Business Cycle Dating Procedure: Frequently Asked Questions



Q: The financial press often states the definition of a recession as two consecutive quarters of decline in real GDP. How does that relate to the NBER’s recession dates?

A: Most of the recessions identified by our procedures do consist of two or more consecutive quarters of declining real GDP, but not all of them. In 2001, for example, the recession did not include two consecutive quarters of decline in real GDP. In the recession from the peak in December 2007 to the trough in June 2009, real GDP declined in the first, third, and fourth quarters of 2008 and in the first and second quarters of 2009. Real GDI declined for the final three quarters of 2001 and for five of the six quarters in the 2007–2009 recession.

Q: Why doesn’t the committee accept the two-quarter definition?

A: There are several reasons. First, we do not identify economic activity solely with real GDP, but consider a range of indicators. Second, we consider the depth of the decline in economic activity. The NBER definition includes the phrase, “a significant decline in economic activity.” Thus real GDP could decline by relatively small amounts in two consecutive quarters without warranting the determination that a peak had occurred. Third, our main focus is on the monthly chronology, which requires consideration of monthly indicators. Fourth, in examining the behavior of production on a quarterly basis, where real GDP data are available, we give equal weight to real GDI. The difference between GDP and GDI—called the “statistical discrepancy”—was particularly important in the recessions of 2001 and 2007–2009.


Publication Date: 19 July 2021 last updated, accessed 3 August 2022

Publication Site: NBER