Patterns in Economic Activity

Economic activities are the activities people do to earn a living. There are three types of economic activities –

Primary Economic Activities
Secondary Economic Activities
Tertiary Economic Activities

The very first way humans ever survived was by doing primary economic activities (they didn’t call it that!). The earliest human groups survived by hunting animals and catching fish, and by gathering nuts and berries. After many thousands of years, humans learned how to keep animals (domestication) so they didn’t need to hunt them. They also learned how to grow crops such as wheat and rice so that they would have a steady supply of food. They used forests as a source of wood for building and for fuel and they learned how to mine metals for use in making tools and weapons. As humans became expert at producing food, they were able to make more food than they needed (this is called a surplus). They sold this surplus at markets.

People needed more than food to thrive. They needed to make objects such as jars, pots, plates, chairs and such like. Some people were so good at making things, they stopped producing their own food and specialised in making things.  They swapped (bartered) the things they made for food or other things they needed. For example, a shoe maker might make shoes in exchange for some meat. Or they might swap a pair of shoes with someone who made something else, for example, a coat from a tailor. Making things such as shoes, or coats or bread is called manufacturing (for the Junior Cycle this is called ‘industry‘). Manufacturing involves taking items produced by primary economic activities and processing them into something new. For example, Iron ore is mined (primary economic activities) and manufactured (secondary economic activities) into steel.

The food and resources  produced by primary economic activities, and the goods manufactured by secondary economic activities were sold, usually at a market. Overtime, some people became really very good at just selling things. They might tell a farmer they could get the best price for their wheat. They would sell the wheat for the farmer for a fee (the farmer might have been too busy farming to spend much time at a market anyway) . The farmer was happy because he got more money for his wheat than he expected and the seller was happy because he could earn a living doing what he did best. Selling things is a tertiary economic activity. Tertiary economic activities involves providing a service to people. The seller provided the service of getting the best price for the farmer. Other services developed overtime; hairdressers, doctors, teachers, hoteliers (hotel owners) and others provided personal services to people. Tourism is also a tertiary economic activity.

Primary Economic Activities





Secondary Economic Activities

Manufacturing industry – making items such as furniture, processing food, steel manufacturing.

Tertiary Economic Activities

Retail – selling in a shop or a market or online.

Tourism & Transport – Hotels, visitor attractions, transport (road, rail, airlines).

Personal services – Doctors, dentists, teachers, rock stars.