What is GDP? Everything You Need to Know

By Fredrick Ngugi5 min read · Posted Jun 7, 2024

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World map of GDP

Your country’s gross domestic product (GDP) has a direct effect on your revenue whether you’re in business or employed. Everyone is happy when there’s steady GDP growth, starting from the smallest casual laborer at the bottom of the food chain to the largest multinational corporation at the top.

Many people are aware of the abbreviation “GDP,” and some even use it regularly in their conversations, but few of them know what exactly it means. So, what does GDP mean?

Definition of GDP

As indicated above, GDP stands for gross domestic product. But what does gross domestic product mean? GDP is the measure of the total value of products and services produced in a country within a specific period, either annually or quarterly. It’s one of the main indicators of the size and performance of a country’s economy.

How is GDP Calculated?

GDP can be calculated in three main ways: production, income, and expenditure. With the production approach, you just sum up the value added to a product at every stage of production. The income method, on the other hand, adds up all the incomes generated by each person and business, including tax, rent, and profit.

Lastly, the expenditure approach involves summing up the expenditure on the finished products and services. This outflow includes consumption, government expenditure, investments, savings, and net exports.

Key Elements of GDP

GDP is divided into four primary categories: with consumption, investment, government expenditure, and net exports. Consumption is the total spending by each household on goods and services, while investment comprises the expenses incurred by businesses on inventories, capital goods, and residential construction.

Government spending includes the expenses incurred by governments on goods and services. Lastly, net exports provide the value of exports minus imports by a country. It’s through net exports that you can know whether your country has a trade deficit or surplus.

A trade surplus occurs when a country exports more goods and services than it imports, while a trade deficit happens when a country imports more than it exports. In other words, a trade surplus is the positive net export and a trade deficit is the negative net export.

For instance, if the United States exports $30.89 billion of electronics and imports $900 million of electronic gadgets and $100 million of gasoline from the United Arab Emirates, the net export will be calculated as follows:

$30.89 billion - ($900 million + $100 million) = $30.89 billion - $1 billion

Net export = $29.89 billion

In this instance, the net export for the U.S. is $29.89 billion.

Types of GDP

The two main types of GDP that economists rely on to evaluate the macroeconomy of a country are real GDP and nominal GDP. Let me explain what these two terms mean in more detail.

Real GDP

Real GDP is the measure of the value of goods and services produced by a country within a year. This measure is based on the rate of inflation during the year in question. Moreover, real GDP is shown in base-year prices. This is why it’s commonly referred to as constant-dollar GDP, constant-price GDP, or inflation-adjusted GDP.

In other words, real GDP analyzes a country’s overall economic output while taking into account changes in price. These price changes can be as a result of inflation or deflation.

Nominal GDP

Nominal GDP is a macroeconomic measure of a country’s total economic activity expressed in current prices without adjustments for inflation. Its price estimates are attained by calculating the value of goods and services produced by a country in the current reporting period.

Although nominal GDP evaluates a country’s economic production in the overall economy, it’s always presented at the existing prices of goods and services. This economic measure can easily inflate the estimated growth figure when comparing two production periods because it doesn’t factor in price changes.

Furthermore, consistent growth in nominal GDP from one year to another can show a rise in prices instead of showing growth in the amount of goods and services produced.

What Is GDP Per Capita?

GDP per capita is an economic measure that estimates the economic output of a country through a per-person division. It’s calculated by dividing the country’s GDP by its current population. Most industrial and developed nations with smaller populations tend to have a higher GDP per capita, compared to densely populated developing countries that mainly rely on imports.

While there are several other ways to measure a country’s prosperity, like income per capita, most economists prefer to use GDP per capita because its workings are constantly monitored globally, thus simplifying estimations and usage. It offers insights into the typical economic yield per person. You can use GDP per capita to compare standards of living between nations.

Importance of Understanding GDP

At the end of it all, the overarching concern for most people is why they should care about the GDP of any particular country. There are several key reasons why you should concern yourself with the GDP of your country.

Understanding the Economy

GDP enables you to evaluate the overall strength and performance of your country’s economy, helping you to make informed decisions about your business, career, and finances. When a country’s economy is healthy, its population is generally content.

Economic Policy Formulation

Governments, economists, and policymakers rely on GDP estimates to formulate economic policies. GDP gives them insight into the size and performance of the economy, thus allowing them to analyze the effects of variables like the existing fiscal policies and determine what needs to be done to stimulate growth.

Economic Forecasting

You can use GDP growth rates to predict future economic trends in your country and, therefore, make informed financial decisions. GDP offers potential investors valuable information that they can use to predict whether a country’s economy will expand or contract, future trends in consumer spending, and inflation rates.

Limitations of GDP

In addition to the benefits described above, GDP—like anything else in this world—has its drawbacks. Here are the limitations of GDP.

Ignores Income Distribution

While GDP is a useful measure of an economy, it has some serious inadequacies. Giving GDP too much prominence can alter your understanding of the strength and actual performance of an economy.

For instance, GDP doesn’t represent income distribution in a country. Knowing how income is distributed in an economy is important because it enables you to assess the health of an economy. This is particularly true considering that a poor person values $1,000 more than a rich one.

Doesn’t Account for the Informal Economy

GDP doesn’t take into account the informal economy and common nonmarket activities like household chores. This means that the income of a significant percentage of a country’s population won’t be captured in its GDP, especially if a large share of its labor force is in the informal sector. This won’t represent the true picture of the country’s GDP.

Final Thoughts

Every policymaker, economist, investor, employee, and business should remain up to date with their country’s GDP, as it’ll provide them with useful insights into the health and trajectory of their nation’s economy. This way, they can make informed economic decisions.

It’s also my hope that when someone asks you, “What is GDP?” or “What is GDP in economics?” you’ll have the right answer for them.

About The Author

Fredrick Ngugi

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