Difference Between Absolute and Relative

Absolute vs Relative

The difference between absolute and relative stems from the choice of comparison. Absolute and relative are concepts that are used in life to know more about people, things, and ideas. For example, if there is only one internet service provider in an area, the customers, not knowing the features and services of other ISP in other areas, remain content with what they are getting. They cannot compare the features of service and hence have an absolute experience, not relative. Though, in a market, when buying a product, one gets a chance to compare the product with other similar products made by several companies and this helps in choosing one that is most suitable for his requirements. Let us take a closer look at the two concepts, absolute and relative.

What does Absolute mean?

When you are looking at an absolute perspective, you are not taking into account other similar people or products. You are taking an object as it is and coming to a conclusion based on what it has to offer. For example, there is a concept of absolute poverty that is used in some countries to measure the economy. A threshold is set up and the households having total earnings falling below this threshold are marked as poor. This is an absolute method of counting the number of poor in a country.

The concept of absolute is used in health care industry, as well. There is an absolute risk that a person has to develop a disease or ailment in future. When nothing else of a person is taken into account, every individual has a certain risk of developing a disease later in life depending upon his physical and mental makeup. Every individual has a genetic code that is different and thus there are differences in absolute risks of different people. For example, a person may have just 10% chance of developing heart problem later in life, whereas another person, based upon his health and lifestyle may have 50% risk of developing a heart disease.

When it comes to grading students too, absolute grading is used. Absolute grading is done so that a student’s own potential can be identified. In absolute grading, the grades are already set as more than 85 is A, more than 70 and less than 85 is B, more than 55 and less than 70 is C, etc. So, each student has a chance of scoring as long as he or she is working hard enough to meet these grade limits.

Difference Between Absolute and Relative

What does Relative mean?

When you are looking at a relative perspective, you are taking into account other similar people or products. So, it is more of a perspective based on comparison rather than seeing something as an individual entity. Let us see how relative perspective is used with regard to poverty in some countries. Relative poverty is a concept where people below this threshold are compared with those lying above the poverty line, to analyze the extent to which poor household’s fall below the nation’s average income households, compare living standards and devise welfare programs to end this divide.

The concept of relative is used in health care industry, as well. There is a relative risk that a person has to develop a disease or ailment in future. Relative risk is a concept where people are divided into groups based upon their habits and lifestyles. For example, smokers and non-smokers are two distinct groups that have different relative risks to heart diseases. Other groups could be obese and thin people, men and women, vegetarian and non-vegetarian, those who exercise and those who lead a sedentary lifestyle, and so on.

In relative grading of students, the grades are set according to the highest marks for a paper. Unlike in absolute grading, where a grading system already exists, in relative grading, the grades awarded depend on the marks gained by the best students. This is good for a hard paper. Think about a paper where the highest mark is 55. In absolute grading, this would be a C. However, in a relative grading system, this can be an A.

Absolute vs Relative

What is the difference between Absolute and Relative?

• Definitions of Absolute and Relative:

• Absolute evaluation or analysis means an individual, product, or idea is not compared with any other entity, and its performance is judged free from other criteria.

• Relative evaluation has a basis or standardization which decides whether the performance is good or bad compared to others.

• Fields of Usage:

• The concept of absolute and relative analysis is freely being used in healthcare, risk assessment, grading of students, and virtually every walk of like these days.


Images Courtesy:

  1. Junior Certificate grading by  Ludraman (CC BY-SA 3.0)
  2. Matura Exams by  Marcin Otorowski (CC BY-SA 3.0)