AskDefine | Define ration

Dictionary Definition



1 the food allowance for one day (especially for service personnel); "the rations should be nutritionally balanced"
2 a fixed portion that is allotted (especially in times of scarcity)


1 restrict the consumption of a relatively scarce commodity, as during war; "Bread was rationed during the siege of the city"
2 distribute in rations, as in the army; "Cigarettes are rationed" [syn: ration out]

User Contributed Dictionary

see Ration



From ration.


  1. A portion designated to a person or group.




  1. To portion out, especially during a shortage of supply.
    By the third day on the raft, we had to ration our water.


to portion out, especially during a shortage of supply



From rationem (accusative of ratio).



fr-noun f

Extensive Definition

Rationing is the controlled distribution of resources and scarce goods or services. Rationing controls the size of the ration, one's allotted portion of the resources being distributed on a particular day or at a particular time.

In economics

In economics, it is often common to use the word "rationing" to refer to one of the roles that prices play in markets, while rationing (as the word is usually used) is called "non-price rationing." Using prices to ration means that those with the most money (or other assets) and who want a product the most are first to receive it. Such rationing happens daily in a market economy. Non-price rationing follows other principles of distribution. Below, we discuss only the latter, dropping the "non-price" qualifier, to refer only to marketing done by an authority of some sort (often the government). In market economics, rationing artificially restricts demand. It is done to keep price below the equilibrium (market-clearing) price determined by the process of supply and demand in an unfettered market. Thus, rationing can be complementary to price controls. An example of rationing in the face of rising prices took place in the Netherlands, where there was rationing of gasoline in the 1973 energy crisis.
A reason for setting the price lower than would clear the market may be that there is a shortage, which would drive the market price very high. High prices, especially in the case of necessities, are unacceptable with regard to those who cannot afford them. Traditionalist economists argue, however, that high prices act to reduce waste of the scarce resource while also providing incentive to produce more (this approach requires assuming no horizontal inequality).
In wartime, it is usually imperative for a government to maintain the support of this part of the population, to maintain "equality" especially since in most countries, the working-class and poor families contribute most of the soldiers.
Rationing using coupons is only one kind of non-price rationing. For example, scarce products can be rationed using queues. This is seen, for example, at amusement parks, where one pays a price to get in and then need not pay any price to go on the rides. Similarly, in the absence of road pricing, access to roads is rationed in a first come, first serve queueing process, leading to congestion.
Authorities which introduce rationing often have to deal with the rationed goods being sold illegally on the black market.

Credit rationing

The concept in economics and banking of credit rationing describes the situation when a bank limits the supply of loans, although it has enough funds to loan out, and the supply of loans has not yet equalled the demand of prospective borrowers. Changing the price of the loans (interest rate) does not equilibrate the demand and supply of the loans. The bank finds that raising the interest rate beyond a certain level actually reduces its profitability.
Joseph E. Stiglitz and Andrew Weiss's 1981 paper was one of the early papers to explain why the bank (or any lending institution for that matter) may credit ration its borrower if 1) the bank was unable to perfectly distinguish the risky borrowers from the safe ones 2) the loan contracts were subject to limited liability (if projects returns were less than the debt obligation, the borrower bears no responsibility to pay out her pocket).
Raising the interest rate may cause adverse selection which would lead to increases in the number of 'risky' borrowers in the pool of aspiring borrowers. With higher debt obligations (due to higher interest rate) only the risky borrowers with higher returns would be ready to take up the banks contract. Recall, that with limited liability, the borrowers repay the loan if successful, but escape the consequence of failure of the project. Thus, only borrowers with riskier projects would be ready to take high interest rate loans. Thus, raising the interest rate increases the proportion of the risky borrowers in the project and reduces the overall profitability of the bank.

Military rationing

Rationing has long been used in the military, especially the navy, to make supplies last for a defined duration, such as a voyage. To ration the supplies, they are divided up into equal portions for each person for each day, or even a meal, over the expected voyage period.

Civilian rationing

Rationing is often instituted during wartime for civilians as well. For example, each person may be given "ration coupons" allowing him or her to purchase a certain amount of a product each month. Rationing often includes food and other necessities for which there is a shortage, including materials needed for the war effort such as rubber tires, leather shoes, clothing and gasoline. Towards the end of the First World War, panic buying in the United Kingdom prompted rationing of first sugar, then meat, for the rest of the war. During World War II rationing existed in many countries including the United Kingdom and the United States.
Civilian peace time rationing of food may also occur, especially after natural disasters, during contingencies, or even after failed governmental economic policies regarding production or distribution, the latter happening especially in highly centralized planned economies. Examples of these situations include North Korea, China during the 1970s and 1980s, Communist Romania during the 1980's, the Soviet Union in 1990-1991, and Cuba today. This led to rationing in the Soviet Union, Rationing in Communist Romania, rationing in North Korea, rationing in Cuba, and austerity in Israel.

United States

At the beginning of World War II, a rationing system was put in place in the United States. Gasoline shortages were especially acute in the Eastern states, because in the early 19Forties, most petroleum was carried by tanker. This conveyance became dangerous with U-Boats operating off the US coast. Until the Big Inch and Little Big Inch pipelines started pumping petroleum from East Texas to the northeast states, gas supplies in the East were tight. A national speed limit of 35 miles per hour was imposed to save fuel and tires. Depending on need, civilians were issued one of a number of different classifications of gas cards, entitling them to different quantities of gasoline each week. When purchasing gas, one had to present a gas card along with a ration book. Ration stamps were also issued for other commodities and were valid only for a set period, to forestall hoarding.
To get a classification and rationing stamps, one had to appear before a local rationing board. Each person in a household received a ration book, including babys and small children who qualified for canned milk not available to others. To receive a gasoline ration card, a person had to certify a need for gas and ownership of no more than five tires. All tires in excess of five per driver were confiscated by the government, because of rubber shortages. An A card was the lowest priority of gas rationing and entitled the holder to 3 to 4 gallons of gas per week. B cards were issued to workers in the military industry, entitling their holder up to 8 gallons of gas per week. C cards were granted to persons deemed very essential to the war effort, such as doctors. T rations were made available for truckers. Lastly, X stickers on cars entitled the holder to unlimited supplies and were the highest priority in the system. Ministers of Religion, police, volunteer firemen, and civil defense workers were in this category. A scandal erupted when 200 Congressmen received these X stickers.
Tires were the first item to be rationed in January 1942 because supplies of natural rubber were interrupted. Soon afterward, passenger automobiles, typewriters, sugar, gasoline, bicycles, footwear, fuel oil, coffee, stoves, shoes, meat, lard, shortening and oils, cheese, butter, margarine, processed foods (canned, bottled and frozen), dried fruits, canned milk, firewood and coal, jams, jellies and fruit butter, were rationed by November 1943.
Many different levels of rationing went into effect. Some items, such as sugar, were distributed evenly based on the number of people in a household. Other items, like gasoline or fuel oil, were rationed only to those who could justify a need. Restaurant owners and other merchants were accorded more availability, but had to collect ration stamps to restock their supplies. In exchange for used ration stamps, ration boards delivered certificates to restaurants and merchants to authorize procurement of more products.
The work of issuing ration books and exchanging used stamps for certificates was handled by some 5,500 local ration boards of mostly volunteer workers selected by local officials.
Each ration stamp had a generic drawing of an airplane, gun, tank, aircraft carrier, ear of wheat, fruit, etc. and a serial number. Some stamps also had alphabetic lettering. The kind and amount of rationed commodities were not specified on most of the stamps and were not defined until later when local newspapers published, for example, that beginning on a specified date, one airplane stamp was required (in addition to cash) to buy one pair of shoes and one stamp number 30 from ration book four was required to buy five pounds of sugar. The commodity amounts changed from time to time depending on availability. Red stamps were used to ration meat and butter, and blue stamps were used to ration processed foods.
To enable making change for ration stamps, the government issued "red point" tokens to be given in change for red stamps, and "blue point" tokens in change for blue stamps. The red and blue tokens were about the size of dimes (16 mm) and were made of thin compressed wood fiber material, because metals were in short supply.

United Kingdom

The British Ministry of Food refined the rationing process in the early 1940s to ensure the population did not starve when food imports were severely restricted and local production limited due to the large number of men fighting the war. Rationing did not end in the United Kingdom until the 1950s – see also Rationing in the United Kingdom during and after World War II.


Another form of rationing that was employed during World War II, called Ration Stamps. These were redeemable stamps or coupons. Every family was issued a set number of each kind of stamp based on the size of the family, ages of children and income. This allowed the Allies and mainly America to supply huge amounts of food to the troops and later provided a surplus to aid in the rebuilding of Europe with aid to Germany after food supplies were destroyed.

Emergency rationing

Rationing of food and water may become necessary during an emergency, such as a natural disaster or terror attack. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has established guidelines for civilians on rationing food and water supplies when replacements are not available. According to FEMA standards, every person should have a minimum of one quart per day of water, and more for children, nursing mothers, and the ill. Water should not be rationed in an emergency. Food, on the other hand, can be rationed for many days.


  • Stiglitz, J. & Weiss, A. (1981). Credit Rationing in Markets with Imperfect Information, American Economic Review, vol. 71, pages 393-410.
  • Matt Gouras. "Frist Defends Flu Shots for Congress." Associated Press. October 21, 2004.

External links

Are You Ready?.
ration in German: Rationierung
ration in French: Rationnement
ration in Icelandic: Skömmtun
ration in Japanese: 配給 (物資)
ration in Norwegian: Rasjonering
ration in Swedish: Ransonering

Synonyms, Antonyms and Related Words

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