Social Research Glossary


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Citation reference: Harvey, L., 2012-20, Social Research Glossary, Quality Research International,

This is a dynamic glossary and the author would welcome any e-mail suggestions for additions or amendments. Page updated 19 December, 2019 , © Lee Harvey 2012–2020.


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Surplus value

core definition

Surplus value is a concept developed by Karl Marx and it is refers to the new value created by workers in excess of the cost of their own labour, which is appropriated by the capitalist as profit when products are sold.

explanatory context


analytical review

Encyclopedia of Marxism (1999–2008) states:

Surplus-value is the social product which is over and above what is required for the producers to live.

The measure of value is labour time, so surplus value is the accumulated product of the unpaid labour time of the producers. In bourgeois society, surplus value is acquired by the capitalist in the form of profit: the capitalist owns the means of production as Private Property, so the workers have no choice but to sell their labour-power to the capitalists in order to live. The capitalist then owns not only the means of production, and the workers’ labour-power which he has bought to use in production, but the product as well. After paying wages, the capitalist then becomes the owner of the surplus value, over and above the value of the workers’ labour-power.

In all societies in which there is a division of labour, there is a social surplus; what is different about bourgeois society is that surplus value takes the form of capital, and surplus value is in fact the essence of production in capitalism.– Only productive work, i.e., work which creates surplus value, is supported. All “unproductive labour” is eliminated....


Elwell's Glossary of Sociology (undated) defines surplus value as:

Marx's concept for the value of an individual's labor power (calculated by the amount of value the labor contributes to the product minus the amount of money paid to the worker by the capitalist). The conventional name for this difference is profit--thus the whole capitalist system is based on "expropriating" surplus value (or stealing labor) from workers.

associated issues


related areas

See also



Relations of production


Elwell's Glossary of Sociology, undated, available at, page not available 20 December 2016.
Encyclopedia of Marxism, 1999–2008, 'Surplus value', Glossary of Terms, available at, accessed 12 April 2013, still available 14 June 2019.

copyright Lee Harvey 2012–2020


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