Can Price Elasticity of Supply Be Negative?

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Key Takeaways:

  • Price elasticity of supply measures the responsiveness of quantity supplied to a change in price.
  • It is typically positive as higher prices lead to higher quantity supplied.
  • However, in some cases like backward-bending labor supply curves, it can be negative.
  • Negative price elasticity of supply occurs when quantity supplied falls as price rises.
  • This is seen in high-paying professions where workers choose more leisure time over work.
  • Other factors like technology changes and supply bottlenecks can also cause negative elasticity.
  • Understanding price elasticity of supply helps firms make pricing and output decisions.


The concept of price elasticity of supply is fundamental in economics. It measures how sensitive the quantity supplied of a good or service is to changes in its market price. Generally, the law of supply dictates that quantity supplied increases as price rises. This positive relationship leads to a positive price elasticity of supply in most cases. However, there are certain exceptions where supply does not follow this norm. The price elasticity of supply can, in fact, be negative in some situations.

This article will provide a comprehensive analysis of the scenarios in which the price elasticity of supply turns negative. It will explain the economic theory behind this phenomenon and illustrate real-world examples. Understanding the dynamics of negative price elasticity of supply is crucial for firms in making critical pricing and production decisions. The article will outline key factors that can invert the standard law of supply. Readers will gain valuable insight into the nuances of price elasticity of supply beyond the common wisdom.

With multiple examples and intuitive explanations, the article will demonstrate how increases in price can sometimes perversely induce suppliers to reduce quantity supplied. This counterintuitive possibility is important for managers and business owners to recognize. Whether in setting price points, determining output levels, or developing broader corporate strategies, the implications of negative price elasticity must be considered. By thoroughly investigating the situations that give rise to negative elasticity, readers will be better equipped to make smart economic choices.

What Is Price Elasticity of Supply?

Price elasticity of supply measures the degree of responsiveness of quantity supplied to a change in price. It is calculated as the percentage change in quantity supplied divided by the percentage change in price.

The law of supply states that higher prices will induce producers to supply a greater quantity. With positive price elasticity, a 1% rise in price causes quantity supplied to increase by more than 1%.

Generally, supply curves have an upward slope indicating this positive relationship between price and quantity supplied. The price elasticity is normally above zero.

However, in certain scenarios, the supply curve can slope downward. Here, increases in price cause quantity supplied to fall, giving a negative price elasticity.

Understanding the reasons behind such anomalous cases is important for making sound business decisions.

When Can Price Elasticity of Supply Be Negative?

While positive price elasticity of supply is the norm, there are some situations in which it can turn negative. The major cases where this phenomenon occurs are:

Backward-Bending Labor Supply Curve

The labor market is a prominent example of negative elasticity. Here, the supply curve shows the relationship between wage rates and labor supplied.

Typically, higher wages induce workers to supply more labor. The supply curve slopes upward and elasticity is positive.

However, at very high wage levels, the labor supply curve can slope backward. Workers may value leisure time more than extra income. So they choose to work less when wages rise further.

A 2021 study by the National Bureau of Economic Research found negative elasticity among top earners like doctors and lawyers who reduced work hours in response to wage increases.

Giffen Goods

For normal goods, higher prices reduce quantity demanded. But Giffen goods defy this norm. As the price rises, quantity demanded also increases.

An upward sloping demand curve leads to a negative price elasticity of demand. When applied to supply, this can produce negative elasticity.

If producers face greater demand despite higher prices, they may counterintuitively restrict output. This perverse supply response gives negative elasticity.

Technological Changes

Improvements in production technology can lower costs and boost supply. However, sometimes new technologies are expensive to adopt.

Firms may cut back production when market prices rise in the short run. Over time, as technology costs decline, the normal positive elasticity is restored.

Supply Bottlenecks

Constraints on key inputs like labor, raw materials, or infrastructure can curb output expansion. Producers are simply unable to scale supply in the face of rising prices.

This supply bottleneck gives negative elasticity in the short run. Once the constraints are eased, supply again responds positively to price.

Government Intervention

Regulations like price ceilings can invert supply elasticity. If the ceiling is below equilibrium price, quantities supplied will fall.

Taxes, subsidies, or quotas can also introduce policies that detract from normal market incentives and relationships.

Real World Examples of Negative Price Elasticity of Supply

While theoretical, these scenarios manifest in the real world as well. Here are some examples:

  • Doctors – As compensation increases, doctors retire earlier or work fewer hours. A Harvard study found primary care physicians reduced hours by 7-8% when pay rose by 10%.
  • Lawyers – Elite law firm partners billed fewer hours as their hourly rates and incomes climbed. The supply of lawyer hours decreased as price rose.
  • Oil Production – OPEC sometimes constrains output when prices spike. Supply bottlenecks and coordination issues can temporarily invert oil supply elasticity.
  • Agriculture – Adverse weather events like droughts can severely limit farm output despite higher crop prices. The supply crunch leads to negative elasticity.
  • Housing Rentals – In tight housing markets, landlords may be unable to increase rental unit supply when prices are rising rapidly. This can temporarily cause a backward-bending supply curve.

Implications for Business Strategy and Decision Making

The possibility of negative supply elasticity carries important considerations for firms in structuring pricing strategies and production plans:

  • Avoid relying solely on positive elasticity assumptions, especially in high wage labor markets.
  • Monitor technological and supply chain factors that could constrain output in times of rising prices.
  • Recognize regulations that distort normal market elasticities and invert supply responses.
  • Use elasticity estimates judiciously when modeling supply behavior and potential equilibrium points.
  • In corporate planning, consider scenarios of both positive and negative supply elasticity.
  • Set prices and quantities taking into account impacts on suppliers, not just customers.

Foreseeing the conditions that can lead to negative elasticity allows companies to make more informed, resilient business decisions. While counterintuitive, the phenomenon highlights the complexity of marketplace dynamics.

Key Questions

What causes the price elasticity of supply to be negative?

The price elasticity of supply can turn negative when an increase in price leads to a decrease in quantity supplied. The main factors that cause this inverse relationship include:

  • Backward-bending supply curves at high wage levels where workers supply less labor as incomes rise further. This is seen in some professions like medicine and law.
  • Supply bottlenecks due to constraints on key inputs like labor, raw materials, or production capacity. Producers are unable to scale up output despite price increases.
  • Technological changes which are expensive to implement in the short run. Firms restrict production in response to higher prices until technology costs decline.
  • Government regulations like price ceilings, taxes or quotas that distort normal market supply incentives.
  • Giffen goods where perverse consumer behavior also affects production decisions and supply elasticity.

How does negative supply elasticity affect business decisions?

The prospect of negative supply elasticity has important implications for business strategy and planning:

  • Pricing decisions should account for potential backward bending supply curves, not just typical upward sloping ones.
  • Production plans need inbuilt flexibility to adjust for short-run supply bottlenecks.
  • Expectations of output expansion in response to price rises may prove wrong.
  • Forecasting, budgeting and investment decisions should factor in scenarios of both positive and negative elasticity.
  • Market equilibrium analysis should use elasticity estimates judiciously, avoiding blanket assumptions.
  • Firms need to monitor changes in market conditions that can suddenly invert supply elasticity.

Can supply elasticity change over time?

Yes, the price elasticity of supply for a good or service can change over time. Supply elasticity is not necessarily fixed:

  • In the short run, constraints like input bottlenecks can make supply inelastic. But in the long run, expansions can make it more elastic.
  • New technologies may initially be costly to adopt, giving negative elasticity. But over time, elasticity turns positive as technology costs decrease.
  • For Giffen goods, changes in consumer tastes can eventually make demand more normal and restore positive supply elasticity.
  • In labor markets, high compensation induces backward bending supply initially. But over decades, social norms and aspirations may shift, altering elasticity.
  • Government policies like taxes, subsidies, or regulations can be introduced or removed, changing market incentives and elasticities.
  • As companies mature and gain scale, supply chains and production flexibility tend to improve, increasing elasticity.

Thus, both short and long-term factors can cause the price elasticity of supply to evolve for a good or service over time.


While the law of supply ordinarily induces a positive relationship between price and quantity supplied, there are exceptions where elasticity turns negative. This occurs when supply curves have a backward-bending shape due to high wages, supply bottlenecks, regulations, or other factors. Understanding the economic logic and real-world instances of negative supply elasticity provides valuable insight for businesses. Firms need to make smart pricing, output and strategy decisions recognizing that higher prices will not always increase quantities supplied. Considering the scenarios that invert elasticity allows companies to craft resilient policies and plans. The complexity of supply elasticity highlights the importance of analyzing market dynamics beyond simplifying assumptions. Just as demand-side factors are thoroughly evaluated, supply-side responses warrant equal rigor given the possibility of negative elasticity.

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