Differences Between Needs and Wants (With Examples)

Differences Between Want and Need: The conterminous terms– want and need are associated with economics.  While they are sometimes used synonymously, they are  quite different when you talk about them in economics or finance. Part of what we learn in economics is the ability to make the best choices. Making choices means that we have to choose somethings over others.

Wants are merely things that we desire and can do without but needs refers to those things we really require for our lives to keep going on, in other words, the acquisition of things we need is essential for our continued living but wants are not so essential or a matter of necessity. This difference is at the core of the disparity between wants and needs.

In this article, we shall be analysing these two economic concepts with a view to discovering other reasons that point to discrepancies between wants and needs.

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What are Needs?

Needs are essential requirements or necessities which aids living and maximum function. The fulfillment of needs is essential for one’s survival. In other words, needs are things that one must have, or cannot do without. Are there basic needs for man’s survival? Yes there are. It is evident that man cannot survive without Oxygen, water and food. These are the three most basic necessary needs for the survival of human beings. In addition to the three needs above, there other needs which are also important for the survival of man. The other needs are clothing, shelter for warmth and protection from harm.

Difference Between Needs and Wants: Definition, Meaning, Comparison
Difference Between Needs and Wants: Definition, Meaning, Comparison

In ancient times, the three basic needs mentioned above were still the same and it remained that way until time began to pass. With the passage of time, education and healthcare also became integral, as they improved the quality of life as humans. They were and still are a person’s first priority as they are the things. Survival was thought of first before satisfaction because a person would survive with or without satisfaction.

Need vs want examples
Need vs want examples

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Needs can be classified into two types: Subjective/Psychological needs and Physical needs. The above-described needs such as food, clothing, water, oxygen and shelter are all physical needs. On the other hand, subjective needs are also known as psychological needs of human beings. Psychological needs are emotional kind of needs. These needs are; the need to belong, the need to pursue one’s goals, the need for attachment, the need for control and the need for self-assessment and improvement.

We should know that psychological need plays a significant role in the physical need. One who is psychologically unstable would not be able to perform effectively. According to self- determination theory, psychological needs are the essential nutrients needed to fulfill our natural tendencies for growth and well-being. Just like our bodies need proper nutrients to function well, so does our mind need psychological needs for healthy and optimum functioning.

Failure to fulfill needs may cause a clear adverse outcome. It could lead to mental or physical illness. In most cases, it could lead to death.

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What are Wants?

We are all aware that human wants are unlimited and the means to satisfy those wants are limited. Since all the wants of humans cannot be met, they must seek for alternatives. Wants can be defined as desires that are not essential to man’s survival. Wants are things that one would love to have but can be compromised without causing harm. The wants or desires of every human vary according to their taste and financial capabilities. Some desire a big house, some desire fancy foods, others desire branded clothes, trip to a fancy country, trending gadgets, going out to see a movie, getting concert tickets to see favorite band, and the list goes on and on. Wants can change overtime and sometimes based it is usually based on one’s mood.

What is the difference between needs and wants
What is the difference between needs and wants

For example, a child would want to buy doll houses, toy cars and building blocks. But as the child grows older, he/her taste and preferences change, so does his/her desires. Although the inability to fulfill a want would not lead to death or illness, it may lead to mental distress which doesn’t last long. If you are at a crossroad of making decisions and you are not sure if your desires are fueled by either needs or wants, all you have to do is to ask yourself if you can be able to survive without the desired item for a minimum of 14 days and a maximum of 30 days. If your answer is YES, then your desire is fueled by want but if your answer is NO, then your desire is fueled by need and it is a necessity.

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Wants can also be classified into two categories namely; Physical wants and Psychological wants. Physical wants are desires that aid people improve the quality of their lives. This is often fueled by unnecessary competition, the quest to fit into a certain circle at all cost or for pleasure. Examples of such include; purchasing of expensive jewelries, wearing of branded clothes and signature accessories.

Psychological wants are emotional desires that are almost impossible to satisfy. With or without these desires, people would do be absolutely fine. Examples of such wants include; always wanting to be center of attention, the want to be the favorite of all, etc.

There have been countless questions asked by people about wants and needs. Love is one topic that has been brought up countless times to know if it is fueled by want or need. We cannot deny that we all have intense desires to be loved and nurtured regardless of our age and status, tribe or religion. The need to be loved, as experiments by Bowlby and others have shown that love could be considered as one of the basic, most fundamental need of human beings.

One of the forms that this need takes place is comfort, which can either be physical or verbal. Contact comfort is a form through which physical desire comfort can be executed− desire to be held and touched.

When it comes to the economy, wants that can be satisfied with goods and services of any kind are known as economic wants while those that cannot be bought are called non-economic was like peace, affection, love, understanding, etc.

Difference between needs and wants examples
Difference between needs and wants examples

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Key Differences Between Wants and Needs

1. Needs are necessities or essentials, while wants are not essentials but desires.

2. Needs are essentials for survival, while wants are not essential for survival

3. Needs do not change overtime but wants do.

4. Non-fulfillment may lead to adverse effects in the case of needs but, in the case of wants, non-fulfillment would not lead to adverse effect.

5. All individuals have the same needs but    not all individuals have the same want or desire.

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How Do You Know Which Things are Wants and Needs

The test to decipher which things are wants or needs is by asking the pertinent question: can I survive without this? If the answer is in the affirmative, then it is a want. If however it is in the negative, it is obviously a need and should be met in order to keep living.

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Differences Between Want and Need

Differentiating between these two related concepts can be a herculean task. For example, you will find that what is one person’s want is another’s need and vice versa. There is also numerous ways to meet a need or want. For example, everyone might have a need to eat food but the type of food each person takes in fulfillment of that need is different. One person may have bread and drinks and be satisfied while another will have to eat a balanced diet of rice, beans, salad and stew.

All these attest to the difficulty in placing a clear mark on where the line of discrepancy between wants and needs is drawn. However, there are some key differences between needs and wants:
Wants can be done without unlike needs that must be fulfilled for fear of the dire consequences.

Needs, unlike wants are definite and limited.

Needs are required as a matter of  necessity for survival but wants are just desires that can make life more comfortable.

While needs hardly change with time, wants are ever changing.

The consequences of non-fulfilment of needs can be gruesome from sickness to even death but failure to meet wants only result in mild discomforts.

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What is the View of Economists?

Economists see wants and needs in the same way that we have discussed them above. They define wants to be desires or wishes that can be done without while needs are essential must- haves for continued living and survival.

While economists hold the conventional view on what wants and needs are, they take it a step further by ascribing importance to needs over wants based on their level of necessity.
Economics is the scientific study of how to best use available scare resources to provide for the most important things. It is a study of how production, distribution and management and consumption of scarce resources work.

It is all about making choices. Choices about which of the various ends, that is, needs or wants deserve to be met. To do this, economists draw up what is called a scale of preference which is a table or list of the wants and needs in their order of importance. Following this list, the needs and wants are fulfilled beginning from the most important to the least important or till the scarce resources have been expended. Another tool used by economists to manage needs and wants is opportunity cost, which entails forgoing one item, in this case, wants for a more pressing items, usually needs.

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From the above, we have gathered that wants and needs are longings that are of different degrees of necessity but which require satisfaction. While unsatisfied needs can lead to illness and death, wants that are not met with can only cause sadness and mental distress at most. Thus we established that the main difference between wants and needs is the level of importance and necessity naturally attached to each.