The term "Pareto principle" can also refer to Pareto efficiency. The Pareto principle (also known as the 80-20 rule, the law of the vital few, and the principle of factor sparsity) states that, for many events, roughly 80% of the effects come from 20% of the causes. .

Business-management consultant Joseph M. Juran suggested the principle and named it after Italian economist Vilfredo Pareto, who observed in 1906 that 80% of the land in Italy was owned by 20% of the population; he developed the principle by observing that 20% of the pea pods in his garden contained 80% of the peas..

It is a common rule of thumb in business; e.g., "80% of your sales come from 20% of your clients". Mathematically, where something is shared among a sufficiently large set of participants, there must be a number k between 50 and 100 such that "k% is taken by (100 − k)% of the participants". The number k may vary from 50 (in the case of equal distribution, i.e. 100% of the population have equal shares) to nearly 100 (when a tiny number of participants account for almost all of the resource). There is nothing special about the number 80% mathematically, but many real systems have k somewhere around this region of intermediate imbalance in distribution.

The Pareto principle is only tangentially related to Pareto efficiency, which was also introduced by the same economist. Pareto developed both concepts in the context of the distribution of income and wealth among the population..

Pareto charts are used to graphically display the relative importance of groups or segments of data. This makes it easier to identify which problems are most important. Typically, the data groups in a Pareto chart are displayed as a histogram or vertical bar chart, in descending order of significance.