Macro vs. Micro: The Big (And Small) Difference

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Quick summary

The word macro describes something that is very large or something that is related to things that are large in size or scope. Macro- is used as a combining form meaning “large” or “great.” The word micro describes something that is very small or something related to things that are small in size or scope. Micro- is used as a combining form meaning “small” or “localized.” 

People often wonder about the difference between macro and micro and their combining forms, macro- and micro-. In particular, it is often unclear how they are used in the context of economics. 

In this article, we’ll put our money where our mouth is and break down the difference between macro- and micro- while explaining how they are used to mean different things in the words macroeconomics and microeconomics 

macro vs. micro

As a word, macro describes something that is very large in size, scale, or scope, as in When Rachita looked at the water contamination problem from a macro level, she saw how it affected many nearby towns. 

Be careful not to confuse this sense of macro with its tech sense. In computing, a macro is “a set of keystrokes or mouse clicks created to perform a specific task or set of tasks.” 

On the other end of the scale, the word micro describes something that is very small in scope or ability, as in James’s laptop is so old that it doesn’t have a micro SD slot. 

We get the words macro and micro from their combining forms macro- and micro-, which are used as prefixes. The prefix macro- is used to mean “large,” “long,” or “excessive” in words like macromolecule (“a very large molecule”). 

The prefix micro- is used to mean “small” or “small in scope” in words like microscope (“a device used to look at small things”) or micromanage (“to control even the smallest details”).

Often, macro- and micro- are used in pairs of words that refer to comparatively large and small things. For example, the word macrocosm means “the universe as a whole,” while the word microcosm means “a little world or a world in miniature.” And a macrofossil is a fossil that is large enough to be seen with the naked eye, while a microfossil is a tiny fossil that you need to magnify to see.

Typically, the exact difference in macro’s bigness and micro’s smallness depends on the context they are being used in. Among the most common—and potentially most confusing—of these contexts is economics.

macroeconomics vs. microeconomics

Macroeconomics and microeconomics are two branches in the field of economics. 

Macroeconomics involves the study of economies as a whole. It’s concerned with the economics of entire countries or the entire world. Concepts such as gross domestic product (GDP), national interest rates, and foreign exchange rates are part of macroeconomics. The macro- in macroeconomics refers to the fact that this branch is concerned with economics on a large scale. 

Microeconomics involves the study of economics of individuals. It’s concerned with the business and financial decisions of a single business or an individual person, such as your monthly spending budget. The micro- in microeconomics refers to the fact that this branch is concerned with economics on a small scale.

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