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Marshall vs Robbins Definition of Economics Comparative Study

Alfred Marshall defined economics as “Economics is a study of mankind in the ordinary business of life. It examines that part of individual and social action which is most closely connected with the attainment and with the use of material requisites of well-being”. So, it is a study of wealth on one side, and the other side, and more important is the study of man i.e., human welfare.

According to Robbins “Economics is the science which studies human behaviour as a relationship between multiple ends and scarce means which have alternative uses”.

From the above definitions we can indicate the main points e.g., in Marshall’s definition of economics the main points are:

  • Study of mankind in the ordinary business of life.
  • Economics is a social science.
  • It is a science of material human welfare.
  • Study of wealth for the study of human welfare.

In Robbins definition the main points are:

  • Unlimited wants of unequal impotence
  • Scarce means having alternative uses
  • Economic problem


Study of Human:

Marshall says that economics is the study human. Robbins says that economics studies human behaviour as relationship between ends and scarce means that have alternative use. The aim of both definitions is concerned with human being

Rational Man:

Marshall and Robbins both are concerned with normal man. Economics does not study abnormal person (miser or thief). The idea of both definitions relates to rational man.

Welfare Idea:

Marshall assumes that man aims at maximising his welfare. Robbins assumes that rational man tries to maximise his satisfaction. The word satisfaction is considered as welfare The definition of Robbins gives same meaning indirect.

Study of Wealth:

Material welfare is possible with the help of wealth. Marshall assumes that wealth is source of material welfare of human being. Robbins uses the ward scarce resources instead of wealth. Therefore, scarce resources and wealth provide same meaning because wealth is scarce. The two definitions on this point are same.


Social vs Impartial/Human Science:

According to Marshall economics is a social science because we study the person living in the society but according to Robbins, economics is human science that is concerned with the economic activities of all men. We study a person either living in a society or not either passing an ordinary or extra ordinary life but faces the economic problem arising due to unlimited wants and limited resources.

Material vs Non-material Activities:

Marshall makes difference between material and non-material activities. He says that economic activities are concerned with material goods that promote material welfare. Robbins makes no difference between material and non-material activities. He says that all activities are economic activities when the problem of scarcity arises.

Classificatory vs Analytical:

The definition given by Marshall is classificatory in nature. Therefore, economics is different from other social sciences. The definition given by Robbins is analytical in nature. Therefore, it focuses on the basic economic problems of scarcity.

Practical vs Theoretical:

Marshall’s definition is practical in nature. This definition is useful for economic policies. Robbins’ definition is theoretical in nature. Therefore, this definition is away from reality.

Measurable vs Non-Measurable concept:

Marshall definition based on concept of material welfare which is a mental phenomenon. The concept of material welfare in non-measurable as it varies from mind to mind and place to place. Robbins definition is based on facts of life and there is no non-measurable concept in the definition of Robbins.

Normative vs Positive:

Marshall economic considers economics as normative science. He says that economics should solve the problems. Robbins considers economics as positive science. He says economist is not concerned with results. He cannot comment upon economic policies.

Macro vs Micro Aspect:

Marshall’s definition of economics is nearer to macro aspect as it studies welfare which is a macro aspect. While Robbins’s definition ignore macro aspect it only studies micro aspect.

Human Touch:

There is human touch in definition given by Marshall. He gives proper importance to man. There is no human touch in definition given by Robbins. He is concerned with many wants and scarce resources.

Correspond to Modern Economic Theories:

The main objective of modern economics theories like economic planning, economic development and economic growth is welfare which is the objective of Marshall’s definition. Robbins definition does not explain the modern economic theories.


Marshall’s definition is applicable to monetary capitalistic economies. There is market economy and man is free in his choice Robbins’ definition is applicable to all economies (poor or rich.)


Prof. Alfred Marshall has declared economics as a social science, in which basic attention is given to the solution of economic problems of the human being with the View of Increase in their material welfare.

While Prof. Robbins explains the allocation of scarce means to satisfy maximum possible desires on priority basis. In this way Robbins view seems to be comprehensive and scientific. Therefore, it is difficult to reject the views of both schools of thoughts about the subject economics. Rather it is possible and practicable to continue the process of economic development through proper planning in the light of the view of two schools.


Munir Ahmed Bhutta. Economics, Azeem Academy Publishers, Lahore.

Abdul Haleem Khawja. Economics, Khawja and Khawja Publishing House, Islamabad.

Manzoor Tahir Ch. Principles of Economics, Azeem Academy Publishers, Lahore.

Muhammad Irshad. Economics, Naveed Publications, Lahore.

K K Dewett & M H Navalur. Modern Economic Theory (Theory and Policy), S. Chand Publishing.


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