its relatively low historic share of GDP, gross capital formation was the most rapidly growing expenditure component in Q3, increasing by 5.2% over the quarter and by 16.6% over the latest four quarters. Household spending grew by 0.3% over the quarter and by 2% over the latest four quarters. Meanwhile, government final consumption, i.e. those government purchases not classified as capital expenditures, fell by 0.4% over the quarter and by 1.3% over the latest four quarters. Finally, the volume of exports rose by 1.5% over the quarter and by 7.5% over the latest four quarters, but the volume of imports increased more rapidly rising by 1.7% over the quarter and by 10.3% over the latest four quarters. This has contributed to a UK trade deficit from the start of Q4 2009 to the end of Q3 2010 of a little over £40.5 billion.


UK recovery weaker than first thought, official data shows Telegraph, Emma Rowley and Philip Aldrick (23/12/10)
Service sector output dips Financial Times, Chris Giles (23/12/10)
UK’s official economic growth estimates revised down Guardian, Graeme Wearden (22/12/10)
UK economic growth revised down BBC News (22/12/10)
Economic growth weaker than thought Press Association (22/12/10)
UK economic growth in 3rd quarter revised downward Bloomberg, Robert Barr (22/10/12)
Economic growth ‘is lower than we thought’ admits ONS Scotsman, Natalie Thomas (23/12/10)
UK GDP growth: analysts view of the revised data Telegraph (22/12/10)


Latest on GDP growth Office for National Statistics (22/12/10)
Quarterly National Accounts, 3rd Quarter 2010 Office for National Statistics (22/12/10)
UK Economic Accounts, Time Series Data Office for National Statistics
For macroeconomic data for EU countries and other OECD countries, such as the USA, Canada, Japan, Australia and Korea, see:
AMECO online European Commission


  1. What do you understand by the terms nominal GDP and real GDP?
  2. Can you think of any other contexts in which we might wish to distinguish between nominal and real changes?
  3. The following are the estimates of GDP at constant 2006 prices:
    Q3 2009= £322.655bn, Q2 2010= £328.881bn, Q3 2010= £331.222bn
    Show how you would calculate both the quarterly rate of change and the annual rate of change for Q3 2010.
  4. What would happen to our estimates of the level of constant–price GDP in (3) if the base year for prices was 1986 rather than 2006? What would happen to the quarterly and annual growth rates you calculated? Explain your answer.
  5. Explain how gross capital formation could have both demand-side and supply-side effects on the economy? How significant do you think such supply-side effects can be?
  6. How important for short-term economic growth do you think household spending is? What factors do you think will be important in affecting household spending in the months ahead?