Calculate full utilityPropose decisions that maximize utilityExplain marginal utility and also the meaning of diminishing marginal utility

Information top top the consumption choices of american is easily accessible from the customer Expenditure Survey brought out by the U.S. Office of job Statistics. Table 1 shows spending patterns for the typical U.S. Household. The first row shows revenue and, ~ taxes and personal savings are subtracted, it reflects that, in 2015, the typical U.S. Household spent $48,109 on consumption. The table then division down usage into assorted categories. The typical U.S. Household spent roughly one-third that its usage on shelter and other real estate expenses, an additional one-third on food and vehicle expenses, and also the rest on a variety of items, as shown. That course, these trends will vary for particular households through differing levels of household income, by geography, and by preferences.

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Average household Income prior to Taxes$62,481
Average yearly Expenditures$48.109
Food at home$3,264
Food away from home$2,505
Apparel and also services$1,700
Personal insurance and pensions$5,357
All else: alcohol, tobacco, reading, personal care, cash contributions, miscellaneous$3,356
Table 1. U.S. Consumption choices in 2015(Source:
Total Utility and also Diminishing Marginal Utility

To understand just how a family will do its choices, economic experts look at what consumers have the right to afford, as shown in a budget constraint line, and also the total utility or satisfaction obtained from those choices. In a budget plan constraint line, the quantity of one an excellent is measured on the horizontal axis and also the quantity of the other an excellent is measured on the upright axis. The spending plan constraint line reflects the miscellaneous combinations that two items that room affordable given consumer income. Take into consideration the instance of José, displayed in number 1. José likes to collect T-shirts and watch movies.

In figure 1, the quantity of T-shirts is shown on the horizontal axis, when the amount of movie is presented on the vertical axis. If José had countless income or goods were free, then he can consume there is no limit. However José, like all of us, encounters a budget constraint. José has a complete of $56 come spend. The price of T-shirts is $14 and also the price of movie is $7. An alert that the upright intercept of the budget constraint heat is at eight movies and zero T-shirts ($56/$7=8). The horizontal intercept of the budget plan constraint is four, whereby José security of every one of his money ~ above T-shirts and also no movies ($56/14=4). The steep of the budget constraint heat is rise/run or –8/4=–2. The specific choices along the spending plan constraint line present the combinations of T-shirts and also movies that space affordable.

Figure 1. A choice between consumption Goods. José has income that $56. Movies expense $7 and also T-shirts expense $14. The clues on the spending plan constraint line present the combinations of movies and also T-shirts that room affordable.

José wishes to choose the mix that will administer him with the best utility, i beg your pardon is the term economists use to explain a who level that satisfaction or pleasure with his or her choices.

Let’s start with an assumption, which will be questioned in an ext detail later, that José deserve to measure his own utility with something referred to as utils. (It is crucial to keep in mind that friend cannot make comparisons in between the utils of individuals; if one human being gets 20 utils native a cup that coffee and also another gets 10 utils, this does not average than the an initial person gets much more enjoyment from the coffee than the various other or that they enjoy the coffee double as much.) Table 2 shows how José’s energy is linked with his intake of T-shirts or movies. The first column that the table shows the amount of T-shirts consumed. The second column shows the full utility, or full amount the satisfaction, that José receive from consuming that number of T-shirts. The most common pattern of full utility, as displayed here, is that consuming added goods leader to greater total utility, yet at a decreasing rate. The 3rd column reflects marginal utility, i m sorry is the extr utility listed by one extr unit that consumption. This equation because that marginal energy is:

Notice the marginal utility diminishes as additional units are consumed, which means that each succeeding unit of a an excellent consumed provides less additional utility. For example, the first T-shirt José picks is his favorite and also it gives him an addition of 22 utils. The 4th T-shirt is simply to something to wear as soon as all his other apparel are in the wash and also yields only 18 added utils. This is an instance of the regulation of diminishing marginal utility, i beg your pardon holds the the added utility decreases through each unit added.

The remainder of Table 2 shows the quantity of movies the José attends, and also his total and marginal utility from seeing each movie. Complete utility adheres to the intended pattern: it boosts as the number of movies seen rises. Marginal utility also follows the supposed pattern: each additional movie bring a smaller get in utility than the vault one. The first movie José attends is the one he wanted to see the most, and also thus provides him through the highest level of energy or satisfaction. The 5th movie he attends is simply to kill time. Notification that complete utility is additionally the amount of the marginal utilities. Review the next Work that Out feature for instructions on how to calculate complete utility.

T-Shirts (Quantity)Total UtilityMarginal UtilityMovies (Quantity)Total UtilityMarginal Utility
Table 2. Total and also Marginal Utility

Table 3 looks in ~ each point on the budget plan constraint in figure 1, and adds up José’s total utility because that five feasible combinations that T-shirts and movies.

PointT-ShirtsMoviesTotal Utility
P4081 + 0 = 81
Q3263 + 31 = 94
R2443 + 58 = 101
S1622 + 81 = 103
T080 + 100 = 100
Table 3. detect the choice with the highest Utility

Calculating complete Utility

Let’s watch at exactly how José makes his decision in much more detail.

Step 1. Observe that, at point Q (for example), José consumes 3 T-shirts and also two movies.

Step 2. Look in ~ Table 2. You deserve to see native the fourth row/second shaft that 3 T-shirts space worth 63 utils. Similarly, the second row/fifth shaft shows that two movies are worth 31 utils.

Step 3. From this information, you deserve to calculate that allude Q has actually a full utility that 94 (63 + 31).

Step 4. You have the right to repeat the very same calculations because that each allude on Table 3, in i beg your pardon the total utility number are shown in the last column.

For José, the highest full utility for all feasible combinations of products occurs at allude S, through a total utility the 103 from consuming one T-shirt and six movies.

Choosing through Marginal Utility

Most people technique their utility-maximizing combination of selections in a step-by-step way. This step-by-step approach is based upon looking in ~ the tradeoffs, measure in terms of marginal utility, of consuming less of one good and much more of another.

For example, say that José starts turn off thinking around spending every his money ~ above T-shirts and choosing suggest P, which synchronizes to four T-shirts and also no movies, as portrayed in figure 1. José chooses this beginning point randomly; he has to start somewhere. Then he considers giving up the critical T-shirt, the one that offers him the the very least marginal utility, and using the money he saves to buy 2 movies instead. Table 4 monitor the step-by-step collection of decision José requirements to make (Key: T-shirts room $14, movies are $7, and income is $56). The adhering to Work It the end feature describes how marginal utility can result decision making.

TryWhich HasTotal UtilityMarginal Gain and Loss that Utility, contrasted with previous ChoiceConclusion
Choice 1: P4 T-shirts and 0 movies81 indigenous 4 T-shirts + 0 from 0 movies = 81
Choice 2: Q3 T-shirts and 2 movies63 from 3 T-shirts + 31 indigenous 0 movies = 94Loss of 18 from 1 less T-shirt, however gain the 31 indigenous 2 much more movies, because that a network utility obtain of 13Q is preferred over P
Choice 3: R2 T-shirts and also 4 movies43 indigenous 2 T-shirts + 58 native 4 movie = 101Loss the 20 from 1 less T-shirt, yet gain that 27 native two much more movies because that a net utility acquire of 7R is preferred over Q
Choice 4: S1 T-shirt and 6 movies22 from 1 T-shirt + 81 native 6 movies = 103Loss of 21 native 1 much less T-shirt, yet gain the 23 from two much more movies, because that a network utility gain of 2S is desired over R
Choice 5: T0 T-shirts and 8 movies0 indigenous 0 T-shirts + 100 indigenous 8 movies = 100Loss of 22 from 1 much less T-shirt, however gain the 19 native two more movies, for a net energy loss of 3S is wanted over T
Table 4. A Step-by-Step method to Maximizing Utility

Decision make by to compare Marginal Utility

José could use the adhering to thought process (if he believed in utils) to do his decision regarding how numerous T-shirts and also movies to purchase:

Step 1. Indigenous Table 2, José deserve to see the the marginal utility of the fourth T-shirt is 18. If José gives up the fourth T-shirt, climate he loses 18 utils.

Step 2. Offering up the fourth T-shirt, however, frees up $14 (the price the a T-shirt), allowing José come buy the very first two movies (at $7 each).

Step 3. José knows the the marginal utility of the first movie is 16 and also the marginal energy of the 2nd movie is 15. Thus, if José moves from suggest P to allude Q, he provides up 18 utils (from the T-shirt), yet gains 31 utils (from the movies).

Step 4. Gaining 31 utils and losing 18 utils is a net obtain of 13. This is just another way of saying the the full utility at Q (94 follow to the last obelisk in Table 3) is 13 more than the total utility at ns (81).

Step 5. So, for José, it provides sense to provide up the 4th T-shirt in order come buy 2 movies.

José plainly prefers point Q to suggest P. Now repeat this step-by-step process of decision making through marginal utilities. José thinks around giving up the third T-shirt and also surrendering a marginal energy of 20, in exchange for purchasing two more movies the promise a combined marginal energy of 27. José prefers allude R to allude Q. What if José thinks about going past R to point S? providing up the 2nd T-shirt way a marginal energy loss the 21, and also the marginal utility acquire from the fifth and also sixth movie would combine to make a marginal utility acquire of 23, therefore José prefers point S come R.

However, if José looks for to walk beyond point S to point T, the finds the the lose of marginal utility from giving up the very first T-shirt is 22, while the marginal utility obtain from the last 2 movies is only a total of 19. If José were to choose allude T, his utility would loss to 100. With these step of thinking around marginal tradeoffs, José again concludes the S, through one T-shirt and also six movies, is the selection that will provide him through the highest possible level of total utility. This step-by-step strategy will reach the same conclusion regardless of José’s beginning point.

Another method to look at this is by concentrating on satisfaction every dollar. Marginal energy per dollar is the lot of extr utility José receives provided the price of the product. For José’s T-shirts and movies, the marginal energy per dissension is presented in Table 5.

José’s first purchase will certainly be a movie. Why? because it provides him the highest possible marginal utility per dollar and it is affordable. José will proceed to purchase the an excellent which offers him the highest possible marginal energy per dollar till he exhausts the budget. José will keep purchasing movies due to the fact that they offer him a higher “bang or the buck” until the sixth movie is indistinguishable to a T-shirt purchase. José have the right to afford to purchase that T-shirt. So José will select to purchase six movies and one T-shirt.

Quantity the T-ShirtsTotal UtilityMarginal UtilityMarginal utility per DollarQuantity the MoviesTotal UtilityMarginal UtilityMarginal utility per Dollar
Table 5. Marginal energy per Dollar
A rule for Maximizing Utility

This process of decision making suggests a preeminence to follow as soon as maximizing utility. Since the price the T-shirts is double as high as the price the movies, to maximize energy the critical T-shirt chosen demands to provide exactly double the marginal energy (MU) the the last movie. If the critical T-shirt provides less 보다 twice the marginal energy of the last movie, climate the T-shirt is offering less “bang for the buck” (i.e., marginal utility per dollar spent) 보다 if the very same money were invested on movies. If this is so, José should trade the T-shirt for more movies to boost his complete utility. Marginal utility per dollar measures the added utility the José will enjoy provided what he has to pay for the good.

If the critical T-shirt provides much more than double the marginal utility of the last movie, then the T-shirt is providing an ext “bang for the buck” or marginal utility per dollar, than if the money were invested on movies. Together a result, José need to buy much more T-shirts. An alert that in ~ José’s optimal selection of allude S, the marginal utility from the an initial T-shirt, that 22 is exactly twice the marginal energy of the 6th movie, which is 11. At this choice, the marginal utility per dollar is the very same for both goods. This is a tell-tale signal the José has discovered the allude with highest full utility.

This discussion can be written as a basic rule: the utility-maximizing an option between intake goods occurs whereby the marginal energy per dissension is the same for both goods.

A judicious economizer will certainly pay double as lot for something only if, in the marginal comparison, the item confers double as lot utility. Notification that the formula for the table above is:

The adhering to Work the Out function provides step by action guidance for this concept of utility-maximizing choices.

Maximizing Utility

The basic rule, \fracMU_1P_1 = \fracMU_2P_2, means that the last dollar spent on each good provides exactly the same marginal utility. So:

Step 1. If we traded a dollar an ext of movies because that a dollar more of T-shirts, the marginal utility gained from T-shirts would specifically offset the marginal utility shed from fewer movies. In other words, the net get would be zero.

Step 2. Products, however, commonly cost much more than a dollar, so we cannot profession a dollar’s precious of movies. The best we have the right to do is profession two movie for one more T-shirt, since in this example T-shirts expense twice what a movie does.

Step 3. If we trade two movies because that one T-shirt, we would end up at suggest R (two T-shirts and also four movies).

Step 4. Selection 4 in Table 4 shows that if we relocate to allude S, we would lose 21 utils from one less T-shirt, but gain 23 utils from two more movies, so we would end up with more total utility at point S.

In short, the general rule shows united state the utility-maximizing choice.

There is another, equivalent means to think about this. The general dominion can likewise be expressed together the ratio of the prices of the two goods should be same to the ratio of the marginal utilities. once the price of great 1 is separated by the price of an excellent 2, at the utility-maximizing allude this will certainly equal the marginal utility of great 1 divided by the marginal energy of an excellent 2. This rule, known as the consumer equilibrium, deserve to be composed in algebraic form:

Along the budget constraint, the total price of the two products remains the same, therefore the ratio of the price does not change. However, the marginal utility of the two goods alters with the quantities consumed. In ~ the optimal choice of one T-shirt and six movies, suggest S, the ratio of marginal utility to price for T-shirts (22:14) matches the proportion of marginal utility to price because that movies (of 11:7).

Measuring Utility with Numbers

This discussion of utility started off with an presumption that that is possible to ar numerical worths on utility, an presumption that might seem questionable. You can buy a thermometer because that measuring temperature in ~ the hardware store, yet what keep sells an “utilimometer” for measuring utility? However, when measuring utility with numbers is a convenient presumption to clear up the explanation, the vital assumption is not that utility deserve to be measure by an external party, however only the individuals can decide i m sorry of two options they prefer.

To know this point, think earlier to the step-by-step procedure of finding the choice with highest total utility by to compare the marginal energy that is gained and also lost from different options along the budget plan constraint. Together José compare each choice along his spending plan constraint come the ahead choice, what matters is no the details numbers the he places on his utility—or whether he uses any type of numbers in ~ all—but only that the personally can identify which selections he prefers.

In this way, the step-by-step procedure of picking the greatest level of utility resembles rather closely how many people make intake decisions. Us think around what will make united state the happiest; we think around what things cost; us think about buying a little more of one item and giving up a little of something else; we pick what provides us through the greatest level that satisfaction. The vocabulary of comparing the points follow me a budget constraint and also total and also marginal energy is simply a collection of tools for stating this everyday process in a clean and details manner. It is welcome news that particular utility numbers are not main to the argument, since a great utilimometer is difficult to find. Carry out not worry—while us cannot measure utils, by the end of the following module, us will have actually transformed our analysis into other we deserve to measure—demand.

Key Concepts and also Summary

Economic analysis of household behavior is based upon the presumption that people seek the greatest level of utility or satisfaction. People are the only judge of their very own utility. In general, greater intake of a great brings higher total utility. However, the extr utility received from every unit the greater usage tends to decrease in a sample of diminishing marginal utility.

The utility-maximizing selection on a consumption budget plan constraint can be discovered in number of ways. You can add up complete utility of each selection on the budget plan line and choose the greatest total. Friend can pick a starting point in ~ random and compare the marginal energy gains and losses of relocating to surrounding points—and thus at some point seek the end the wanted choice. Alternatively, you can compare the ratio of the marginal energy to price of great 1 with the marginal utility to price of good 2 and apply the rule that at the optimal choice, the two ratios must be equal:

Review Questions

Who determines how much utility an individual will get from consuming a good?Would girlfriend expect full utility to increase or loss with extr consumption that a good? Why?Would you suppose marginal energy to rise or autumn with added consumption that a good? Why?Is it feasible for complete utility to increase while marginal utility diminishes? Explain.If civilization do not have a finish mental snapshot of full utility because that every level the consumption, how deserve to they uncover their utility-maximizing consumption choice?What is the rule relating the proportion of marginal utility to price of two products at the optimal choice? define why, if this ascendancy does not hold, the an option cannot be utility-maximizing.

Critical thinking Questions

Think earlier to a purchase that girlfriend made recently. Exactly how would you describe your thinking before you made the purchase?The rule of politics are not always the same as the rules of economics. In discussions of setting budgets for government agencies, over there is a strategy referred to as “closing the Washington monument.” as soon as an company faces the unwelcome possibility of a budget cut, it may decide come close a high-visibility attraction took pleasure in by many world (like the Washington monument). Describe in terms of diminishing marginal energy why the Washington monument strategy is therefore misleading. Hint: If you room really do the efforts to make the best of a budget cut, have to you cut the items in your budget plan with the greatest marginal utility or the shortest marginal utility? does the Washington monument strategy reduced the items with the highest marginal utility or the shortest marginal utility?


Praxilla, that lived in ancient Greece, derives utility from reading poems and from eat cucumbers. Praxilla gets 30 devices of marginal utility from her very first poem, 27 devices of marginal energy from her 2nd poem, 24 units of marginal energy from her 3rd poem, and so on, through marginal utility declining by 3 units because that each added poem. Praxilla gets six units that marginal energy for every of her first three cucumbers consumed, 5 units the marginal utility for each of her following three cucumbers consumed, 4 units of marginal energy for every of the adhering to three cucumbers consumed, and so on, with marginal utility declining by one because that every three cucumbers consumed. A poem costs three copper coins yet a cucumber costs only one bronze coin. Praxilla has 18 copper coins. Lay out Praxilla’s budget set between poems and also cucumbers, placing poems on the upright axis and also cucumbers on the horizontal axis. Begin off with the an option of zero poems and 18 cucumbers, and also calculate the changes in marginal energy of relocating along the spending plan line to the next choice of one poem and 15 cucumbers. Utilizing this step-by-step procedure based on marginal utility, create a table and also identify Praxilla’s utility-maximizing choice. Compare the marginal energy of the 2 goods and also the relative prices at the optimal selection to see if the expected connection holds. Hint: label the table columns: 1) Choice, 2) Marginal gain from more Poems, 3) Marginal lose from under Cucumbers, 4) all at once Gain or Loss, 5) Is the previous choice optimal? brand the table rows: 1) 0 Poems and 18 Cucumbers, 2) 1 Poem and 15 Cucumbers, 3) 2 Poems and also 12 Cucumbers, 4) 3 Poems and 9 Cucumbers, 5) 4 Poems and 6 Cucumbers, 6) 5 Poems and also 3 Cucumbers, 7) 6 Poems and 0 Cucumbers.


U.S. Office of job Statistics. 2015. “Consumer expenditure in 2013.” Accessed in march 11, 2015. Http://

U.S. Office of labor Statistics. 2015. “Employer expenses for Employee Compensation—December 2014.” Accessed in march 11, 2015. Http://

U.S. Bureau of job Statistics. 2015. “Labor pressure Statistics indigenous the Current population Survey.” Accessed in march 11, 2015. Http://


budget constraint lineshows the possible combinations of two goods that are affordable provided a consumer’s restricted incomeconsumer equilibriumwhen the proportion of the prices of products is equal to the ratio of the marginal utilities (point at which the consumer can obtain the most satisfaction)diminishing marginal utilitythe common pattern the each marginal unit the a an excellent consumed provides less of an addition to energy than the ahead unitmarginal utilitythe extr utility listed by one additional unit that consumptionmarginal utility per dollarthe additional satisfaction got from purchasing a an excellent given the price that the product; MU/Pricetotal utilitysatisfaction derived from consumer choices


Answers to Self-Check Questions

The rows of the table in the trouble do not represent the actual choices obtainable on the spending plan set; the is, the combinations of ring trips and also phone minutes the Jeremy can afford with his budget. Among the choices listed in the problem, the 6 round trips, is no even available on the budget set. If Jeremy has actually only $10 to spend and also a ring trip expenses $2 and phone calls expense $0.05 every minute, he could spend his entire spending plan on 5 round trips yet no phone call calls or 200 minute of phone calls, but no round trips or any mix of the two in between. The is basic to see every one of his budget choices with a little algebra. The equation because that a spending plan line is:

where P and also Q room price and also quantity of round trips (RT) and also phone calls (PC) (per minute). In Jeremy’s instance the equation because that the budget line is:

= l}\$10 & \$2\;\times\;Q_RT\;+\;\$.05\;\times\;Q_PC \\<1em> \frac\$10\$.05 & \frac\$2Q_RT\;+\;\$.05Q_PC\$.05 \\<1em> 200 & 40Q_RT\;+\;Q_PC \\<1em> Q_PC & 200\;-\;40Q_RT \endarray

If we pick zero through five round trips (column 1), the table listed below shows how numerous phone minutes can be afforded with the spending plan (column 3). The total utility figures are provided in the table below.

Round TripsTotal energy for TripsPhone MinutesTotal utility for MinutesTotal Utility
Table 7.

Adding up complete utility because that round trips and also phone minutes at different points ~ above the spending plan line gives complete utility in ~ each suggest on the budget line. The highest possible utility is in ~ the mix of one trip and 160 minute of call time, with a total utility the 1120.

The an initial step is to usage the total utility figures, displayed in the table below, to calculation marginal utility, remembering that marginal utility is equal to the adjust in total utility separated by the change in trips or minutes.Round TripsTotal UtilityMarginal utility (per trip)Phone MinutesTotal UtilityMarginal energy (per minute)
18080160104060/40 = 1.5
215070120900140/40 = 3.5
32106080680220/40 = 5.5
42605040380300/40 = 7.5
53004000380/40 = 9.5
Table 8.

Note that us cannot straight compare marginal utilities, due to the fact that the units room trips matches phone minutes. We need a usual denominator for comparison, i beg your pardon is price. Separating MU by the price, returns columns 4 and also 8 in the table below.

Round TripsTotal UtilityMarginal energy (per trip)MU/PPhone MinutesTotal UtilityMarginal utility (per minute)MU/P
00200110060/40 = 1.51.5/$0.05 = 30
1808080/$2 = 401601040140/40 = 3.53.5/$0.05 = 70
21507070/$2 = 35120900220/40 = 5.55.5/$0.05 = 110
32106060/$2 = 3080680300/40 =7.57.5/$0.05 = 150
42605050/$2 = 2540380380/40 = 9.59.5/$0.05 = 190
53004040/$2 = 2000
Table 9.

Start at the bottom that the table whereby the mix of round trips and also phone minute is (5, 0). This starting point is arbitrary, however the numbers in this instance work best starting from the bottom. Expect we take into consideration moving to the next allude up. In ~ (4, 40), the marginal utility per dollar spent on a round trip is 25. The marginal energy per dollar spent on phone minutes is 190.

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Since 25 RT is 30 PM), but an alert that the difference is narrowing. We store trading ring trips for phone minutes till we obtain to (1, 160), which is the best we deserve to do. The MU/P compare is as close together it is walk to obtain (40 vs. 70). Often in the genuine world, it is not feasible to get MU/P specifically equal because that both products, therefore you obtain as close as you can.