What Is a Recession?

What Is a Recession?

A recession is a decline in a country's economic activity, typically defined as two consecutive quarters of negative economic growth. It is a period of economic decline lasting between a few months and a few years.

A recession's effects can be felt nationally and globally, with large-scale job losses and a decrease in consumer spending. While a recession can be difficult for many, it can also be an opportunity to adjust, readjust and prepare for the future.

As the economy shifts, individuals and businesses can take steps to protect their investments and remain financially secure. Understanding what a recession is, what causes it and how to prepare for it can help minimize an economic downturn's impact.

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Official Definition of Recession

What Is a Recession?

A recession is when real income, real GDP, employment, industrial production and wholesale-retail sales all fall significantly and remain low for over a few months. Different organizations have slightly different definitions of what constitutes a recession.

It takes two or more consecutive quarters of negative economic growth, as defined by the International Monetary Fund (IMF), for a recession. In other words, if the GDP declines for two consecutive quarters or more, the economy is in recession.

The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) defines a recession as negative economic growth for at least six consecutive months. Like the IMF, the OECD definition is based on GDP. It also considers other indicators such as employment, industrial production and retail sales.

The Federal Reserve Board has a more simplistic definition of a recession: "a significant decline in economic activity." The Federal Reserve Board also states that a decline in consumer spending usually marks a recession, businesses reducing their capital expenditures and employment and stock market declines.

Causes of Recessions

Several different causes of recessions can lead to economic downturns in an economy.

Monetary Policy

What Is a Recession?

Monetary policy is the actions taken by a country's central bank to influence the money supply, interest rates and other economic variables. When the central bank raises interest rates to slow economic growth, it can lead to a recession.

When interest rates are high, businesses and consumers find it more difficult to borrow money, making them less likely to invest or purchase goods and services. This can lead to a decrease in economic activity and lower production. High interest rates also make it more expensive for companies to borrow money, so they may be less inclined to expand their operations.

The central bank can also use its monetary policy to reduce the money supply, making it more difficult for businesses to get the money they need to grow. This can affect consumer confidence, as people become more hesitant about spending their money. This can lead to decreased demand for goods and services, further contributing to a recession.

When the central bank increases interest rates too quickly, it can cause a spike in inflation, leading to higher prices for goods and services. This can damper consumer spending, leading to a decrease in economic activity and a recession.

Fiscal Policy

Fiscal policy is the government's use of taxation and spending to influence the economy. When the government increases taxes and reduces spending, it can lead to a recession. This is because it reduces the amount of money people spend, reducing demand for goods and services and leading to lower economic growth.

On the other hand, when the government reduces taxes and increases spending, it can stimulate the economy and lead to higher economic growth. Therefore, it is important for governments to carefully consider their fiscal policies when deciding how to manage the economy.


When businesses invest too much money into capital investments, it can lead to a recession. This is because businesses have overextended themselves and cannot generate enough cash flow to repay their loans.

International Trade

Global trade can lead to a recession if countries become more protectionist and start imposing tariffs, quotas and other restrictions on international trade. This can lead to a decrease in exports and an increase in imports, hurting domestic businesses and leading to a recession.

Stock Market Crash

A stock market crash occurs when the value of stocks suddenly and significantly falls. This can lead to a recession as businesses cut back on investments and consumers reduce spending due to fears of financial insecurity.

Natural Disasters

Natural disasters such as floods, hurricanes, earthquakes and droughts can lead to a recession due to disruptions in supply chains and labor markets.

For What Period Do Recessions Last?

What Is a Recession?

There have been many periods of recession throughout history. Let's take a look at some of the most famous ones.

The first example is the Great Depression, which occurred in the United States from 1929 to 1939. This was a period of economic hardship, high unemployment and drastic drops in the stock market.

Another notable period of recession was the Recession of 2001-2002. This recession was caused by the bursting of the dot-com bubble and was felt across the United States, Europe and Japan.

In 2008, the world experienced another major recession due to the financial crisis. This period is known as the Great Recession and lasted from December 2007 to June 2009.

Finally, the COVID-19 pandemic has caused a global economic downturn with significant financial losses worldwide.

These events had far-reaching consequences for the global economy and affected different countries differently. It's important to remember that recessions are a natural part of the business cycle. While they can cause disruption and hardship, they can also serve as an opportunity to make necessary changes to create a more resilient economy.

Effects of Recessions

What Is a Recession?

Recessions can have a big impact on people's lives and understanding the effects of recessions can help you prepare for them and manage their impacts.

The most obvious effect of recessions is a decrease in economic activity. This includes a decline in employment, as businesses reduce their workforce to cut costs and a downturn in consumer spending, as people become more cautious with their money. These trends can lead to lower wages, reduced hours and fewer job opportunities, leaving many people without an income source.

The decline in economic activity also affects other sectors such as housing, transportation and retail. The housing market slows down as people are less likely to invest in a home during a recession, decreasing home values. Transportation and retail may also suffer from decreased consumer spending, resulting in higher prices and fewer options for consumers.

Public debt may increase as governments struggle to prop up the economy through fiscal stimulus. This can lead to higher taxes to pay off the debt and reduce public services such as education and healthcare.

Levels of poverty and inequality can increase as those who are already vulnerable are disproportionately affected by job losses and wage cuts. This can result in a widening wealth gap between different groups, creating long-term economic and social instability.

Recessions can have a psychological impact, as people feel uncertain about the future and become more pessimistic about their prospects. This can lead to increased stress, anxiety and depression, impacting people's mental health and well-being.

Recessions are a normal part of the economic cycle and can be beneficial in the long term. However, it is also important to be prepared for a recession by planning and investing in assets such as precious metals that will provide stability during an economic downturn. By understanding the causes and effects of recessions, we can better prepare ourselves and our families to weather a potential recession.

Taking proactive measures now can help you weather any potential economic downturns in the future and build resilience in your finances and business operations.

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