Comparison of Oligopoly and Monopolistic Competition Market Structures

Market structure, a critical aspect of economics, encompasses various characteristics of a market, including the number of firms, the nature and intensity of competition, and the extent of product differentiation (Business Dictionary, 2012). This essay delves into two prominent market structures: monopolistic competition and oligopoly. By exploring their differences and impact on consumers, we can gain valuable insights into the dynamics of these market types.

Defining Monopolistic Competition and Oligopoly

Monopolistic competition characterizes markets with a multitude of firms, each producing slightly differentiated products, endowing them with a degree of monopoly power (Ison and Wall, 2007).

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These firms often target relatively smaller markets, typically at the local or regional level (Economics Online, 2012). Examples of monopolistic competition markets include restaurants, hair salons, and boutiques, where each business offers a unique product or service.

In contrast, an oligopolistic market is dominated by a limited number of large firms. These firms are interdependent, closely monitoring each other's actions and adjusting their strategies accordingly (Ison and Wall, 2007). Oligopolies often operate on a regional, national, or even international scale, with industries such as airlines, petroleum, and banking serving as prime examples (Economics Online, 2012).

Differences in Pricing Strategies

A significant disparity between monopolistic competition and oligopoly lies in their pricing strategies. In an oligopolistic market, firms possess a considerable degree of control over product pricing (Ison and Wall, 2007). However, this pricing power is fraught with challenges due to the interdependence among these firms. Non-collusive oligopolies must consider the potential reactions of competitors when making pricing decisions, which can lead to price wars—a situation where firms engage in price-cutting battles without a corresponding increase in demand (Economics Help, 2012).

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In contrast, collusive oligopolies engage in agreements to set prices cooperatively, thus avoiding price wars (Geoff Riley, 2006). This collusion allows them to maintain higher prices and reap supernormal profits.

Monopolistic competition, however, presents a different pricing scenario. Firms in this market structure have limited control over pricing due to the extensive differentiation of products. The constant competition among firms, combined with the threat of being replaced by competitors offering more reasonable prices, restrains their pricing power (Ison and Wall, 2007).

Profit Making in Different Market Structures

The potential for profit making differs significantly between oligopolistic and monopolistic competition market structures. Oligopolistic firms enjoy consistent opportunities to earn supernormal profits due to several factors (Ison and Wall, 2007; Amos Web, 2012). Firstly, they typically command a substantial market share in large markets, leading to high sales volumes. Secondly, their economies of scale allow for lower average production costs. Thirdly, as previously discussed, they have the ability to influence pricing, especially in the case of collusive oligopolies (Amos Web, 2012).

For instance, a giant retailer like Tesco in the United Kingdom benefits from its widespread presence, serving a vast market and purchasing products in bulk to minimize costs (Mearday, 2009).

Conversely, profit generation in monopolistic competition is less assured. Theoretical analysis reveals a two-stage process for profit-making in monopolistic competition (Ison and Wall, 2012; Bized, 2001). In the short run, firms can set higher prices to attain supernormal profits. However, the profitability of these firms attracts numerous potential rivals, compelling them to lower prices to remain competitive in the long run.

A real-world example of this phenomenon can be seen in the personal computer industry in Canada, where the initial high prices of personal computers eventually decreased as more manufacturers entered the market (Statistics Canada, 2011).

Mode of Competition and Barriers to Entry

The mode of competition and barriers to entry also differentiate oligopoly from monopolistic competition. Oligopoly is characterized by imperfect competition, primarily due to high barriers to market entry (Economics Online, 2012). These barriers include factors such as exclusive resource ownership, extensive knowledge requirements, patents and copyrights, government regulations, managerial complexities, and substantial startup costs (Economics Online, 2012; Amos Web, 2012).

For instance, the airline industry serves as a quintessential example of oligopoly, with high financial requirements, strict regulatory oversight, and substantial operational complexities acting as significant entry barriers (Amos Web, 2012).

On the contrary, monopolistic competition leans towards near-perfect competition due to its low entry barriers (Economics Online, 2012; Amos Web, 2012). The lower startup costs, often associated with targeting smaller markets, make it feasible for new firms to enter and exit the market with relative ease (Ison and Wall, 2007; Economics Online, 2012).

Additionally, product differentiation in monopolistic competition allows each firm to cater to specific consumer preferences, further facilitating market entry. Fewer government restrictions and less need for exclusive knowledge make starting a business in this market structure more accessible. For instance, individuals can open restaurants with unique menus as long as they appeal to a specific group of consumers.


In conclusion, the market structures of oligopoly and monopolistic competition represent distinct economic paradigms with varied implications for consumers. Monopolistic competition provides consumers with a more favorable environment, offering a wide range of products at competitive prices. Fierce competition among firms leads to continuous innovation and price consciousness.

On the other hand, oligopoly often results in higher prices for consumers due to firms' pricing power and interdependence. However, it also allows for consistent supernormal profits for the firms themselves.

Furthermore, oligopolistic markets tend to exhibit imperfect competition with high barriers to entry, limiting the number of competitors. In contrast, monopolistic competition leans towards near-perfect competition, as low entry barriers and product differentiation encourage entrepreneurial ventures.

Ultimately, the choice between these market structures has profound implications for both producers and consumers, shaping the dynamics of industries and influencing economic outcomes.

Updated: Nov 02, 2023
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Comparison of Oligopoly and Monopolistic Competition Market Structures. (2017, Apr 30). Retrieved from

Comparison of Oligopoly and Monopolistic Competition Market Structures essay
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