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An oligopoly is a type of market structure where a small number of dominant companies or entities control a significant share of an industry or sector. These firms typically have considerable influence over price, output levels, and market conditions due to limited competition. As a result, they are often able to generate higher profits and create barriers to entry for potential competitors.


The phonetics of the keyword “Oligopoly” can be represented as: /ˌɒlɪˈɡɒpəli/

Key Takeaways

  1. An oligopoly is a market structure characterized by a small number of large firms dominating the market, leading to limited competition and often resulting in higher prices for consumers.
  2. Barriers to entry, such as high capital investment requirements, economies of scale, brand loyalty, and market control, make it difficult for new firms to enter and compete in an oligopoly market.
  3. Oligopolistic firms often engage in strategic behavior, such as collusion and price wars, to maintain or increase their market share, leading to potential inefficiencies and market failures.


The term oligopoly is important in business and finance as it refers to a market structure characterized by a small number of large firms dominating the industry, resulting in significant barriers for new entrants and limited competition. In an oligopolistic market, these few firms hold the power to set prices, influence supply and availability of products, and dictate the nature of the competition. This market condition can impact innovation, consumer choice, and ultimately, economic efficiency. Moreover, it may lead to potentially anticompetitive behavior like price-fixing or collusion, drawing the scrutiny of regulatory agencies and necessitating market monitoring to ensure a fair and competitive environment for consumers and other businesses.


Oligopoly is a market structure characterized by a small number of key players that dominate the industry, producing and selling similar or differentiated products. This type of structure enables these businesses to wield considerable market power, shaping the competitive landscape through strategic actions, innovation, and pricing policies. The purpose of oligopolies is to enable these influential firms to mutually benefit from the stability and control they exert over the market while maintaining a competitive environment that encourages continuous improvement and development in their respective products and services. Given the limited number of dominant enterprises within an oligopoly, each firm has the capacity to influence market outcomes directly by adjusting their output or pricing. This, in turn, can lead to a heightened level of interdependence between the firms as they weigh their strategic choices in response to rival actions. Such a dynamic, in comparison to other market structures like perfect competition or monopolies, can lead to increased efficiency, better quality products, and collaborative research and development initiatives, which would ultimately contribute positively towards consumer satisfaction. In addition, oligopolistic market structures often lead to an increased focus on non-price strategy, such as advertising, branding, and product differentiation to capture consumer loyalty and distinguish their offerings from competitors. Despite these benefits, oligopolies may also face criticism for promoting collusion, price-fixing, and other restrictive practices that can lead to reduced consumer choice and higher prices in the long run.


1. Telecommunications Industry: In many countries, the telecommunications industry is dominated by a few powerful companies, such as AT&T, Verizon, and T-Mobile in the United States. These companies control most of the market share and have significant pricing power, making it difficult for new entrants to compete effectively. 2. Airline Industry: The airline industry is another example of an oligopoly, as a limited number of major airlines control most of the market share in terms of routes and passengers. In the United States, these major airlines include American Airlines, Delta, United Airlines, and Southwest, among others. These firms have significant influence over ticket prices, flight routes, and schedules. 3. Automobile Industry: The global automobile industry is characterized by a few dominant players, such as Toyota, General Motors, Volkswagen, and Ford. These companies control a significant portion of the market share and have considerable influence over the supply and pricing of vehicles in the industry. This market structure makes it difficult for new entrants to compete successfully due to high barriers to entry, including immense capital investments and well-established brand loyalty among consumers.

Frequently Asked Questions(FAQ)

What is an oligopoly?
An oligopoly is a market structure characterized by a limited number of large firms dominating a specific industry, leading to high market concentration and significant control over prices, production, and other market factors.
How does an oligopoly differ from a monopoly or perfect competition?
Unlike a monopoly, where one firm controls the entire market, an oligopoly consists of a few powerful firms that dominate an industry. Perfect competition, on the other hand, describes a market with numerous small firms and no single dominant player, leading to more competitive pricing and market conditions.
What are the characteristics of an oligopoly?
The main characteristics of an oligopoly include:1. Limited number of firms dominating the market2. High barriers to market entry3. Firms producing standardized or differentiated products4. Interdependence among firms, often leading to strategic decisions5. Control over price and output6. Non-price competition strategies, such as marketing and advertising
Can you provide some examples of oligopolies?
Some well-known examples of oligopolies include:1. The global smartphone market, primarily controlled by Apple, Samsung, and Huawei2. The commercial airline manufacturing industry, dominated by Boeing and Airbus3. The soft drink industry, with Coca-Cola and Pepsi being the main players4. The wireless telecommunication industry, with leading firms like Verizon, AT&T, and T-Mobile in the United States.
Why do oligopolies have high barriers to entry?
High barriers to entry in an oligopoly can arise due to:1. High initial investment and startup costs2. Significant economies of scale enjoyed by existing firms, leading to lower average costs3. Strong brand recognition and customer loyalty for existing firms4. Exclusive access to essential resources, such as raw materials5. Intellectual property rights, patents, or copyrights6. Government regulations or licenses that favor established firms
How do firms in an oligopoly set their prices?
Firms in an oligopoly often have some level of control over the prices they charge, but they must also consider their competitors’ strategies. This leads to a range of outcomes, such as explicit or implicit collusion through price-fixing agreements, price leadership by a dominant firm, or price competition as firms seek to gain market share.
What is the impact of oligopolies on consumers?
The impact on consumers can be both positive and negative. On one hand, large firms in an oligopoly may benefit from economies of scale, which could lead to lower production costs and potentially lower prices. On the other hand, oligopolies can limit competition, leading to higher prices, reduced production, and less innovation. It’s also possible for firms in an oligopoly to engage in anti-competitive practices, such as collusion or predatory pricing, which can be harmful to consumers.

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