noun du·ra·tion \ du̇-ˈrā-shən also dyu̇- \
Updated on: 26 Jul 2017

Definition of duration

1 :continuance in time
  • gradually increase the duration of your workout
2 :the time during which something exists or lasts
  • were there for the duration of the concert

Examples of duration in a Sentence

  1. You should gradually increase the duration of your workout.

  2. for the whole duration of the speech the bored audience fidgeted

Recent Examples of duration from the Web

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'duration.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

Origin and Etymology of duration

Financial Definition of DURATION


What It Is

Duration is a measure of a bond's sensitivity to interest rate changes. The higher the bond's duration, the greater its sensitivity to the change (also know as volatility) and vice versa.

How It Works

There is more than one way to calculate duration, depending on one's compounding assumptions, but the Macaulay duration (named after Frederick Macaulay, an economist who developed the concept in 1938) is the most common. The formula is:

t = period in which the coupon is received
C = periodic (usually semiannual) coupon payment
y = the periodic yield to maturity or required yield
n = number periods
M = maturity value (in $)
P = market price of bond

The formula is complicated, but what it boils down to is: Duration = Present value of a bond's cash flows, weighted by length of time to receipt and divided by the bond's current market value. For example, let's calculate the duration of a three-year, $1,000 Company XYZ bond with a semiannual 10% coupon.

Notice in the table above that we first weighted the cash flows by the periods in which the occurred and then calculated the present value of each of these weighted cash flows (also, a measure of 5% is used instead of 10% because payments are semiannual).

To calculate the Macaulay duration, we then divide the sum of the present values of these cash flows by the current bond price (which we are assuming is $1,000):

Company XYZ Macaulay duration = $5,329.48 / $1,000 = 5.33

As mentioned earlier, duration can help investors understand how sensitive a bond is to changes in prevailing interest rates. By multiplying a bond's duration by the change, the investor can estimate the percentage price change for the bond. For example, consider the Company XYZ bonds with a duration of 5.53 years. If for whatever reason market yields increased by 20 basis points (0.20%), the approximate percentage change in the XYZ bond's price would be:

-5.53 x .002 = -0.01106 or -1.106%

Note that this is an approximation. The formula assumes a linear relationship between bond prices and yields even though the relationship is actually convex. Thus, the formula is less reliable when there is a large change in yield.

In general, six things affect a bond's duration:

Bond's Price: Note that if the bond in the above example were trading at $900 today, then the duration would be $5,329.48 / $900 = 5.92. If the bond were trading at $1,200 today, then the duration would be $5,329.48 / $1,200 = 4.44.
Coupon: The higher a bond's coupon, the more income it produces early on and thus the shorter its duration. The lower the coupon, the longer the duration (and volatility). Zero-coupon bonds, which have only one cash flow, have durations equal to their maturities.
Maturity: The longer a bond's maturity, the greater its duration (and volatility). Duration changes every time a bond makes a coupon payment. Over time, it shortens as the bond nears maturity.
Yield to Maturity: The higher a bond's yield to maturity, the shorter its duration because the present value of the distant cash flows (which have the heaviest weighting) become overshadowed by the value of the nearer payments.
Sinking Fund: The presence of a sinking fund lowers a bond's duration because the extra cash flows in the early years are greater than those of a bond without a sinking fund.
Call Provision: Bonds with call provisions also have shorter durations because the principal is repaid earlier than a similar non-callable bond.

Why It Matters

Understanding the duration formula is not nearly as important as understanding that duration is a measure of risk because it has a direct relationship with price volatility. The greater duration of the bond, the greater its percentage price volatility.

By providing a way to estimate the effect of certain market changes on a bond's price, duration can help you choose investments that might better meet your future cash needs. Duration also helps income investors who want to take on minimal interest rate risk (that is, they believe interest rates might rise) understand why they should consider bonds with high coupon payments and shorter maturities.

[Use our Yield to Maturity (YTM) Calculator to measure your annual return if you plan to hold a particular bond until maturity.]

DURATION Defined for English Language Learners



Definition of duration for English Language Learners

  • : the length of time that something exists or lasts

DURATION Defined for Kids


noun du·ra·tion \ du̇-ˈrā-shən , dyu̇- \

Definition of duration for Students

:the time during which something exists or lasts The illness is of short duration.

Seen and Heard

What made you want to look up duration? Please tell us where you read or heard it (including the quote, if possible).

Love words? Need even more definitions?

Subscribe to America's largest dictionary and get thousands more definitions and advanced search—ad free!


to curse or denounce

Get Word of the Day daily email!

Test Your Vocabulary

Merriam-Webster's New Words Quiz—Fall 2017 Edition!

  • young-plant-shoots
  • Which of the following is a new sense of the word bunny?
How Strong Is Your Vocabulary?

Test your vocabulary with our 10-question quiz!


Test Your Knowledge - and learn some interesting things along the way.


Love words? Need even more definitions?

Subscribe to America's largest dictionary and get thousands more definitions and advanced search—ad free!