Real GDP Per Capita, How to Calculate It, and Data Since 1947

What Real GDP per Capita Reveals About Your Lifestyle

What to Know About GDP Per Capita Real GDP per capita is a measurement of the total economic output of a country divided by the number of people and adjusted for inflation It's used to compare the standard of living between countries and over time

Image by Lara Antal © The Balance 2020

Real GDP per capita is a measurement of the total economic output of a country divided by the number of people and adjusted for inflation. It's used to compare the standard of living between countries and over time.

This economic indicator consists of the following three concepts. You must understand these first if you want to comprehend GDP per capita.

The first concept is “gross domestic product.” That measures everything that a country produces in a year. The components of GDP are personal consumption, business investment, government spending, and exports minus imports. The Bureau of Economic Analysis reports it quarterly, updating its estimate each month. 

The second is “real GDP,” which is GDP without the effect of price changes. Inflation makes regular, “nominal” GDP higher, so real GDP is a more accurate measurement when you want to compare an economy over time.

The third is “per capita,” which means “per person.” Real GDP is divided by the population of a country to calculate real GDP per capita. It's the best way to compare economic indicators like GDP for countries with very different population sizes. 

Real GDP Per Capita Formula

The formula for real GDP per capita depends on what data you have available. Let's start with the simplest. If you already know real GDP (R), then you divide it by the population (C):

R/C = real GDP per capita.

In the United States, the Bureau of Economic Analysis calculates real GDP using 2012 as the base year. If you don't know real GDP, you can calculate it from nominal GDP (N) if you know the implicit price deflator (D). The deflator is the ratio of what goods and services would cost today if there had been no inflation since the base year. It's similar to another measure of inflation, the Consumer Price Index. Its components are weighted differently.

Fortunately, the BEA provides the deflator for 2012 in Table 1.1.9. Here's the formula to calculate real GDP per capita (R) if you only know nominal GDP (N) and the deflator (D):

(N/D) / C = real GDP per capita

The best way to calculate real GDP per capita for the United States is to use the real GDP estimates already published by the BEA. Then just divide it by the population. Fortunately, the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis already calculated it, as shown below.

Annual U.S. Real GDP Per Capita Since 1947 in 2012 Dollars

Year Real GDP Per Capita Event Affecting GDP
1947 $14,203  
1948 $14,316 Recession. Adjustment to peace-time.
1949 $14,202 Recession ongoing. Adjustment to peace-time.
1950 $14,490 Korean War.
1951 $15,759  
1952 $16,288  
1953 $17,013 Eisenhower took office. War ended. Recession.
1954 $16,425 Recession ended.
1955 $17,132  
1956 $17,376  
1957 $17,583 Fed raised rates. Recession.
1958 $16,793 Fed lowered rates. Recession ended.
1959 $17,734 Fed raised rates.
1960 $18,268 Recession.
1961 $17,816 JFK took office, ended recession.
1962 $18,863  
1963 $19,257 JFK assassinated. LBJ took office.
1964 $20,169  
1965 $20,997 Vietnam War.
1966 $22,510 Fed raised rates to fight inflation.
1967 $22,911 Economy slowed.
1968 $23,551 Fed raised rates.
1969 $24,365 Nixon took office. Fed raised rates.
1970 $24,189 Recession.
1971 $24,520 Burns chaired Fed. Stagflation. Wage-price controls.  Gold standard  ended.
1972 $25,083 Burns chaired Fed. Stagflation. Wage-price controls.
1973 $26,718 OPEC embargo. Recession. 
1974 $26,643 Ford took office.
1975 $25,789 Recession ended.
1976 $27,101  
1977 $27,706 Carter took office.
1978 $28,549 Fed raised rates.
1979 $30,077 Volcker chaired Fed. Raised rates.
1980 $30,154 Recession.
1981 $30,316 Reagan took office. Recession. Cut tax rate.
1982 $29,365 Recession ended.
1983 $29,511 Payroll taxes raised.
1984 $31,762  
1985 $32,920  
1986 $33,972 Reagan cut taxes.
1987 $34,585 Greenspan chaired Fed. Inflation.
1988 $35,728 Fed raised rates.
1989 $36,929 Bush 41 took office. S&L Crisis.
1990 $37,593 Recession.
1991 $36,746 Recession ended.
1992 $37,304 Fed lowered rate.
1993 $38,029 Clinton took office. NAFTA and EU.
1994 $38,852 Economy grew 4%.
1995 $39,729 Fed raised rates.
1996 $40,292  
1997 $41,532  
1998 $43,035 LTCM crisis.
1999 $44,600 Glass-Steagall repealed.
2000 $45,944 Tech bubble burst.
2001 $46,531 Bush 43 took office. Recession.  9/11 attacks.
2002 $46,690 War on Terror.
2003 $47,078 Fed lowered rate. Iraq War. JGTRRA
2004 $48,663 Fed raised rates, hurting interest-only loan holders.
2005 $50,081 Fed raised rates, hurting interest-only loan holders.
2006 $51,277 Fed raised rates, hurting interest-only loan holders.
2007 $51,540 Dow hit 14,164.43.
2008 $51,637 Financial crisis.  Fed lowered rates. QE.
2009 $49,491 Obama took office. American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.
2010 $49,903 ACA passed. Tax cuts.
2011 $50,495 Iraq War ended.
2012 $51,468 Fiscal cliff.
2013 $51,921 Sequestration.
2014 $52,293 Strong dollar hurt exports.
2015 $53,983  
2016 $54,464 Jobs improved.
2017 $55,240 Trump took office. Dollar weakened.
2018 $56,503 Trump tax cuts.
2019 $57,719 Trade war.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

What would cause a fall in real GDP per capita if real GDP were to grow at a constant rate?

If the population grows too quickly, that could cause a fall in real GDP per capita. If real GDP grows, but the population grows at a more rapid rate, then the real GDP per capita will decrease.

What phase of the business cycle corresponds with declining real GDP?

When real GDP declines, it marks the contraction phase of the business cycle. This continues until the trough marks the bottom of the contraction. After the trough, rising real GDP marks the start of the expansion phase.

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The Balance uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Bureau of Economic Analysis. “What Is GDP?

  2. Bureau of Economic Analysis. “Gross Domestic Product.”

  3. Bureau of Economic Analysis. “Concepts and Methods of the U.S. National Income and Product Accounts,” Pages 4-25–4-26.

  4. Bureau of Economic Analysis. “Table 1.1.9. Implicit Price Deflators for Gross Domestic Product.”

  5. Bureau of Labor Statistics. “Comparing the Consumer Price Index With the Gross Domestic Product Price Index and Gross Domestic Product Implicit Price Deflator.”

  6. Congressional Research Service. "Introduction to U.S. Economy: The Business Cycle and Growth."

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