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Output Gap


The output gap is an economic concept that measures the difference between an economy’s actual output and its potential output when operating at full capacity. It’s used to examine the efficiency of an economy and to understand its growth potential. Negative output gap signifies weaker economies that are not utilizing all resources, while a positive one points to a strong economy operating over its potential, often leading to inflation.


The phonetics for “Output Gap” are: /ˈaʊt.pʊt/ /gæp/

Key Takeaways

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  1. The Output Gap is an economic measure that represents the difference between a country’s actual GDP (Gross Domestic Product) and its potential GDP. In other words, it indicates the difference between what an economy is producing and what it could potentially produce.
  2. An output gap can either be positive or negative. A positive output gap occurs when the actual output exceeds potential output, leading to inflation. Conversely, a negative output gap occurs when potential output exceeds actual output, indicating that an economy could be producing more goods and services than it currently is, often a sign of economic recession.
  3. Monitoring the output gap is important as it helps policymakers determine whether an economy is on an unsustainable growth path and needs to be slowed down to avoid inflation, or if it requires stimulus to boost growth. As such, it’s an effective tool for macroeconomic management and for setting monetary and fiscal policy.



The output gap is a vital concept in business and finance as it allows economists, policymakers, and businesses to understand the health and performance of an economy. The output gap measures the difference between an economy’s actual output and its potential output (maximum productive capacity) at a given moment. A positive gap indicates an economy is overperforming or overheating, potentially leading to inflation, while a negative gap implies underperformance or economic slack, often correlating with unemployment. Therefore, by monitoring the output gap, authorities can implement policies to stimulate growth or control inflation, and businesses can make strategic decisions regarding investment, production, and workforce management.


An output gap serves as an essential analytical tool in economics and monetary policy-making as it is used to measure the difference between an economy’s actual output and its potential output if it were operating at full capacity. Potential output is the highest level of economic output that an economy can sustain over a specific period without triggering inflation, while the actual output is the real Gross Domestic Product (GDP). Policy-makers and economists employ the output gap to evaluate the health of an economy and determine the optimal fiscal or monetary policies to implement.In macroeconomics, managing the output gap is vital to maintain economic stability and sustainable growth. If an economy is operating above its potential (positive output gap), it implies that demand is outstripping supply, leading to inflationary pressures. In contrast, an economy functioning below its potential (negative output gap) indicates unused capacity or surplus supply due to insufficient demand, a scenario often associated with recession. Therefore, understanding the output gap helps central banks make decisions around interest rates or fiscal authorities develop policies related to government spending and taxation to steer the economy towards its potential output level.


1. United States Recession (2008-2009): The financial crisis in 2008 led to a significant negative output gap in the U.S. The actual GDP fell drastically below the potential GDP due to reduced consumer spending and business investments. This led to a period of high unemployment rates and low inflation. 2. Japan’s Lost Decade (1991-2001): Japan experienced a period of economic stagnation and price deflation known as the “Lost Decade.” During this period, there was a significant output gap, as the actual GDP was much lower than the potential GDP. Despite the government efforts to boost economy, the gap continued due to stagnant consumer spending and business growth.3. The COVID-19 Pandemic (2020-Present): The global pandemic has caused a significant output gap in many countries around the world. With lockdowns and restrictions, businesses have been unable to produce at full capacity, leading to a decrease in the actual GDP while the potential GDP remained the same or even grew due to technological advancements during the pandemic. This has resulted in higher unemployment rates and slower economic growth.

Frequently Asked Questions(FAQ)

What is an Output Gap?

The Output Gap is a discrepancy between a country’s actual economic output and its potential economic output. It is a key economic indicator used to analyze the health of an economy.

How is the Output Gap calculated?

The Output Gap is calculated by subtracting the potential GDP from the actual GDP, and then dividing the result by the potential GDP. It’s then converted into a percentage to show how much the actual GDP per cent is above or below its potential.

What does it mean when there’s a positive Output Gap?

A positive Output Gap indicates that the actual output is greater than the potential output. This situation, also known as an inflationary gap, implies the economy is overexpanding and that it may lead to inflation.

What does it mean when there’s a negative Output Gap?

A negative Output Gap means the economy is underperforming, producing less than it should. It suggests that the economy could produce more goods and services without causing inflation.

How can an Output Gap affect a business?

The Output Gap can affect businesses directly and indirectly by influencing government policies. If there’s a positive Output Gap, the government may increase interest rates to prevent inflation, which could cool down business activity. A negative Output Gap might lead to tax cuts or increased government spending, aiming to encourage economic growth.

How frequently is the Output Gap measured?

The Output Gap is generally measured annually, although there may be quarterly estimates depending on the organization conducting the analysis.

Can the Output Gap be reduced, and if so, how?

Yes, the Output Gap can be reduced. Countries with negative Output Gaps may implement measures to spur economic growth, such as fiscal policies that boost demand. Countries with positive Output Gaps might implement measures to cool down the economy, such as increasing interest rates.

Is a zero Output Gap considered ideal?

Yes, a zero Output Gap means the economy’s actual output is equal to its potential output. It’s a state of economic equilibrium where resources are fully utilized but not over-stretched, lowering the risk of inflation or economic recession.

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