Introduction to Consumer Choices

Read all the sections in this chapter for information on consumer choice, including utility, consumer equilibrium, consumer equilibrium demand, consumer surplus, budget constraint, and consumer equilibrium and indifference curves.

7. Key Concepts and Summary

Consumption Choices

Economic analysis of household behavior is based on the assumption that people seek the highest level of utility or satisfaction. Individuals are the only judge of their own utility. In general, greater consumption of a good brings higher total utility. However, the additional utility received from each unit of greater consumption tends to decline in a pattern of diminishing marginal utility.

The utility-maximizing choice on a consumption budget constraint can be found in several ways. You can add up total utility of each choice on the budget line and choose the highest total. You can choose a starting point at random and compare the marginal utility gains and losses of moving to neighboring points - and thus eventually seek out the preferred choice. Alternatively, you can compare the ratio of the marginal utility to price of good 1 with the marginal utility to price of good 2 and apply the rule that at the optimal choice, the two ratios should be equal:


How Changes in Income and Prices Affect Consumption Choices

The budget constraint framework suggest that when income or price changes, a range of responses are possible. When income rises, households will demand a higher quantity of normal goods, but a lower quantity of inferior goods. When the price of a good rises, households will typically demand less of that good - but whether they will demand a much lower quantity or only a slightly lower quantity will depend on personal preferences. Also, a higher price for one good can lead to more or less of the other good being demanded.

Labor-Leisure Choices

When making a choice along the labor-leisure budget constraint, a household will choose the combination of labor, leisure, and income that provides the most utility. The result of a change in wage levels can be higher work hours, the same work hours, or lower work hours.

Intertemporal Choices in Financial Capital Markets

When making a choice along the intertemporal budget constraint, a household will choose the combination of present consumption, savings, and future consumption that provides the most utility. The result of a higher rate of return (or higher interest rates) can be a higher quantity of saving, the same quantity of saving, or a lower quantity of saving, depending on preferences about present and future consumption. Behavioral economics is a branch of economics that seeks to understand and explain the "human" factors that drive what traditional economists see as people's irrational spending decisions.