November 26, 2015 

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ABSOLUTE POVERTY LEVEL: The amount of income a person or family needs to purchase an absolute amount of the basic necessities of life. These basic necessities are identified in terms of calories of food, BTUs of energy, square feet of living space, etc. The problem with the absolute poverty level is that there really are no absolutes when in comes to consuming goods. You can consume a given poverty level of calories eating relatively expensive steak, relatively inexpensive pasta, or garbage from a restaurant dumpster. The income needed to acquire each of these calorie "minimums" vary greatly. That's why some prefer a relative poverty level.

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Oligopoly and monopoly have some similarities, both tend to be relatively large and possess significant market control, but also have a few important differences, oligopoly market has more than one firm. The dividing line between oligopoly and monopoly, however, can be blurred due to the closeness of substitutes and the inclination of oligopoly firms to collude.
Oligopoly is a market structure containing a small number of relatively large firms that often produce slightly differentiated output and with significant barriers to entry. Monopoly is a market structure containing a single firm that produces a good with no close substitutes and with significant barriers to entry. While it might seem as though the difference between oligopoly and monopoly is clear cut, such is not always the case.

A comparison between these two market structures is bound to be illuminating.

  • One or Few: The primary difference between oligopoly and monopoly is that monopoly contains a single seller, whereas oligopoly has two or more sellers. Such a difference might seem to provide a clear separation. But not necessarily.

  • Substitutes: In some cases, the difference between oligopoly and monopoly is blurred by the closeness of substitutes. A monopoly produces a good with NO close substitutes. An oligopoly firms produces a good with a small number of relatively close substitutes.

    However, the oligopoly-monopoly difference is blurred if an oligopoly firm pursues product differentiation to such an extent that it creates a product with no close substitutes. As such, the oligopoly moves closer to monopoly. For example, Microsoft was once one of several oligopoly software companies. However, continued modification and enhancements of its software increasingly reduced the degree of substitutability with other software, moving it closer to monopoly status.

    Alternatively, changes in the goods produced by other firms can make the good produced by a monopoly good more of a substitute. As such, the monopoly firm becomes more of an oligopoly. For example, AT&T once held a nationwide monopoly on telephone services. Technological advances, such as cellular telephones, allowed other firms to offer increasingly close substitutes, moving AT&T to oligopoly status.

  • Cooperation: The dividing line is also blurred between oligopoly and monopoly due to cooperation and collusion. The small number of large firms in oligopoly creates an opportunity and an incentive to cooperate rather than compete. Doing so can effectively transform an oligopoly industry into a monopoly. The industry might contain more than one firm, but those firms act as one.


Recommended Citation:

OLIGOPOLY AND MONOPOLY, AmosWEB Encyclonomic WEB*pedia,, AmosWEB LLC, 2000-2015. [Accessed: November 26, 2015].

Check Out These Related Terms...

     | oligopoly, characteristics | oligopoly, behavior | monopoly, characteristics | monopoly and perfect competition | oligopoly and monopolistic competition |

Or For A Little Background...

     | oligopoly | monopoly | market structures | market control | firm | industry | competition among the few | short-run production analysis | profit maximization | efficiency | production |

And For Further Study...

     | market share | concentration | kinked-demand curve | merger | collusion | barriers to entry | game theory | perfect competition | monopolistic competition | product differentiation | oligopoly, realism | monopoly, realism | cross elasticity of substitution |

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