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These arguments about the shapes of indifference curves and about higher or lower levels of utility do not require any numerical estimates of utility, either by the individual or by anyone else. They are only based on the assumptions that when people have less of one good they need more of another good to make up for it, if they are keeping the same level of utility, and that as people have more of a good, the marginal utility they receive from additional units of that good will diminish. Given these gentle assumptions, a field of indifference curves can be mapped out to describe the preferences of any individual.

The Individuality of Indifference Curves

Each person determines their own preferences and utility. Thus, while indifference curves have the same general shape—they slope down, and the slope is steeper on the left and flatter on the right—the specific shape of indifference curves can be different for every person. [link] , for example, applies only to Lilly’s preferences. Indifference curves for other people would probably travel through different points.

Utility-maximizing with indifference curves

People seek the highest level of utility, which means that they wish to be on the highest possible indifference curve. However, people are limited by their budget constraints, which show what tradeoffs are actually possible.

Maximizing Utility at the Highest Indifference Curve

Return to the situation of Lilly’s choice between paperback books and doughnuts. Say that books cost $6, doughnuts are 50 cents each, and that Lilly has $60 to spend. This information provides the basis for the budget line shown in [link] . Along with the budget line are shown the three indifference curves from [link] . What is Lilly’s utility-maximizing choice? Several possibilities are identified in the diagram.

Indifference curves and a budget constraint

The graph shows indifferences curves Ul, Um, and Uh which highlight the following choices based on her options of books (the x-axis) and doughnuts (the y-axis): A (2, 120); B (3, 84); F (5, 100); G (6, 48); H (3, 70).
Lilly’s preferences are shown by the indifference curves. Lilly’s budget constraint, given the prices of books and doughnuts and her income, is shown by the straight line. Lilly’s optimal choice will be point B, where the budget line is tangent to the indifference curve Um. Lilly would have more utility at a point like F on the higher indifference curve Uh, but the budget line does not touch the higher indifference curve Uh at any point, so she cannot afford this choice. A choice like G is affordable to Lilly, but it lies on indifference curve Ul and thus provides less utility than choice B, which is on indifference curve Um.

The choice of F with five books and 100 doughnuts is highly desirable, since it is on the highest indifference curve Uh of those shown in the diagram. However, it is not affordable given Lilly’s budget constraint. The choice of H with three books and 70 doughnuts on indifference curve Ul is a wasteful choice, since it is inside Lilly’s budget set, and as a utility-maximizer, Lilly will always prefer a choice on the budget constraint itself. Choices B and G are both on the opportunity set. However, choice G of six books and 48 doughnuts is on lower indifference curve Ul than choice B of three books and 84 doughnuts, which is on the indifference curve Um. If Lilly were to start at choice G, and then thought about whether the marginal utility she was deriving from doughnuts and books, she would decide that some additional doughnuts and fewer books would make her happier—which would cause her to move toward her preferred choice B. Given the combination of Lilly’s personal preferences, as identified by her indifference curves, and Lilly’s opportunity set, which is determined by prices and income, B will be her utility-maximizing choice.

Questions & Answers

what is the Invisible Hand?
adrian Reply
What are the limitations of a commercial Bank to create credit
Tanyi Reply
what is meant by efficiency of labour
Fritz Reply
production possibility curve
Mama Reply
graphs about production possibility curve?
Mama
I cant open the links in the text.
adrian
what are the concept of economic
dauda Reply
demand suply and population
dauda
graphs on about ppc
Mama
with the aid of diagrams illustrate movement along and shifts in demand curve
Mercy Reply
what is scarcity
ISAH Reply
limited in supply relative to demand
doris
scarcity means resources available to provide our daily needs are limited
Terkimbi
shortage of resources that we need for our demand. basically price go up due to this problem.
Jean
scarcity means our resources r not enough for us or our resources r limited
Adam
discuss the effects of price controls int the economy
Charmaine
• It stimulates excess demand, which cannot be statified ie shortage in the market. • It encourages hoarding of commodities by wholesales and retailers. • It leads to the creation of " black market" or undercounter sales and its attendant high prices. • It encourage conditional sales of products.
BAMBA
on how scarcity,choice and opportunity cost work together
Livin
means less than requirement
Livin
What are the reasons for the existence of monopoly?
Gerry Reply
Because such barriers occur in different forms, there are therefore varying reasons for the existence of monopolies. Ownership of a Key Resource: When one company exerts sole control over a resource that is necessary for the production of a specific product, the market may become a monopoly.
Kenneth
Thanks Kenneth
Gerry
what is international trade
Syed Reply
what is imperfect compition
Syed
what is crowding out effect
LAXMI Reply
what is federal finance?
LAXMI Reply
what is populic
Kute
what is imperfect compition
Syed
Explain five importance of the study of economic
Francis Reply
study of economics help a person to make rational choice in multiple wants. help individual to be a well all-round thinker.
Bitrus
the five important of the study of economics are as follows (1)time (2)management of resources (3)choice making (4)business(5)scarcity
Terkimbi
an increase in demand (while supply remains constant) what will happen to deh graph?
Thabiso Reply
what is going to happen to the graph if there is an increase in demand, While supply remains constant .
Thabiso
What will happen to the graph if there is an increase in demand While supply remains constant?
Thabiso
price will increase high than automatically demand will decrease
takshaveer
equilibrium ?
Issum
is when the supply and demand are balanced
ISAH
as demand increase and supply remain constant means the price will increase also
Livin
what is the difference between economic growth and economic development ?
yonas
What is black money
Abichu
what is demand
Sarkwah Reply
demand is the willingness to buy a commodity backed by the ability to pay.
Runwell
demand is mere desire on commodity with ability to back up with purchasing power
Terkimbi
demand is the want of commodity back by the ability to pay for that commodity
Adenira
demand is the willingness to buy any type of commodity for the exchange of something that is valuable to the seller.
Jean
demand is any valuable commodity that people are willing to buy at prices.
ISAH
Equilibrium is when there's an equality between quantity demanded and quantity supplied
Victory Reply
Again the consumer will be in equilibrium if the price of the commodity is equal to Marginal utility of that product
daniel

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Source:  OpenStax, Principles of economics. OpenStax CNX. Sep 19, 2014 Download for free at http://legacy.cnx.org/content/col11613/1.11
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