In an oligopoly, the fourth and final market structure that we will study, the market is dominated by a few firms, each of which recognizes that its own actions will produce a response from its rivals and that those responses will affect it.

The firms that dominate an oligopoly recognize that they are interdependent: What one firm does affects each of the others. This interdependence stands in sharp contrast to the models of perfect competition and monopolistic competition, where we assume that each firm is so small that it assumes the rest of the market will, in effect, ignore what it does. A perfectly competitive firm responds to the market, not to the actions of any other firm. A monopolistically competitive firm responds to its own demand, not to the actions of specific rivals. These presumptions greatly simplify the analysis of perfect competition and monopolistic competition. We do not have that luxury in oligopoly, where the interdependence of firms is the defining characteristic of the market.

Some oligopoly industries make standardized products: steel, aluminum, wire, and industrial tools. Others make differentiated products: cigarettes, automobiles, computers, ready-to-eat breakfast cereal, and soft drinks.

Complete the following table by adding the appropriate characteristics:

  Perfect competition Monopoly Monopolistic competition Oligopoly
Freedom of entry        
Other competitors        
Characteristics of product        
Price setting