What Does Recession Mean? Understanding the Meaning of Recession

In a time of economic insecurity, grasping the concept of recessions is vital to making sound choices and navigating an unsteady financial atmosphere. This post will explore what recession means by studying its multiple definitions, attributes, types as well as emotional elements and governments’ responses. By analyzing prior events, we can gain broad insights into how recessions shape the global economy.

Key Takeaways

  • A recession is defined differently by different organizations and typically involves a decline in GDP, rising unemployment, and decreased consumer spending.
  • It can be categorized as V-shaped, U-shaped or double dip recessions depending on its shape and severity.
  • Governments may respond to recessions with fiscal stimulus measures such as increased spending, tax cuts or monetary policy adjustments like lowering interest rates.

Suggested Reading:  How to Recession Proof Your 401(k)

Defining Recession

recession graph

The National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) and the European Union have different definitions for a recession. NBER defines it as an economic decline characterized by a decrease in Gross Domestic Product, along with increased unemployment rates and lower consumer spending and business investment. These recurrences are simply part of the typical business cycle according to NBER’s definition. On the other hand, the EU uses similar criteria but provides its own specific interpretation about when this period may be identified as an official ‘recession’.

NBER’s Definition

The National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) classifies a recession as an extensive decrease in economic activity lasting longer than just a couple of months, demonstrated by factors such as real GDP, income and employment rates. This organization investigates the distribution across various sectors with respect to non-farm payrolls, industrial production and retail sales among other key figures.

To sum up, NBER has specified that when taking into account variables including but not limited to wholesale-retail sales or real income along with signs like overall output or job availability from various businesses it is possible for them to assess whether there was indeed any drastic drop in general economic performance throughout different industries.

European Union’s Definition

The European Union evaluates the health of their economies by inspecting a range of indicators, including GDP figures. To determine if an economic recession is taking place in all Euro Area countries combined, they look for two consecutive quarters showing negative growth levels on the Gross Domestic Product scale. The Commission keeps track of events happening in each member state to better gauge stability and overall progress within Europe as a whole.

Key Characteristics of Recessions

During a recession, GDP drops and unemployment increases while consumer spending and business investments also fall to periods of economic expansion.

Decline in GDP

When there is a large decrease in the real GDP, it can be seen as an indication of economic downturn and contraction, with this metric being used to gauge all services and products produced within a country. This drop confirms recession through observed developments such as falls in stock prices and rising unemployment levels.

The negative consequences caused by a declining GDP are plentiful: reduced employment opportunities, stagnated wages growth, diminished money supply coupled with decreased production activity make up some examples.

Rising Unemployment

In times of recession, unemployment rises as businesses scale back their production and revenue. This reduces the need for extra labor. Thus employers cut jobs or stop hiring, which drives up joblessness.

High levels of unemployment have profound implications on individuals and families, not only monetarily but emotionally and physically too.

Decreased Consumer Spending and Business Investment

When it comes to economic growth, consumer spending and business investment are absolutely essential. During a recession, such actions typically decrease as people become more thrifty with their money, which leads to lower sales numbers for companies and consequently reduced profits. Accessing credit may also be hard due to payment collection difficulties hindering businesses in investing or growing operationswise.

Types and Shapes of Recessions


Let us explore the different types of recessions that can occur based on their severity and length, including V-shaped, U-shaped, and double dip. All these forms are characterized by a decline in economic activity for an extended period of time with differing impacts experienced throughout this duration.

V-Shaped Recession


Throughout economic history, there have been numerous examples of V-shaped recessions. In a V-shaped recession, the economy contracts considerably but then rebounds rapidly and recovers to its pre-recession levels with surprising strength and speed. Examples include the 1980s recovery in America from their 1980–1982 slump, as well as similar stories for both 19901991 and 2001 recessions in the US.

U-Shaped Recession

A U-shaped recession features a severe drop in economic activity followed by an extended period of low growth or standstill at the bottom before restoration. This type of downturn is more drawn out and persistent compared to a V-shaped recession with its consequent recovery taking longer than usual.

The aftereffects of such a recession on the economy involve an even longer phase of depression plus stagnation leading to reduced Gross Domestic Product as well as high levels of employment for quite some time.

Double-Dip Recession

A double-dip recession, which is rare but can be seen in events such as the United States’ 1937 to 1938 decline or the one caused by German unification and SARS outbreak, involves a short period of recovery from an economic downturn followed by another decrease in activity. Possible causes include tight monetary policy restrictions prior to necessary time, high inflation levels that lead to deflationary spirals and external non-economic factors.

Psychological Aspects and Their Influence on Recessions

Consumer confidence and expectations can have a great impact on the severity and length of recessions. In this analysis, we will explore how these psychological aspects affect economic activity during recessionary periods.

The attitudes held by consumers play an important role in shaping the economy. When people are feeling hopeful about their financial future, they tend to spend more money than if feelings of pessimism take hold. When consumer optimism is high, consumers are optimistic.

Expectations and Self-Reinforcing Cycles

The economy and its outlook can significantly affect the scope of a recession, for better or worse. When pessimism becomes prevalent in society, people tend to limit their expenditures as well as investments. This action then worsens any slump present. The result is usually an intensified economic dip that lasts longer than expected.

On the other hand, higher expectations among both individuals and businesses will lead them towards greater confidence which eventually results in improved spending and investment decisions – these may even help reduce either severity or length (or both) of such a decline period within the market system overall.

Animal Spirits and Consumer Confidence

During a recession, the psychological factors that are part of economic activity such as trust, fairness and corruption can cause an effect on consumer spending and business investment. When consumers feel confident in their purchasing decisions, they will be more likely to purchase goods and services, which leads to increased economic growth. Conversely, when levels of confidence decrease, people become hesitant about buying items, resulting in decreased overall economic activities. Consumer spending then drops alongside lower rates of financial expansion, causing a dip within the economy during times like these.

Government Responses to Recessions


Governments can take steps in order to counteract recessionary effects and lead the economy towards recovery. This may involve fiscal stimulation, adjustments in monetary policy provided by the Federal Reserve Bank, as well as tax cuts. All of these measures have an effect on economic conditions during a time of downturn.

The Federal Reserve employs several mechanisms such as changing interest rates or altering its balance sheet composition which are aimed at stabilizing recessions and pushing national economies out of their grips. Speaking of which, it is up to governments’ discretion to decide upon appropriate means for handling each particular particular case.

Fiscal Stimulus

During times of recession, fiscal stimulus has been used to help restore economic activity. This takes the form of both increases in government expenditure and tax reductions, which can lead to increased consumer spending as well as investment from businesses. These actions work together towards boosting demand for goods and services thus providing a much needed boost for employment within an economy hit by financial uncertainty.

Monetary Policy Adjustments

In a recession, changes to monetary policy, such as decreasing interest rates, can help spur borrowing and spending. By reducing the cost of accessing credit for businesses and consumers through lowering the level of interest rates due to these adjustments in monetary policy interventions, it helps stimulate economic activity by supporting growth during an economic downturn.

Tax Cuts

Tax reductions can give consumers more disposable income and encourage consumer spending, thus resulting in economic growth. These decreased tax rates would help create a greater buying power for people, potentially leading to an improvement of the economy as a whole. Lowering taxes may motivate businesses to hire new workers or invest in equipment – both moves that could Promote the prosperity of our country’s economy overall.

Historical Examples of Recessions

This article will look into three major recessions in history: the Great Depression, the 2008 financial crisis, and 2020’s COVID-19 pandemic recession. These occurrences can provide valuable knowledge about why they happened, how much damage occurred during them, and what governments did to help alleviate their impacts.

The Great Depression

The Great Depression was an extended economic recession that had sweeping and debilitating effects around the world in the 1930s. The cause of this episode can be traced to various factors, like a reduction in international lending combined with tariffs, frailties within the global economy through financial speculation coupled with mistakes from central banks and falling consumer demand.

This historic downturn is characterized as being markedly high levels of joblessness alongside shrinking output figures. Thus lowering living standards during such a long-term period of commercial contraction and economic stagnation all over planet earth.

The 2008 Financial Crisis

The 2008 global financial crisis, resulting in a worldwide recession, was mainly due to the bursting of the housing market bubble and accompanying issues with subprime mortgages as well as major failures among many leading financiers. Governments around the globe reacted by setting up measures like the Dodd-Frank Act, Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) and creating Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB).

The 2020 COVID-19 Pandemic Recession

The 2020 COVID-19 recession was caused by the worldwide pandemic of a new virus, leading to widespread decreases in economic activity. Particularly hard hit were sectors like leisure and hospitality, arts and entertainment, and retail services. The unemployment rate due to this downturn made history when it reached 13%, making it the highest quarterly average ever seen before. This shocking statistic is testimony to just how profoundly people have been affected economically during this outbreak of coronavirus.


At the end of it all, having a thorough understanding of recessions and their features is essential for handling the intricate economic situation. By evaluating various definitions, properties, sorts, mental ramifications, government strategies and past occurrences, we have been given noteworthy knowledge on these downturns as well as how they impact our global economy. Through being knowledgeable about current events. To modifying ourselves when necessary according to ever-evolving market conditions – we are able to be prepared for whatever lies ahead economically speaking.

Frequently Asked Questions

What does recession mean in simple terms?

A recession is a period in which there has been significant decline of economic activity, covering the entire economy and not just for a few months. It can be identified through reductions in Real GDP, employment levels, industrial production figures, real incomes and sales from wholesalers to retailers. In other words, it’s an extended drop-off of economic performance compared to usual standards.

What happens during a recession?

During a recession, the economy experiences diminishing returns. Joblessness increases and economic production decreases. Corporations are forced to cut back on staff members and wages remain stagnant while financial markets endure turbulence.

Meanwhile, consumer demand weakens, resulting in fewer positions available as well as reduced paychecks.

Do you lose money in a recession?

In a recession, interest rates can drop, stock markets can become volatile and jobs may be lost, which could all result in potential financial losses. To shield savings, it is essential to diversify investments and create an emergency fund. These steps are crucial for mitigating money loss during a period of economic hardship caused by the downturn of business activity during recessions.

Is a recession good or bad?

Recessions can have detrimental effects, yet they may present a chance to restructure the markets and be advantageous for savers as well as people wishing to purchase property.

What is the primary cause of a recession?

Inflation that is not adequately managed and sudden changes to the economy can be a major factor in causing recessions, which are typical during the business cycle.

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Tim Schmidt


Tim Schmidt is an Entrepreneur who has covered retirement investing since 2012. He started IRA Investing to share his expertise in using his Self-Directed IRA for alternative investments. His views on retirement investing have been highlighted in USA Today, Business Insider, Tech Times, and more. He invested with Goldco.