The quinary sector of the economy is a service-based branch of the tertiary sector. Generally, it comprises health, education, culture, research, police, fire service, and other government industries not intended to make a profit.
Other definitions might also include all types of non-profit organizations such as charities and NGOs. Some definitions even include cultural, domestic, and media services (Balan, 2020).
According to all common definitions of the quinary sector, any service provided by the government is part of the quinary sector of the economy. Some economists also include all gold-collar professions in this sector.
What are the Five Sectors of the Economy?
Economic activity can be divided into five main sectors. These sectors are known as the primary sector (raw materials), the secondary sector (manufacturing), the tertiary sector (services), the quaternary sector (information services), and the quinary sector (human services) (Clark, 1940; Kuznets, 1966).
The quaternary and the quinary sectors are considered extensions of the tertiary sector. Each plays a vital role in the economy.
- The primary sector involves the extraction and production of raw materials. Examples include farming, mining, fishing, logging, and so on.
- The secondary sector involves the transformation of raw or intermediate materials into goods. Examples include the production of clothing with textiles, bottles with glass, cars with steel, and so on.
- The tertiary sector involves the supplying of services to consumers and businesses. Examples include accounting, retail, baking, babysitting, and so on.
- The quaternary sector is an extension of the tertiary sector and includes information or knowledge-based services. Examples include research, media, consultation, education, blogging, etc.
- The quinary sector is an extension of the tertiary sector with varying definitions. It is often thought of as the sector responsible for services provided by the highest levels of organization in society, including services such as government, military, education, and healthcare.
- Public education – Free services provided by the government that are directed at transmitting knowledge or fostering skills and character traits. Examples include schools, colleges, and universities.
- Non-governmental organizations (NGOs) – Independent and non-profit organizations that are created through civil and popular initiatives, and are linked to social, cultural, or development projects aimed at structural change.
- Healthcare – A category of government-provided services that includes medicine, optometry, dentistry, pharmacy, nursing, psychology, athletic training, and many more.
- Public health – the science of preventing disease and harm through the organized efforts and informed choices of society.
- Consulting – Services that provide professional advice to the public or to those practicing the profession on how to modify or proceed in a given process within that field.
- Housekeeping – The management and the routine activities of running a house, ship, hospital, factory, and so on. Example activities associated with housekeeping include cleaning, cooking, maintenance, shopping, and bill payment.
- Childcare – Also known as daycare, this includes the care and supervision of a child or children. It is typically done in a home without a profit.
- Charitable organizations – All organizations whose primary objectives are philanthropy and socioeconomic well-being. Charities differ from other organizations in that they do not use their funds to profit individual persons or entities.
- Non-profit organizations (NPOs) – A legal entity organized and operated for a collective, public, or social benefit. Non-profit organizations, as the name suggests, do not aim at generating profits for their owners.
- Research – All creative and systematic work undertaken to increase the stock of knowledge. Research can be scientific, economic, social, business, technological, etc.
- The practice of law – This involves giving legal advice to clients, drafting legal documents, and representing clients in a court of law. Examples of the practice of law include all services provided by lawyers, notaries, and solicitors.
- Financial services – Economic services provided by the finance industry. These services include banking, insurance, accounting, and investment management.
- Mass media – An array of media technologies that reach a large audience via mass communication.
- Information technology – The use of computers to create, process, store, retrieve, and exchange any kind of information. IT is generally used within the context of business operations.
- Information systems – An information system is a set of components for collecting, storing, and processing data and information. Information systems provide knowledge and digital products.
A government is a system or group of people governing an organized community. Government is a means by which organizational policies are enforced and determined.
All services provided by the government, such as public education, courts, electricity, running water, public healthcare, police protection, fire services, public education, and so on, are part of the quinary sector of the economy (Pitzl & Pitzl, 2004, p. 201).
Decision-making at the highest levels of the economy occurs within that same sector. The governmental decision to construct a new public park is an example of a quinary-sector activity.
All international decisions, such as attempts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, are also quinary sector activities. Generally speaking, any service provided by one government or an international body can be considered a part of the quinary sector.
A nonprofit organization or a non-business entity (Ciconte & Jacob, 2011) is a legal entity organized and operated for a collective, public, or social benefit.
Non-profit organizations, as the name suggests, do not aim at generating profits for their owners.
The founders of a nonprofit organization are not entitled to any part of the organization’s profits. All profits that exceed expenses must go to the organization’s cause. This is known as the non-distribution constraint (Jegers, 2008, p. 7).
Another common definition of a nonprofit organization is the structural-operational one (Salamon & Anheier, 1992). According to this definition, a nonprofit organization should be formal, private, self-governing, and voluntary, and should satisfy the non-distribution constraint mentioned above (Jegers, 2008, p. 8).
Nonprofit organizations are accountable to their donors, founders, volunteers, program recipients, and the general public. Any services provided by NPOs are part of the quinary sector of the economy.
A non-governmental organization, as the name suggests, is an organization formed and managed without government involvement. They are typically nonprofit entities.
NGOs generally satisfy the non-distribution constraint. Many NGOs are directed at humanitarian causes, which is partly why they enjoy a high degree of public trust.
According to the UN Department of Global Communications, an NGO is a nonprofit, “voluntary citizen’s group that is organized on a local, national or international level to address issues in support of the public good” (Leverty, 2008).
Some large international NGOs, such as Amnesty International or the World Wildlife Fund, are transnational federations of national groups.
Other international NGOs, such as the Sierra Club, are mass-membership organizations. Most other NGOs are small organizations not formally affiliated with any international entities (Karns, 2022). NGOs are part of the quinary sector of the economy.
Charitable organizations, or charities, are those organizations whose primary objectives are philanthropy and socioeconomic well-being (Reiling, 1958).
Charities differ from other organizations in that they do not use their funds to profit individual persons or entities.
All services provided by charitable organizations for the public benefit are part of the quinary sector of the economy.
Housekeeping is the management and routine activities associated with running any organized physical institution that is occupied or used by people.
Examples of institutions served by the housekeeping industry include houses, hospitals, factories, ships, and so on. The tasks of a housekeeper may include maintenance, cleaning, cooking, and shopping.
All domestic services, be they done for a profit or not, are part of the quinary sector of the economy.
Economic activities are traditionally grouped into three categories. These are the primary, secondary, and tertiary sectors. Two additional economic sectors are considered extensions of the tertiary sector: the quaternary and the quinary sectors.
Definitions of the quinary sector vary significantly. This sector is usually thought to include all government-provided services, as well as non-profit organizations like NGOs and charities.
Balan, E. (2020). Sector Strengthening: A Data Envelopment Analysis Study of the China-Central Asia Economic Partnership. BE Publishing.
Ciconte, B. L., & Jacob, J. (2011). Fundraising Basics: A Complete Guide. Jones & Bartlett Learning.
Clark, C. (1940). The Conditions of Economic Progress. Macmillan.
Jegers, M. (2008). Managerial Economics of Non-Profit Organizations. Routledge.
Karns, M. P. (2022, September 10). nongovernmental organization. Encyclopedia Britannica. https://www.britannica.com/topic/nongovernmental-organization
Kellerman, A. (1985). The Evolution of Service Economies: A Geographical Perspective. The Professional Geographer, 37(2), 133–143. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.0033-0124.1985.00133.x
Kuznets, S. (1966). Modern Economic Growth. Yale University Press.
Leverty, S. (2008). NGOs, the UN and APA. American Psychological Association.
Pitzl, G. R., & Pitzl, J. (2004). Encyclopedia of Human Geography. Greenwood Publishing Group.
Reiling, H. T. (1958). Federal Taxation: What Is a Charitable Organization? American Bar Association Journal, 44(6), 525–598.
Salamon, L. M., & Anheier, H. K. (1992). In search of the non-profit sector. I: The question of definitions. Voluntas: International Journal of Voluntary and Nonprofit Organizations, 3(2), 125–151. https://doi.org/10.1007/BF01397770
Dr. Chris Drew is the founder of the Helpful Professor. He holds a PhD in education and has published over 20 articles in scholarly journals. He is the former editor of the Journal of Learning Development in Higher Education. [Image Descriptor: Photo of Chris]