Quaternary Industry: Definition & Examples

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  • 0:05 The Division of Industry
  • 1:06 Quaternary Industry
  • 2:37 Employment Structures
  • 3:54 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Christopher Muscato

Chris has a master's degree in history and teaches at the University of Northern Colorado.

Different people have different jobs, but what does this mean to the national economy? In this lesson, we examine quaternary industries and see how they fit into larger economies.

The Division of Industry

Imagine that you grow trees for a living. Congratulations, you are contributing to the national industry and the economy! Now imagine that your job is to turn those trees into paper. You're still part of the national industry and economy, but in a different way. Traditionally, scholars assumed that industries could be divided into three main sectors. Primary industries produced raw materials, like trees. Secondary sectors were responsible for the manufacturing, assembly, and production of finished products. These would be the people who turn trees into paper. Tertiary industries included the service industries.

For most of history, these were the assumed industrial sectors. However, economies change. In the last few decades, a whole new economy has developed around new technologies and a class of educated people who rely on their minds more than anything else to contribute to national industries. So, scholars have added a fourth industrial sector: the quaternary.

Quaternary Industry

At its most basic, a quaternary industry is one that is based on new technologies and that requires a high degree of education. In this field, people are not relying directly on their abilities to collect raw materials or turn them into a product; instead, they are relying on their education and intelligence to generate and operate advanced technologies.

Most of the quaternary industries in the United States are those involving computer and information technologies. Programmers, IT specialists, technology developers, information sharing experts, and even professional bloggers are part of the national quaternary industry. This sector would also include digital stockbrokers, financial planners, designers, and educators. For example, is an education resource, but one built around utilizing digital communications technologies. So, it is also one of the quaternary industries.

The quaternary sector of the economy is relatively young, since it requires both a highly educated population and advanced technologies. Even in the United States, where access to education has been historically high, a college education was not really a widespread expectation until after World War II. Since then, however, nations like the United States have developed highly educated populations that rely on their educated status to maintain a certain economic position in that society. The advent of the digital era of computer technologies provided this educated class with a near-constant source of employment, and thus, the quaternary sector of the economy was born.

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