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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

Where can i find the Quizzes
Thubelihle Reply
what is ppf?
Ishimwe Reply
production possibility frontier
Alam
the production possibility frontier (PPF) is a curve that illustrates the variations in the amounts that can be produced of two products if both depend upon the same finite resource for their manufacture
Alam
thank you!
Ishimwe
In perfect competition, some firms make profit, others breakeven and others make losses. Explain
ALVIN Reply
define law of demand and draw demand curve
Naseer Reply
state that the higher the price of a product the lower the quantity demanded
nonduduzo
what is the price elasticity of demand a unit free measure of the sensitivity of the quantity demand to a price change?
ada Reply
what is normative economics
kanakadurga Reply
In normative economics we try to understand whether a mechanism is desirable or not.
arshad
not
Mark
consider the market for chocolate chip cookies .suppose there is an increase in the price of cake flour used in the production of chocolate chip cookies . Demonstrate graphically and explain the effects this will have on the equilibrium price and quantity of chocolate chip cookies.
Costa Reply
what is price demand?
Alamin Reply
what is the price demand ?
Alamin
what is cardinal approach?
Alamin
importance of elasticity to an economy
Nayiga Reply
what is elasticity
Costa Reply
elasticity refers to the measurement of a percentage change of one economic variable in response to a change in another. Primarily, this percentage change will follow a change in price relative to changes in other factors.
Abdullahi
When desire of goods increases what is the respond of its prices?
abubakar Reply
Then definitely price of Good will increase, As Demand has direct relation with the price
Alam
Right
abubakar
Qd=200 and Qs=5+2p . find the equilibrium price and quantity
Margret Reply
what is mean by 2 p
Alam
as Q is Quantity d for demand and S for supply and what is p stand for
Alam
at equilibrium quantity demand is equal to quantity supply therefore Qd=Q's 200-p=5+2p 200-5=2p+p 195=3p p = 65 thus equilibrium price is equal to 65 and equilibrium quantity is equal to 195
Wani
2 p means price of product is 2
Wani
what is de law of demand
NAANMET Reply
All other things been equal, the law of states that the higher the price of a commodity the higher the quantity demanded. Vice versa
Nancy
the law of demand state that as the price of the goods increase the quantity demand decrease. considering all other factor to be constant.
Zaiveisho
Qd= 200 and Qs= -5+2p .how do you find the equilibrium price and quantity?
Margret Reply
what is the law of demand?
Ishimwe
it states that at a higher price consumers will demand a lower quantity of a good.
Alam
yeah!
Ishimwe
yeah if price of product increase then demand of product will absolutely decrease
Ruchi
vise versa
Alam
yeah
Ruchi
yeah0
Ruchi
what are the demands of this Question ... and how do i answer it ? ... Some occupations such as nursing are vital but are paid very little .Other such as financial advisor are not vital but are paid highly. How far the economic theory explain this situation?
Kudakwashe Reply

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Source:  OpenStax, Microeconomics. OpenStax CNX. Aug 03, 2014 Download for free at http://legacy.cnx.org/content/col11627/1.10
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