What Is Economic Value?

Economic value can be described as a measure of the benefit from a good or service to an economic agent. It is typically measured in units of currency. Another interpretation is that economic value represents the maximum amount of money an agent is willing and able to pay for a good or service. The economic value should not be confused with market value, which is the minimum amount a consumer will pay for a good or service. Thus, economic value is often greater than the market value.

Economic Value Deconstructed

The preferences of a given population determine the economic value of a good or service and the trade-offs agents make given their resources. For example, if an agent decides to buy a bag of apples, the economic value is the amount the agent is willing to pay for those apples bearing in mind that the money could be spent on something else. This choice represents a trade-off. Economic value is also directly correlated to the value that any given market puts onto an item.

Key Takeaways

  • Economic value is the maximum amount of money an agent will pay for a good or service.
  • The economic value of an item changes as the price or quality of similar or associated items changes.
  • Producers use economic value to set prices for their products taking into consideration tangible and intangible factors such as brand name.


Economic Value of Consumer Goods

Economic value is not a static figure; it changes when the price or quality of similar items changes. For example, if the price of milk increases, people may buy less milk and less cereal. This reduction in consumer spending is likely to lead producers and retailers to lower the cost of cereal to entice consumers to buy more. How people choose to spend their income and their time, therefore, determines a good or service's economic value.

Economic Value in Marketing

Companies use the economic value to the customer (EVC) to set prices for their products or services. EVC is not derived from a precise mathematical formula, but it considers the tangible and intangible value of a product. The tangible value is based on the product's functionality, and the intangible value is based on consumer sentiment toward product ownership. For example, a consumer places a tangible value on a durable pair of sneakers that provide protection and support during athletic activity. However, the sneaker's brand label or affiliation with a celebrity can add intangible value to the sneakers.

Although modern economists believe economic value is subjective, notable past economists, such as Karl Marx, believed that economic value was objective. Marx believed that the value of a good is determined by the value of labor used to make the good, not the amount that individuals are willing to pay for the finished product.

Real World Example

An example of the practical application of economic value is the weighing of the merits of college degrees in different disciplines. There is a consensus that a college degree has more economic value than a high school diploma and that some college degrees have a higher economic value than others. For example, according to a 2015 Georgetown study, students who major in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) fields, such as petroleum engineering, will likely enjoy dramatically more economic value from their degrees than students who major in fields such as early childhood education, human services, or art. The market assigns greater worth on certain skills than others, and the degrees that lead to these skills have greater economic value.