Inelastic demand

Inelastic demand refers to a situation where the quantity demanded of a good or service changes very little in response to changes in its price.
Updated: Jun 19, 2024

3 key takeaways

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  • Low Sensitivity to Price Changes: Inelastic demand indicates that price changes have a minimal effect on the quantity demanded.
  • Essential Goods: Goods with inelastic demand are often necessities, such as food, water, and medical supplies.
  • Revenue Implications: For businesses, inelastic demand can mean stable revenues despite price fluctuations.

What is inelastic demand

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Inelastic demand occurs when the quantity demanded of a product is relatively insensitive to price changes. This typically happens with essential goods and services that consumers need regardless of price, such as medications or basic utilities. The degree of inelasticity is measured by the price elasticity of demand (PED), which is less than one for inelastic goods.

Importance of inelastic demand

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Understanding inelastic demand is important for several reasons:

  • Pricing Strategy: Businesses can set higher prices for inelastic goods without significantly reducing sales volume.
  • Revenue Stability: Products with inelastic demand ensure stable revenue streams, as consumers continue to buy them even during economic fluctuations.
  • Taxation Policy: Governments often tax inelastic goods to generate stable revenue without drastically reducing consumption.
  • Resource Allocation: Knowing which goods have inelastic demand helps in planning and allocation of resources more effectively.

How inelastic demand works

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Inelastic demand works through the relationship between price changes and quantity demanded:

  • Essential Goods: Products considered essential often exhibit inelastic demand. For example, consumers will continue to buy insulin even if prices rise because it is a life-saving medication.
  • Lack of Substitutes: When there are few or no substitutes for a product, its demand tends to be inelastic. For instance, electricity has few alternatives, making its demand relatively inelastic.
  • Small Proportion of Income: Goods that consume a small portion of consumers’ budgets typically have inelastic demand. For example, salt is inexpensive, so price changes do not significantly affect its demand.
  • Time Factor: In the short term, demand for certain goods can be more inelastic because consumers need time to find alternatives or adjust their consumption habits.

Examples of inelastic demand

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  • Medications: Prescription drugs like insulin or antibiotics have inelastic demand because they are essential for health and have few substitutes.
  • Utilities: Water, electricity, and gas are necessities for daily living, leading to inelastic demand.
  • Basic Food Items: Staple foods like bread, milk, and rice often have inelastic demand as they are essential parts of the diet.
  • Addictive Goods: Products like tobacco and alcohol can have inelastic demand due to addiction, despite price increases.

Real world application

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Inelastic demand has several practical applications:

  • Business Pricing Strategy: Companies selling inelastic goods can increase prices to boost revenues without significantly reducing sales. This strategy is often used in the pharmaceutical and utility industries.
  • Government Taxation: Governments impose higher taxes on inelastic goods to increase tax revenue without greatly affecting consumption. Examples include taxes on cigarettes, alcohol, and fuel.
  • Economic Planning: Understanding inelastic demand helps policymakers in planning subsidies or price controls for essential goods, ensuring affordability without creating significant market distortions.
  • Supply Chain Management: Businesses can prioritize the production and distribution of inelastic goods during supply chain disruptions to maintain steady revenue and meet essential consumer needs.

In summary, inelastic demand describes a market scenario where price changes have little effect on the quantity demanded. This concept is crucial for pricing strategies, revenue management, taxation policies, and economic planning, ensuring that essential goods remain accessible and businesses maintain stable income.

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Arti is a specialized AI Financial Assistant at Invezz, created to support the editorial team. He leverages both AI and the knowledge base, understands over 100,000... read more.