Autonomous Consumption

Updated on January 24, 2024
Article byPrakhar Gajendrakar
Reviewed byDheeraj Vaidya, CFA, FRM

Autonomous Consumption Definition

Autonomous consumption refers to the consumption expenditure incurred by an entity on goods and services independent of income level. It ensures the basic standard of living, and examples include the spending on essential expenses like food, rent, utilities, medicines, and interest obligations.

Its basic level does not show a significant positive or negative correlation with income. It happens because an entity or consumer has to spend for it even if they do not have an adequate disposable income. If they fail to collect the money required to meet the necessities, they have to borrow or withdraw money from their savings.

Key Takeaways

  • Autonomous consumption refers to the unavoidable consumption expenditure of an entity that cannot easily cut down based on a decline in income.
  • Spending on it ensures the basic standard of living. If the disposable income is zero, it is financed using savings or borrowings.
  • Examples include spending on essential expenses like food, rent, utilities, medicines, and mortgage payments.
  • It is often contrasted with induced consumption and discretionary expenses. Induced consumption easily correlates positively with income, and discretionary income stimulates spending on vacations and luxuries.

Autonomous Consumption Explained

Autonomous consumption is the portion attributed to a household’s spending that is supported regardless of regular income. In the absence of stable income, citizens are compelled to fund it with borrowings or savings. It is because they are financing life-supporting activities or items which they are bound to arrange, pay and maintain first and foremost. There is no question of delay or arrangement in normal scenarios.

Citizens from any class of society or income bracket will have basic needs and utility bills, but they may vary. However, households of every income class have to spend for their basic needs and bills independent of their income. Hence such expenditures are known as autonomous. However, the characteristics of components of autonomous expenditure can change in response to the rate of reduction or increase in cash inflow, amount of savings, or credit availability. For instance, with a drastic reduction in income and no savings left, people may decide to downsize the home and lower utility bills.

Several factors contribute to autonomous expenditure growth, like the potential for future cash inflow, ease of borrowing, asset base or savings, etc. The phenomenon is also linked to GDPGDPGDP or Gross Domestic Product refers to the monetary measurement of the overall market value of the final output produced within a country over a more growth. For instance, various studies reveal that residential investment tends to be positively affected by GDP growth. At the same time, during phases like depression, there will be a large fall in autonomous spending. If autonomous consumption decreases, then it will push the aggregate demand curve down. As a result, the government will introduce an economic stimulus packageEconomic Stimulus PackageAn economic stimulus package is an attempt by any nation to stabilize the economy through monetary and fiscal policy expansion. It attempts to avert the economic slowdown, and getting out of recession by helping the private sector to recover and flourish, resulting in economic more and other measures to offset the autonomous spending decline.

It is always contrasted with induced consumption and discretionary consumption. The fraction of consumption that fluctuates with disposable incomeDisposable IncomeDisposable income is an important mechanism to measure household incomes, and includes all sorts of income such as wages and salaries, retirement income, investment gains. In other words, it is the amount of money left after paying off all the direct more is induced consumption. When disposable income increases, induced consumption increases and vice versa. Unlike autonomous expenditure, induced expenditure can also drop to zero if the disposable income falls to zero. Similarly, people use discretionary income derived from disposable income to spend on luxuries like vacations and branded products.

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The autonomous consumption formula is derived from a linear function for consumption. The consumption function explains that if the income increases, consumption also increases, given the marginal propensity to consumeMarginal Propensity To ConsumeMarginal Propensity to Consume refers to the increase in consumption owing to the increment in disposable income. It is determined as the ratio of change in consumption (ΔC) to change in disposable income (ΔI). read more is not declining. On the other hand, if the marginal propensity to consume falls with an increase in income, the consumption function will become nonlinear.

Autonomous Consumption Formula

C = a +bY

  • C:Consumption function
  • a: Level of autonomous consumption
  • b: Marginal propensity to consume out of income
  • Y: Income


C = A + MPC×Yd 

  • C: Consumption
  • A: Autonomous consumption
  • MPC: Marginal propensity to consume from disposable income Yd


To understand better, let us take another autonomous consumption example:

Lisa had a job with a fair salary. She lived in a small apartment for rent. She paid for all her necessities like food, rent, utilities, healthcare, and mortgage payments on time and non-essential goods and services utilizing her disposable income.

Unfortunately, she lost her job due to downsizing caused by a financial crisisFinancial CrisisThe term "financial crisis" refers to a situation in which the market's key financial assets experience a sharp decline in market value over a relatively short period of time, or when leading businesses are unable to pay their enormous debt, or when financing institutions face a liquidity crunch and are unable to return money to depositors, all of which cause panic in the capital markets and among more in her company. She tried to take another job but couldn’t find one immediately. So, she canceled all her vacation plans and stopped spending on other usual discretionary events like shopping sprees, eating-outs, and online subscriptions. By canceling non-essential goods and services, she prioritized spending on essentials that she could not avoid. Due to a lack of cash inflow, she managed to pay for necessities by utilizing her savings and borrowings. After two months, she finally found a suitable job and slowly paved her way back to how she was living before.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

What does autonomous mean in economics?

In economics, autonomous expenditure refers to spending not influenced by income level. It does not fall or rise with income drop or growth. This kind of expenditure is regarded as regular and vital.

What’s the difference between consumption and autonomous consumption?

Consumption is a broad term indicating an important concept in Economics. It refers to the use of goods and services to satisfy needs and wants. Direct or final consumption occurs when products directly and instantly satisfy human desires. When products are not intended for final consumption, it results in indirect or productive consumption. At the same time, autonomous consumption describes the type of consumption that is unavoidable even in the absence of adequate disposable income.

What is the autonomous consumption formula?

It is calculated using the formula:
C = a +bY
C: Consumption function
a: Level of autonomous consumption
b: Marginal propensity to consume out of income
Y: Income

This is a Guide to Autonomous Consumption and its definition. We explain autonomous consumption in economics, its formula, and example. You can learn more about accounting from the following articles –

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