What is a 'Global Recession'

A global recession is an extended period of economic decline around the world. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) uses a broad set of criteria to identify global recessions, including a decrease in per-capita gross domestic product worldwide. According to the IMF’s definition, this drop in global output must coincide with a weakening of other macroeconomic indicators, such as trade, capital flows and employment.

BREAKING DOWN 'Global Recession'

It’s important to note that, in order to classify as a recession, macroeconomic indicators have to wane for a significant period of time. In the United States, it’s generally accepted that GDP has to drop for two consecutive quarters for a true recession to take place. However, the IMF does not specify a minimum length of time when examining global recessions.

While there’s no official definition of a global recession, the criteria established by the IMF carries significant weight because of the organization’s stature across the globe. In contrast to some definitions of a recession, the IMF looks at more than a decline in gross domestic product (GDP). There must also be a deterioration of other economic factors, ranging from oil consumption to employment rates.

Ideally, economists would be able to simply add the GDP figures for each country to arrive at a “global GDP.” The vast number of currencies used throughout the world makes the process considerably more difficult. Though some organizations use exchange rates to calculate aggregate output, the IMF prefers to use purchasing power parity – that is, the amount of goods or services that one unit of currency can buy – in its analysis.

According to the IMF, there have been four global recessions since World War II, beginning in 1975, 1982, 1991 and 2009, respectively. This last recession was the deepest and widest of them all. Since 2010, the world economy has been in a process of recovery, albeit a slow one.

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