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Needs versus Wants

Needs and wants are two terms that are often confused by many people. A need is defined as any commodity or service an individual cannot live without, while want is any good or service required by an individual to make life comfortable (Sowell, 1993). According to Dr. Barbara Nefer, a need is defined as “a physiological and psychological requirement for the well-being of an organism” while want means “to have a strong desire for or to wish or demand the presence of something” (78). This article seeks to combat the rising misunderstanding in the use of the two words by exploring their similarities and differences.


The major similarity between needs and wants is that both involve the expression of a desire to have a service or a commodity. Any statement where either the two words are used, there is always a desire to have something. Dr. Barbara Nefer states that sometimes the two words become very difficult to separate. For instance, she gives a scenario where a smoker needs nicotine that he/she can get from gum, but still goes on wanting cigarette. Another similarity comes from the fact that both needs and wants have money value (Sowell, 1993).  According to Sowell (1993), needs shape the market prices. He posits that at lower prices of clothes, people tend to buy more clothes and at higher prices people shy from buying the commodities leading to a reduction in prices of clothes.


The first difference comes from the definition of needs and wants. Needs are those goods and services people cannot do without (Sowell, 1993). On the other hand, wants are those goods and services that are desired to make life more comfortable (Sowell, 1993). Goods and services such as food, shelter, and clothing are basic needs and no person can live without them (Sowell, 1993). Others such as education, health care, friendship and love are necessities in life but are not very vital and are hence, considered wants (Sowell, 1993). 

Secondly, wants are luxurious in nature and brings about the disparities among the lifestyle of individuals. People aspire to build big house and to buy cars of which a good number of persons achieve resulting into the differences in the social classes. On the other hand, needs chooses nobody since everybody requires food, shelter and clothing. However, a need can also bring differences in lifestyle among people in the society in which case it becomes a want. For instance, Dr. Barbara Nefer explains a case where after dinner of roasted beef, peas and mashed potatoes, an individual still goes on consuming popcorn when watching the television.  In this case popcorn is no longer a need but a want.

Further, Sowell (1993) asserts that a need is very crucial in the life of an individual and that could be the reason behind the promises made by politicians during the campaign period. Politicians ascend to power by promising voters that all their basic needs will be met when they are elected, which turns out to be a lie during their terms in office (Sowell, 1993). Wants on the other extreme, are considered privileges and politicians avoid them during campaigns. 

Finally, most people when making the list of preferences considers the needs first followed by the wants. For instance, Sowell (1993) gives a scenario where his daughter insisted on the family getting a new car, but he reminded the daughter that he was paying her tuition fee and would stop doing so if they buy a new car.


Needs and wants are two words that are often confused in the public domain. It is very clear that needs are a must-have commodities and services without which an individual can die. Such goods and services include shelter, clothing, food and health care. On the other hand, a want are those goods and services acquired to make life more comfortable such as cars. Therefore, needs and wants are different even though the two words are often used interchangeably.

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