Real wage

Real wage

The term real wages refers to wages that have been adjusted for inflation. This term is used in contrast to nominal wages or unadjusted wages.

The use of adjusted figures is in undertaking some form of economic analysis. For example, in order to report on the relative economic successes of two nations, real wage figures are much more useful than nominal figures.

If nominal figures are used in an analysis, then statements may be incorrect. A report could state: 'Country A is becoming wealthier each year than Country B because its wage levels are rising by an average of $500 compared to $250 in Country B'. However, the conclusion that this statement draws could be false if the values used are not adjusted for inflation. An inflation rate of 100% in Country A will result in its citizens becoming rapidly poorer than those of Country B where inflation is only 2%. Taking inflation into account, the conclusion is quite different: 'Despite nominal wages in Country A rising faster than those in Country B, real wages are falling significantly as the currency halves in value each year'.

The importance of considering real wages also appears when looking at the history of a single country. Looking back over the decades, annual wages were considerably less than they are today. If only nominal wages are considered, the conclusion has to be that people used to be a great deal poorer than today. However, the cost of living was also much lower. In order to have an accurate view of a nation's wealth in any given year, inflation has to be taken into account — and thus using real wages as the measuring stick.

Real wages are a useful economic measure, as opposed to nominal wages, which simply show the monetary value of wages in that year.


Consider an example economy with the following wages over three years:

* Year 1: $20,000
* Year 2: $20,400
* Year 3: $20,808

Real Wage = W/P (W= wage, P= i, inflation, can also be subjugated as interest)

Also assume that the inflation in this economy is 2% p.a. These figures have very different meanings depending on whether they are real wages or nominal wages.

If the figures that are shown are real wages, then it can be determined that wages have increased by 2% after inflation has been taken into account. In effect, an individual making this wage actually has more money than the previous year.

However, if the figures that are shown are nominal wages then the wages are not really increasing at all. In absolute dollar amounts, an individual is bringing home more money each year, but the increases in inflation actually zeroes the increases in their salary. Given that inflation is increasing at the same pace as wages, an individual cannot actually afford to increase their consumption.

Real wage rate growth

Some economists have found that growth in real wages correlate with inflation, growth in productivity, and government spending. Referencing government data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in general, the lower the rate of inflation, the lower the rate of government spending as a percentage of GDP, and the higher the rate of productivity will lead to higher rates of real wage rate growth.

External links

* [ U.S. real wages (1964-2004) from the Labor Research Organization]

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