Per Capita, What It Means, Calculation, How to Use It

  • Per capita means per person. It is a Latin term that translates to “by the head.”  It’s commonly used in statistics, economics, and business to report an average per person. It provides a way to approximate how an organization affects each individual. For example, it’s used to compare the economic indicators of countries with different population sizes. The most commonly measured indicators are gross domestic product and income.
  • In legal matters, per capita has a very precise definition. It means to divide an estate equally among all living beneficiaries. The other method is per stirpes. That means to divide the estate between the branches of the family, regardless of the number of people in each branch. 

Calculation and Use

  • Per capita divides a statistical measurement for an organization by its population. The formula is:
  • Measurement / Population = Measurement per Capita. 
  • If the measurement is small, like the incidence of diseases, then per capita is reported as per 100,000 people. For example:
  • # of Heart Attacks / Population = Heart Attacks per Capita
  • Heart Attacks per Capita * 100,000 = Heart Attacks per 100,000.


GDP per capita is a country’s economic output per person. GDP measures everything produced within a country’s borders. It’s usually given for a quarter (three months) or a year. GDP per capita is a country’s GDP divided by its population.

  • To compare GDP between countries, you must remove the effects of exchange rates. For that, you need to use purchasing power parity. Fortunately, the CIA World Factbook does this for you. 
  • For example, U.S. GDP was $18.56 trillion in 2016. That made the United States the world’s third-largest economy, after China and the European Union.

Real GDP per capita removes the effects of price changes. That allows you to compare one country’s GDP per capita over time. That’s why you use real GDP. It removes the effects of inflation from one year to the next. If you didn’t use real GDP, you might think the country experienced growth when it really just suffered from rising prices. 


  • Gross national income per capita is GDP plus income earned by residents from foreign investments divided by the population. It includes income from dividends and interest earned overseas. The World Bank defines this as all income earned by a country’s residents and businesses, no matter where the person is working or the business is located. 
  • Gross national product per capita was a measurement very similar to gross national income per capita. It is no longer commonly used. The World Bank replaced it with GNI per capita. The U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis replaced it with GDP per capita in 1991. GNP measured all income earned by a country’s residents and businesses.


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