Course

Marginal Utility

Instructor: Joana Girante, Arizona State University

This is " Introduction to Consumer Choice " from our Principles of Economics: Microeconomics course. Everyday, you make tons of decisions about consumption. Your

This is "Introduction to Consumer Choice" from our Principles of Economics: Microeconomics course.

Everyday, you make tons of decisions about consumption. Your choices about what and how much of a good to buy are influenced by the laws of supply and demand. These choices are nearly endless. For example, at Starbucks, each drink is highly customizable. In fact, they offer over 80,000 combinations!

When you buy a good or make a decision about how to use your time, you’re getting some sort of value, like a sense of happiness or satisfaction, out of it – economists call this “utility.” The increase in that value from buying an additional unit of a good or service is its marginal utility. When you make these decisions, you’re thinking at the margin, even if you don’t realize it.

Think about how wonderful a shot of espresso, or your beverage of choice, is first thing in the morning. You probably derive quite a bit of utility! But how about a second, third, or even fourth shot of espresso? With each extra shot, you probably get a little less utility. At some point, the cost will outweigh the marginal utility.

When you add up the satisfaction you get out of all of the shots of espresso, that is your total utility. Since each additional shot of espresso has a little less utility, economists refer to this concept as diminishing marginal utility.

This is true for all goods and activities, but the amount of utility and marginal utility depends on the individual. For example, let’s say that Starbucks drops the price of shot of espresso. This can change the quantity demanded on aggregate because for some people, the drop in price will make the marginal utility they derive from an extra shot now worth the cost. But perhaps that’s not true for you and your consumption will not change.

Are you starting to see how you instinctively think and act at the margin in your daily life?

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