Loading the player...

What does 'Per Capita' mean

Per capita is a Latin term that translates into "by head," and basically means the "average per person." Per capita can take the place of saying "per person" in any number of statistical observances. In most cases, the phrase is used in relation to economic data or reporting, but it can also be used in almost any other occurrence of population description.


When presenting national economic indicators such as gross domestic product (GDP) or gross national product (GNP), people are often interested in the total but also the per capita basis. Determining the per capita of any number is relatively straightforward. Take the total of the number being referenced, and divide that by the number of people involved. For example, as of 2016, the United States had a population of about 320 million people and an aggregate GDP of $16.7 trillion. In this case, the per capita income for 2016, or average income per person, was equal to approximately $52,195.

Per capita measures are often used when analyzing the relative state of a country's population. For example, China is now the second largest economy, with a GDP of $11.6 trillion in 2016 - around 40 percent lower than the U.S. However, China has far more people than the United States, and so the per capita GDP for China was just $8,123 - almost 6.5 times less than the average American. Thus, using per capita GDP shows that most Chinese citizens are still earning far less than the average American, despite the country's aggregate output. We should still be cautious when looking at these measures because per capita will express the average income for all the citizens of a particular country or area. It can be a misleading number, as it includes everyone from infants to senior citizens and fails to account for statistical outliers.

The Difference Between Per Capita and Median Income

In contrast to per capita measures, median numbers, such as for income, provide an arguably more accurate picture of how much the residents of a particular country or area are likely to earn. Median income is the income level in the very middle of a list of incomes. Exactly half of the people considered earn above the median income figure, while the other half earn below that number. In addition, when calculating median income, the U.S. Census Bureau does not take into account people under the age of 15. The median income in the U.S. for 2016 was $56,516 - about 8 percent greater than the per capita income. For China, in 2016 the median income was $4,850, or almost half of the per capita income.

  1. Income Per Capita

    Income per capita is an assessment of the amount of money earned ...
  2. Net Debt Per Capita

    The net debt per capita is a measurement of the value of a government's ...
  3. Four Asian Tigers

    The Four Asian Tigers refer to the high-growth economies of Hong ...
  4. Asian Century

    The Asian Century refers to the dominant role that Asia is expected ...
  5. Real Gross Domestic Product (GDP)

    Real gross domestic product is an inflation-adjusted measure ...
  6. Income

    Income is money that an individual or business receives on a ...
Related Articles
  1. Insights

    5 Countries With the Most Disposable Income

    Countries often use various measures to explain their wealth. These countries have the most money per capita disposable based on income per capita.
  2. Taxes

    5 States With Low Taxes and High Income

    When it comes to saving for retirement, living in one of these five states with low taxes and high income can better position you to build your nest egg.
  3. Insights

    Healthiest And Safest European Economies

    Economic indicators are to economists what symptoms are to doctors: signs of the relative well-being of the patient.
  4. Insights

    Top 25 Developed and Developing Countries

    The difference between developed and developing countries, along with a list of the status of 25 nations around the world.
  5. Insights

    5 States with the Lowest GDPs Per Capita

    Learn about the top five states that have the lowest real gross domestic products (GDPs): Mississippi, Idaho, South Carolina, West Virginia and Arkansas.
  6. Retirement

    The Least Expensive States to Retire In

    When it's time to retire, it's worth exploring the least expensive states.
  7. Managing Wealth

    America's Most Expensive Retirement States

    Six places that aren't great for your retirement years (financially speaking).
  8. Personal Finance

    The Best and Worst Countries to Find a Job

    Which countries have the lowest and highest unemployment rates? The answers might surprise you.
  9. Investing

    Economics Report: Compare and Contrast India vs. Brazil (PBR)

    Find out why Brazil and India, two of the largest and most important emerging market economies, appear to be headed in very different directions.
  1. Is Mexico an emerging market economy?

    Learn the difference between a developed economy and an emerging market economy, and understand why Mexico is an emerging ... Read Answer >>
  2. What is GDP and Why Is It So Important To Investors?

    The gross domestic product (GDP) is one the primary indicators used to gauge the health of a country's economy. What does ... Read Answer >>
  3. How does the United States government measure economic growth?

    Find out how the Bureau of Labor Statistics and the Bureau of Economic Analysis measure economic growth in the United States ... Read Answer >>
  4. Which country has the richest middle class?

    For decades, the United States boasted had the richest middle class. However, as of 2015, Canada has the wealthiest middle ... Read Answer >>
Trading Center