Primary, secondary and tertiary sector

The primary, secondary and tertiary sectors are the main categories of economic activities in a country.

The primary sector includes activities related to obtaining natural resources, such as agriculture and fishing.

The secondary or industrial sector is responsible for the transformation of resources from the primary sector, such as the textile and automobile industries.

The tertiary sector encompasses the provision of services, such as commerce.

The level of economic development of a country is related to the sectors that prevail. For example, in developing or underdeveloped countries, the majority of people able to work are concentrated in the primary sector. While in societies with a high level of development, the tertiary sector predominates, followed by the secondary sector.

This classification was established between 1930 and 1940 by Alan Fisher and Colin Clark to facilitate comparison between countries and how their economies evolve.

Primary Sector Secondary Sector Tertiary Sector
DefinitionEconomic sector that includes activities to obtain resources from nature.Area of ​​the economy where the transformation of raw material into manufactured products occurs.Sector of activities that are responsible for distributing and trading goods and services.
Geographical spaceIt depends on the geography and the climate.Independent of geography.Independent of geography.
MeansLinked to natureFrom the primary sectorFrom the secondary sector
ActivitiesCultivation, collection, extraction and obtaining of raw material
  • Raw material transformation
  • Manufacturing and processing
  • Sale and promotion of manufactured products
  • Provision of services
Employed populationRural zonesRural or urban areasUrban areas
ExamplesCorn crop

Cow breeding

Catch fishing

Logging of forests for wood

Automobile assembly

Building construction

Manufacture of fabrics and clothing

Production of bottled beverages



Clinics and hospitals

Stores and offices

Primary sector

The primary sector is the sector of the economy that groups together all those activities related to the extraction of natural resources. It is in charge of providing food for the population and the raw material that will be used in the secondary sector.

Generally speaking, developing countries depend mainly on their primary activities, mainly agricultural activity, while developed countries employ less labor in this sector. For example, in Mexico, the cultivation of corn and sugar cane represented more than 50% of the production in 2019.

The primary sector is characterized by:

  • Depending on geography and climate : the activities that can be carried out in the primary sector are determined by the place and the climate. For example, mango cultivation is limited to the tropics, while apples are grown in temperate regions.
  • Being linked to nature : resources are obtained directly from nature. For example, fishing takes place in seas, oceans or rivers, while agricultural products come from the ground.
  • Develop activities to obtain raw materials : these include the cultivation of plants for the collection of fruits, vegetables, wood, fibers, extraction of animals for the production of meat and leather, milk and derivatives.
  • Be developed by the rural population : the activities of the primary sector are concentrated in the countryside where the population is low and with less preparation.

Examples of primary sector activities are:

  • Agriculture : growing corn for human and animal food, growing olives for oil, growing cotton for cloth.
  • Livestock : raising cows for the production of milk and cheese, raising sheep for wool.
  • Fishing : capture, trawling, open sea, tuna fishing, salmon farming.
  • Logging : cultivation of cedar for wood, cultivation of hemp for paper, cultivation of pine for furniture.

Secondary sector

The secondary sector includes economic activities that involve the transformation of raw materials into finished products, energy production and construction. This is done through energy-intensive industrial processes and can be established in any region.

Mining is classified within the secondary sector, although sometimes it fits into the primary sector because it is an extraction activity.

In general, less developed countries occupy less than 20% of their population in the secondary sector. Among the most industrialized countries we can mention China, South Korea, Hong Kong, Malaysia, India and Taiwan in Asia, the United States, Mexico, Chile and Brazil in America, Germany and Switzerland in Europe.

The secondary sector is characterized by:

  • Be independent of geographical area or climate : factories can be installed almost anywhere, in the countryside, in cities or on the outskirts of cities. In other words, a car factory can be located in any physical space where raw materials arrive to be transformed.
  • Be developed both in rural or urban areas : the activities can be carried out in urban areas, where small factories are installed, or in rural areas.
  • Transform the raw material : milk is transformed into cheese or butter in cheese factories, cotton is transformed into threads and fabrics.
  • Being automatable : industrialization allows many of the activities in this sector to be carried out with machines, speeding up and improving production efficiency.

Examples of secondary sector activities:

  • Oil industry : exploitation, refining, pipelines and storage of oil and derivatives, petrochemicals.
  • Textile industry : looms, clothing factory, yarn manufacturing.
  • Automotive industry : assembly lines, motor complex and foundry
  • Electronics industry : assembly of electronic equipment and household appliances, medical equipment, measuring instruments.

Third sector

The tertiary sector groups together the economic activities related to the distribution and commercialization of products made by the secondary sector and the provision of services to the consumer. In other words, this sector offers products and merchandise in the last step of production.

Unlike the primary and secondary sectors, the tertiary sector is a very heterogeneous group of activities. These include hairdressers, doctors, merchants, street sweepers, among others.

The tertiary sector is predominant in developed countries. For example, in Spain, more than 60% of the workforce is in the service sector from 2008 to 2021.

The tertiary sector is characterized by:

  • Being independent of the geographical area : the geographical location does not determine the performance of activities in this sector.
  • Focusing on urban areas : how the activity offers services to the population
  • Market finished products : Sellers promote products to the consumer.
  • Provide services : people with or without special training offer to carry out certain activities to other people, for example a hairdresser performs haircuts or hairstyles in exchange for a payment.

Examples of tertiary sector activities:

  • Commerce : shopping centers, supermarkets, bookstores, shops.
  • Transportation : airports, ports, bus terminals.
  • Tourism : travel agencies, hotels and hotel complexes,
  • Financial services : banks, exchange houses, insurance.
  • Health services : hospitals, clinics, ophthalmology, dentistry,
  • Entertainment services : theater, cinema, amusement parks.

Add a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *