# Learn about Real GDP: Calculations and Differences from Nominal GDP

Article Summary

Real gross domestic product (real GDP) is an important economic metric used to assess the health and growth of a country’s economy. Unlike nominal GDP, real GDP takes into account the impact of inflation on the value of goods and services produced, making it a more accurate measure of a country’s economic performance. This allows policymakers and economists to make informed decisions and accurately compare the economic growth of different countries or time periods. The calculation of real GDP involves using the GDP price deflator, which tracks changes in prices for all goods and services produced in an economy, providing valuable insights into inflation trends.

## Getting to know real gross domestic product (Real GDP)

Real gross domestic product (GDP) is a measure that takes into account inflation and reflects the value of all goods and services produced by an economy in a particular year. It is presented in base-year prices and is sometimes referred to as constant-price GDP, inflation-corrected GDP, or constant-dollar GDP. In essence, real GDP quantifies a country’s total economic output and is adjusted to factor in any changes in prices.

## Real GDP and measuring inflation and economic output

Real Gross Domestic Product (GDP) is a macroeconomic indicator that measures the total value of goods and services produced in an economy, adjusted for inflation. Essentially, it shows a country’s economic output while factoring in changes in prices. Governments rely on both nominal and real GDP as metrics for analyzing economic growth and purchasing power over time. To calculate real GDP, economists use the GDP price deflator, which tracks changes in prices for all goods and services produced in an economy. The Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA) provides quarterly reports on GDP, featuring real GDP levels and growth statistics. Unlike nominal GDP, real GDP accounts for changes in price levels, providing a more accurate measure of economic growth.

## The difference between real GDP vs. nominal GDP

To evaluate the economic activity, stability, and growth of goods and services in an economy, GDP is one of the most crucial metrics. As a result, it is often examined from two perspectives: real and nominal.

• Real GDP is calculated by adjusting for changes in inflation, which means that if inflation is positive, the real GDP will be lower than the nominal GDP, and the opposite is true as well. Neglecting to make an adjustment for inflation would lead to a greatly inflated GDP in nominal terms due to positive inflation.
• Nominal GDP is a macroeconomic metric of the value of goods and services, measured using current prices. It is also known as current dollar GDP.

In the third quarter of 2022, the United States saw a 2.6% increase in real GDP on an annualized basis, while nominal GDP, also known as current-dollar GDP, rose by 6.6%, according to the Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA). Real GDP is a more relevant and accurate measure of economic growth as it factors in inflation adjustments, which is not accounted for in nominal GDP. This makes it easier to compare economic performance over a long period of time. The BEA uses real GDP data for macroeconomic analysis and central bank planning. Without adjusting for inflation, it can be challenging to determine if economic production is increasing or if it’s just a result of rising per-unit prices in the economy.

A positive difference between nominal and real GDP indicates inflation, while a negative difference signifies deflation. This means that inflation occurs when nominal GDP is greater than real GDP, and deflation occurs when real GDP is greater than nominal GDP.
To measure inflation, economists typically use the GDP price deflator, which takes into account the prices of all goods and services produced within an economy, unlike the consumer price index (CPI) that only considers a fixed basket of goods. This means that the GDP price deflator is a more appropriate measure of inflation for evaluating economic growth and planning purposes.

## How to calculate real GDP

Real GDP calculation involves several steps, which are typically best handled by the Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA). The process can be complicated, but the general idea is to adjust nominal GDP for inflation by dividing it by the GDP deflator (R).

Real GDP = Nominal GDP/R
where: GDP = Gross domestic product
R = GDP deflator

The Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA) releases the GDP deflator every quarter, which measures inflation since a base year, which is presently 2017 for the BEA. The GDP deflator is then used to calculate real GDP by dividing nominal GDP by the deflator, effectively adjusting for the effects of inflation. For instance, if an economy’s prices have increased by 1% since the base year, the deflating number is 1.01. To calculate the real GDP from a nominal GDP of \$1 million, you would divide it by 1.01, giving you \$990,099 as the real GDP value. While calculating real GDP can be a complicated process, the BEA provides reliable data that allows for an accurate comparison of economic performance over time.

## What does “Real” GDP mean?

Real GDP is like putting on a pair of glasses that allows us to see the true picture of a country’s economic performance. It takes into account the impact of inflation on the value of goods and services produced, giving us a more accurate representation of a country’s real economic output. This is particularly useful when comparing economic performance over time and between countries because it removes the impact of inflation, making it a fairer comparison. On the other hand, nominal GDP can be misleading because it doesn’t account for inflation, which can make it seem like a country’s economy is performing better than it actually is.

## What is real GDP involved in measuring?

Real GDP is a powerful economic indicator that measures the overall production of goods and services in a country while accounting for inflation. In the United States, GDP is calculated using the expenditure approach, which includes four main components: consumption, government spending, investment, and net exports. These components are represented by the formula GDP = C + G + I + NX, where C is consumption, G is government spending, I is investment, and NX is net exports. By measuring these four elements, analysts can get a comprehensive view of a country’s economic performance and growth over time.

## How does real and nominal GDP compare to one another?

Let’s say you have a country with a nominal GDP of \$100 billion in 2000, which grew to \$150 billion in 2020, a 50% increase. However, over that same period, inflation caused the purchasing power of the dollar to decrease by 50%. This means that when you adjust for inflation and look at the real GDP expressed in 2000 dollars, the economy actually only produced \$75 billion worth of goods and services in 2020. While the nominal GDP makes it appear as though the economy is booming, the real GDP paints a different picture and reveals a net overall decline in economic growth. This is why economists prefer using real GDP to measure economic performance as it provides a more accurate assessment of the country’s economic output over time.

## Why should we care about measuring real GDP

The Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of a country is a crucial indicator of its economic health, providing policymakers and central banks with valuable insights into whether the economy is growing or contracting, and whether inflation or recession is on the horizon. Citizens and political leaders often view GDP growth as a measure of national success, given that countries with larger GDPs generally enjoy a higher standard of living. Real GDP, which takes into account inflation, is particularly useful in measuring changes in production levels over time, allowing for more accurate comparisons between periods. By tracking GDP, policymakers can make informed decisions about whether to boost or restrain the economy and steer it towards sustainable growth.

## Criticisms with using GDP as a measurement

Despite its widespread use as a measure of national economic success, GDP has come under criticism from many economists who argue that it doesn’t account for various factors. These include informal economies, domestic work, business-to-business transactions, and negative externalities such as waste and environmental damage. Such critiques have led to calls for alternative methods of measuring economic progress beyond just GDP.

## Final thoughts

Real GDP is a powerful tool for understanding a country’s economic performance. It measures the total value of all goods and services produced in a given year, while also taking inflation into account. You might also hear it called “constant-price GDP” or “inflation-corrected GDP.” This is important because it allows us to compare economic output over time in a meaningful way. In contrast, nominal GDP uses current prices, which can be misleading when trying to understand changes in economic performance. By using real GDP, we can better understand how an economy is growing or contracting, and make informed decisions about policies and investments to support future growth.

## Key takeaways

• Real gross domestic product is a measure that takes into account inflation and reflects the value of all goods and services produced by an economy in a given year.
• It is often referred to as constant price, inflation-corrected, or constant dollar GDP.
• The Bureau of Economic Analysis provides quarterly updates on real GDP, which makes comparing GDP from different years more meaningful.
• Real GDP is calculated by dividing nominal GDP by a GDP deflator.
###### View Article Sources
1. Appendix: Gross Domestic Product (GDP) – Boston University
2. The Role of GDP in Global Health – Brookings Institution
3. Why Is GDP Important? – Harvard Business School Online