What Is Inelastic? Definition, Calculation, and Examples of Inelastic Demand


In this comprehensive article, we explore the concept of inelastic demand—an economic phenomenon where the quantity of a good or service remains relatively stable despite changes in its price. Learn about its implications, examples, formula, and comparisons with elastic demand, enhancing your understanding of how inelasticity shapes consumer behavior and influences pricing strategies.

What is inelastic demand?

Inelastic demand refers to products or services that people keep buying even if their prices change. Imagine your favorite snack becoming more expensive—it’s still hard to resist, right? That’s inelastic demand in action.

This concept reveals that some things are so important to us that their prices don’t sway our decisions. Whether prices rise or fall, our choices stay pretty consistent. It’s like having a favorite toy that you always want to play with, no matter its price.

Understanding inelastic demand

Inelasticity signifies that a slight price change yields a smaller percentage shift in the quantity demanded or supplied. For instance, if the cost of essential medication inches up from $200 to $202 (a 1% increase), causing demand to dip from 1,000 units to 995 units (a less than 1% decrease), the medication would be considered an inelastic good.

A perfectly inelastic item would have an unaltered demand despite price variations, although such goods are uncommon. Conversely, elasticity stands in contrast, showing significant shifts in demand corresponding to price changes.

Elasticity of demand

By contrast, an elastic good or service exhibits demand that adjusts more than proportionally to price changes. Many items are elastic since they possess substitutes. For instance, a plane ticket price hike prompts fewer bookings.

Perfectly elastic demand necessitates numerous substitutes and is visualized as a horizontal line since any price shift induces an infinite change in demand. A product’s inelasticity influences production decisions; a 5% smartphone price drop yielding a 10% sales spike is a profitable move, whereas a 3% sales increase for a 5% price reduction might not be.

Elastic demand vs. inelastic demand


Let’s compare the characteristics of elastic and inelastic demand.

Elastic demand

  • Demand adjusts to price shifts
  • Common in goods with substitutes
  • Suppliers face challenges in recessions
  • Luxury or discretionary expenses

Inelastic demand

  • Demand remains stable despite price changes
  • Typical for necessities
  • Suppliers are less impacted by recessions
  • Necessities and mandatory expenses

Examples of inelastic demand

Inelastic demand pertains to goods whose demand barely alters with price fluctuations. Consider insulin—an indispensable medication for diabetics. Regardless of price hikes, demand for insulin won’t waver due to its essential nature.

  • Medications: Essential medicines, like antibiotics or pain relievers, fall under inelastic demand. People need them regardless of price changes to maintain their health.
  • Basic Necessities: Everyday items like bread, milk, and basic groceries exhibit inelastic demand. People can’t easily change their consumption even if prices fluctuate.
  • Utilities: Services such as electricity and water are necessities, showing inelastic demand. People rely on them for daily living, so their consumption remains stable.

These examples emphasize how certain items are fundamental to our lives, causing their demand to stay strong despite variations in prices.

Examples of elastic demand

Elastic demand introduces us to a different side of consumer behavior. This concept deals with products that people change their minds about when prices change. Imagine planning a vacation—sometimes, even a small price change can lead to a big shift in your decision.

Let’s take a closer look at how elastic demand works:

Imagine you’re excited about a vacation to a dreamy beach destination. You’ve been looking forward to it for months. But then, suddenly, the cost goes up by 20% due to higher airfare and lodging prices. This increase in cost might make you reconsider. You could decide that the vacation is now too expensive, and you might look for other options that fit your budget better.

This is a classic example of elastic demand. It shows that some things we buy are sensitive to price changes. Even a small increase can make a big difference in whether we choose to buy it or not.

Frequently asked questions

What factors determine whether a product has inelastic demand?

Inelastic demand is influenced by the necessity of a product and the availability of substitutes. Products that are essential and have few or no substitutes tend to exhibit inelastic demand.

Can inelastic demand change over time?

Yes, inelastic demand can change due to shifts in consumer preferences, changes in technology, or the introduction of new substitutes. For instance, advancements in medical technology might reduce the inelasticity of certain medications over time.

How does the concept of income elasticity relate to inelastic demand?

Income elasticity of demand measures how changes in consumers’ income affect their demand for a product. For inelastic goods, the income elasticity tends to be low, indicating that demand remains relatively stable even as income changes.

Are there any strategies businesses use to take advantage of inelastic demand?

Yes, businesses often raise prices for inelastic goods since consumers are less likely to change their buying behavior. However, they need to carefully consider the price increase not to deter customers or attract regulatory attention.

How does geographic location affect inelastic demand?

Geographic location can impact inelastic demand. For example, in areas with limited access to certain goods or services due to geographic constraints, demand might remain inelastic due to a lack of substitutes.

Is government intervention common for goods with inelastic demand?

Yes, governments often regulate prices or provide subsidies for goods with inelastic demand, especially if they are essential for public health or welfare. This intervention aims to ensure affordability and accessibility.

Can advertising influence the demand elasticity of a product?

Yes, advertising can sometimes create the perception of uniqueness or necessity, thereby reducing the elasticity of demand for a product. This effect is particularly evident in branding and luxury items.

How does inelastic demand impact supply chain management?

Inelastic demand can lead to more stable production and supply chain planning since demand remains relatively constant. Businesses can optimize inventory and production levels with greater predictability.

Key takeaways

  • Inelastic demand implies stable demand despite price changes.
  • Elasticity refers to the degree of demand shift in response to price changes.
  • Examples include essential medicines and luxury vacations for inelastic and elastic demand, respectively.
  • Inelastic goods often have necessities and mandatory expenses, while elastic goods can involve discretionary spending.
View article sources
  1. Price Elasticity of Demand– PennState College of Earth and Mineral Sciences
  2. Elasticity of Demand – Iowa State University
  3. Elasticity vs. Inelasticity of Demand: Here Are The Differences – SuperMoney
  4. Demand Curve: Definition, Characteristics, and Importance in Economics – SuperMoney