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Income Elasticity of Demand

Income Elasticity of Demand

The income elasticity of demand is the percentage change in quantity demanded divided by the percentage change in income.

\(\begin{array}{rcl}\text{Income elasticity of demand}& =& \cfrac{\text{% change in quantity demanded}}{\text{% change in income}}\end{array}\)

For most products, most of the time, the income elasticity of demand is positive: that is, a rise in income will cause an increase in the quantity demanded. This pattern is common enough that these goods are referred to as normal goods. However, for a few goods, an increase in income means that one might purchase less of the good; for example, those with a higher income might buy fewer hamburgers, because they are buying more steak instead, or those with a higher income might buy less cheap wine and more imported beer. When the income elasticity of demand is negative, the good is called an inferior good.

The concepts of normal and inferior goods were introduced in Demand and Supply. A higher level of income for a normal good causes a demand curve to shift to the right for a normal good, which means that the income elasticity of demand is positive. How far the demand shifts depends on the income elasticity of demand. A higher income elasticity means a larger shift. However, for an inferior good, that is, when the income elasticity of demand is negative, a higher level of income would cause the demand curve for that good to shift to the left. Again, how much it shifts depends on how large the (negative) income elasticity is.

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