# Indifference Curve with 20 Properties

## Indifference Curve with its Properties

Economic analysis of consumer behavior is essential for predicting market trends and making informed decisions in various industries. The concept of an indifference curve is one of the fundamental tools used to understand and analyze consumer behavior. It was first introduced by the Italian economist Vilfredo Pareto in 1906 and since then has become a widely used tool in microeconomic analysis. The definition of an indifference curve, its application, and its importance in comprehending consumer behavior will all be covered in this article.

The concept of an indifference curve originated in the field of microeconomics and was first introduced by the Italian economist Vilfredo Pareto in 1906. An indifference curve is a graphical representation of various pairings of two different goods that a consumer can purchase and enjoy equally in each case. The curve plots the various bundles of goods that a consumer can consume, and the consumer is indifferent to which bundle they consume as long as they receive the same total satisfaction. The concept of indifference curves is used to analyze consumer behavior and preferences and is a crucial tool in the analysis of consumer demand.

## What is an Indifference Curve?

The indifference curve plots the various bundles of goods that a consumer can consume. The consumer is indifferent to which bundle they consume as long as they receive the same total satisfaction. The various pairings of two goods that a consumer can purchase and consume while feeling equally satisfied are represented graphically by an indifference curve. In other words, an indifference curve represents the set of all possible combinations of two goods that give the same level of satisfaction to the consumer. An Indifference curve is also called the iso-utility curve or equal utility curve.

An indifference curve does not have a mathematical formula, as it is a graphical representation of a consumer’s preferences for two goods. The curve’s slope, called the marginal rate of substitution, represents the rate at which the consumer is willing to trade one good for another. However, the curve itself is not described by a formula but rather by a set of points that show the different combinations of goods that yield the same level of satisfaction for the consumer.

According to Vilfredo Pareto, the father of indifference curves, an indifference curve is a line that represents all combinations of two goods that give equal consumer satisfaction.

According to Lionel Robbins, an indifference curve is a locus of points representing combinations of goods that yield the same level of satisfaction to a consumer.

According to Paul Samuelson, an indifference curve is a graphical representation of a consumer’s preference between two goods, where the slope of the curve represents the marginal rate of substitution, which is the rate at which the consumer is willing to trade one good for another.

According to John Hicks, an indifference curve is a graphical representation of a consumer’s budget constraint, where the slope of the curve represents the price ratio of the two goods.

## How is an Indifference Curve Used?

An indifference curve is used to analyze consumer behavior and preferences. It provides valuable information on how much of one good a consumer is willing to trade off for another to maintain the same level of satisfaction. The marginal rate of substitution (MRS), the rate at which a consumer is willing to exchange one good for another, is represented by the slope of the indifference curve.

Indifference curves are also used to understand how consumers allocate their limited resources between two goods. If consumers have a fixed amount of resources, they must choose between consuming different combinations of goods to maximize their satisfaction. The consumer will choose the combination of goods that lies on the highest possible indifference curve, representing the highest level of satisfaction that can be achieved with their limited resources.

## The Significance of Indifference Curves

Indifference curves are essential for comprehending consumer behavior and forecasting market trends. They provide information about consumer preferences and how they spend their limited resources. Indifference curve analysis aids decision-making in various industries, including marketing, finance, and product design.

Indifference curves also help form demand curves, which forecast the quantity of a good demanded at various price levels. The demand curve, derived from an analysis of consumer behavior, depicts the relationship between the price of a good and the quantity demanded. The demand curve flattens as consumers demand more of a good when its price is lower.

### Indifference Schedule

An indifference schedule is a table that lists the different combinations of two goods a consumer can consume so that the consumer is equally satisfied with each combination. The schedule lists the different combinations of goods in a tabular format. The consumer is indifferent to which combination they consume as long as they receive the same total satisfaction.

Below is an example of an indifference schedule:

Combination Good X (units) Good Y (units)
A 1 14
B 2 10
C 3 7
D 4 5
E 5 4

In this example, the consumer is indifferent between the different combinations of Good X and Good Y listed in the table. For each combination, the consumer receives the same level of satisfaction, and they are indifferent to which combination they consume. The schedule can be used to analyze consumer behavior and preferences and to understand how consumers allocate their limited resources between two goods.

### Indifference Curve/ Diagram/ Graph

An indifference curve can be constructed based on the indifference schedule by plotting the combinations of two goods listed in the table. The combinations are plotted as points on a graph, and the indifference curve is drawn to connect the points.

The indifference curve depicts all pairings of two goods that provide a similar level of satisfaction to the consumer. The curve slopes downward from left to right, as consumers will only choose combinations of goods where they receive more of one good if it means that they receive less of the other good.

The following is an example of an indifference curve diagram based on the above indifference schedule:

In this example, the x-axis represents Good X, and the y-axis represents Good Y. The points on the graph represent the different combinations of Good X and Good Y listed in the indifference schedule. The indifference curve is drawn to connect the points and represents all the combinations of Good X and Good Y that give consumers equal satisfaction.

The marginal rate of substitution, or the rate at which a consumer is willing to exchange one good for another, is represented by the slope of the indifference curve. The marginal rate of substitution—the degree to which a consumer is willing to exchange more of one good for less of another—increases with the slope of the curve. On the other hand, a flatter slope represents a lower marginal rate of substitution, which means that the consumer is less willing to trade one good for the other.

### Indifference Map

An indifference map collects multiple indifference curves representing a consumer’s preferences for two goods. Each indifference curve in the map represents a different level of satisfaction, and the closer the curves are to one another, the closer the satisfaction levels are.

An indifference map shows the range of a consumer’s preferences for two goods, from their most preferred combinations to their least preferred combinations. The indifference map provides a comprehensive representation of a consumer’s preferences and helps to understand how consumers allocate their limited resources between two goods.

The following diagram represents an Indifferent Map:

In this example, the x-axis represents Good X, and the y-axis represents Good Y. The indifference curves in the map represent different levels of satisfaction, with the innermost curve (IC3) representing the highest level of satisfaction and the outermost curve (IC1) representing the lowest level of satisfaction.

The slope of the indifference curves in the map represents the marginal rate of substitution, the rate at which the consumer is willing to trade one good for another. The steeper the slope of the curve, the higher the marginal rate of substitution, which means that the consumer is willing to trade more of one good for less of the other good.

## Properties/ Characteristics of an Indifference Curve

1. An Indifference Curve is Downward Sloping: An indifference curve slopes downward (negative Slope) from left to right, meaning that as the consumer receives more of one good, they receive less of the other. This is because of the law of diminishing marginal utility, which states that as the consumer receives more of a good, the marginal utility they receive from that sound decreases.

As the consumer moves from point A to point B in the diagram above, the quantity of Y decreases from Y1 to Y2, while the quantity of X increases from X1 to X2, maintaining satisfaction. Similarly, the same pattern is seen when the consumer moves from point B to C. However, the decrease in Y, Y2Y3, is less than the previous decrease, Y1Y2. Furthermore, the increase in X, i.e., X2X3, equals the previously observed increase, X1X2. These observations are made while maintaining a constant level of satisfaction without changing the consumer’s active participation in the process.

2. An Indifference Curve is Convex to the Origin: An indifference curve is convex to the origin, which is bowed outwards. This reflects the consumer’s preference for a mix of goods rather than one sound. The consumer is willing to trade a small quantity of one good for a small quantity of the other good, but they are not willing to trade a lot of one good for a small quantity of the other good.

The figure’s convexity indicates that the slope of the indifference curve is decreasing, which means that the consumer is willing to give up fewer and fewer units of Y for each additional unit of X. As a result, the marginal rate of substitution decreases (MRS). It should be noted that the slope of the IC curve measures the MRS.

3. Two Indifference curves neither intersect nor become tangent to each other: Indifference curves do not intersect, as this would mean that the consumer is receiving different levels of satisfaction from the same combination of goods, which is impossible. Two indifference curves are never tangent to each other.

At point C, two indifference curves (IC1 and IC2) intersect, where A and B are points on IC1 and IC2, respectively. As per utility theory, the satisfaction level at A is the same at C ….(i), and the satisfaction level at B is the same at C ….(ii).

In IC1, A = C

In IC2, B = C

However, combining (i) and (ii) leads to A being equal to B, which is impossible as they represent different points on different Indifference curves, providing different satisfaction levels.

Since OM of X is constant for both curves, it means that AM of Y equals BM of Y. But, in reality, AM is greater than BM, meaning A and B cannot be equal in terms of utility. Hence, the intersection of the two curves violates the transitivity assumptions.

4. Higher Indifference Curves Represent Higher Satisfaction Level: Higher indifference curves represent higher levels of satisfaction, while lower indifference curves represent lower levels of satisfaction. This is because a higher indifference curve represents a combination of goods that gives the consumer more satisfaction than a lower indifference curve.

Consider the IC1, IC2, and IC3 difference curves. IC2 is superior to IC1, and IC3 is superior to IC2. All of the points on IC2 are more satisfying than any of the points on IC1, and all of the points on IC3 are more satisfying than any of the points on IC2. This is because combinations on higher indifference curves contain more of both goods (X and Y) than on lower curves. Assuming that they are not satisfied, the consumer prefers IC3 to IC2. Similar to the previous statement, any other combination on IC2 is preferred over any combination on IC1.

5. Slope of Indifference Curve Shows Marginal Rate of Substitution: The marginal rate of substitution (MRS), or the rate at which a consumer is willing to exchange one good for another, is represented by the slope of the indifference curve. The marginal rate of substitution, the degree to which a consumer is willing to exchange more of one good for less of another, increases with the slope of the curve.

6. An Indifference Curve also represents Budget Constraint: An indifference curve only represents a consumer’s preferences if the combinations of goods on the curve are also affordable to the consumer, based on their budget constraint. A consumer’s budget constraint determines the combinations of goods that are affordable to them, and the combinations of goods that are not affordable are not considered in the analysis of consumer preferences.

7. An Indifference Curve represents the Slope and the Opportunity Cost of Goods: The slope of the indifference curve represents the opportunity cost of one good in terms of the other good. For example, if the slope of the indifference curve is 2, the consumer is willing to give up two units of good Y to receive 1 unit of good X. The opportunity cost of good X in terms of good Y is the reciprocal of the slope of the indifference curve.

8. An Indifference Curve represents Transitivity of Preferences: Indifference curves represent the consumer’s preferences, and the consumer’s preferences must be transitive, meaning that if the consumer prefers one combination of goods to another, they must also prefer all combinations of goods between the two. This means that if the consumer is on a higher indifference curve, they must also be on all lower indifference curves to the right of the higher indifference curve.

9. Indifference Curves are Independent of Irrelevant Alternatives: Indifference curves must be independent of irrelevant alternatives, meaning that the consumer’s preferences for two goods should not change if the price or availability of third good changes.

10. Indifference Curves represent Completeness of Preferences: Indifference curves represent the completeness of the consumer’s preferences, meaning that the consumer prefers every possible combination of goods. This is reflected in the fact that there is a unique indifference curve for every level of satisfaction.

11. Continuity of Preferences: Indifference curves must also be continuous, meaning that the consumer’s preferences do not change abruptly. This means that if the consumer is on one indifference curve, they should be able to smoothly move to a higher or lower indifference curve as their preferences change.

12. Indifference Curves do not touch either of the axes: The concept of indifference curves is based on the assumption that a consumer derives satisfaction from consuming two goods in a combination. The shape and orientation of an indifference curve represent the various combinations of the two goods that give the consumer the same level of satisfaction.

If an indifference curve touches the X-axis or the Y-axis, it would mean that the consumer is getting only one good and no quantity of the other good. For example, if an indifference curve touches the X-axis, it implies that the consumer is getting only the X good and no quantity of the Y good. This would violate the assumption that the consumer is consuming a combination of two goods.

Therefore, indifference curves do not touch either of the axes. Instead, they slope downward from left to right, indicating the trade-offs between the two goods.

When an indifference curve (IC2) meets the X-axis at point M, it indicates that the consumer only has OM of good X and no Y. Similarly, if an indifference curve intersects the Y-axis at point N, the consumer will only have ON of good Y and no X. However, such curves do not assume that the consumer purchases two goods in tandem. As a result, indifference curves should not intersect either axis.

13. Indifference Curves are Relevance of Prices: Indifference curves are only relevant when prices of the goods are constant and known. If the prices of the goods change, the consumer’s budget constraint and preferences for the goods may also change.

14. Representation of Preferences: Indifference curves represent the consumer’s preferences, but they do not show the absolute levels of satisfaction that the consumer receives from each combination of goods. This information is not contained in the indifference curve, but it can be obtained by adding a numerical value to each point on the curve.

15. An Indifference Curve Reflects Consumer’s Tastes: Indifference curves reflect the consumer’s tastes, which can change over time, as well as the consumer’s income, which determines the combinations of affordable goods to them. The shapes and slopes of the indifference curves are influenced by the consumer’s tastes and preferences, as well as by the prices of the goods.

16. An Indifference Curve Represents Opportunity Cost: Indifference curves can also represent the opportunity cost of one good in terms of the other good. The opportunity cost of one good is the amount of the other good that must be given up to obtain one additional unit of the first good.

17. Indifference curves are not necessarily Parallel: The indifference curves may be parallel in some cases, indicating that the marginal rate of substitution (MRS) between the two goods is constant. However, the indifference curves are not always parallel, implying that the MRS is not constant.

For example, if the goods are substitutes, the indifference curves will typically be straight lines that are negatively sloped and not parallel. As consumer obtains more of one good, they are willing to sacrifice less of the other good to maintain the same level of satisfaction. As a result, the MRS decreases, and the indifference curve slopes downward.

If the goods, on the other hand, are complements, the indifference curves may be L-shaped rather than parallel. In this case, the consumer values the two goods more together than individually rather than in parallel. In this case, the consumer values the two goods more together than individually. As the consumer acquires more of one good, the amount of satisfaction they derive from it is limited by the amount of the other good they possess. This results in a right-angled indifference curve.

As a result, the shape and orientation of the indifference curves are determined by the nature of the goods and the consumer’s preferences. So, they may or may not be parallel.

In the above figure, the starting points of IC1 and IC2 are very close. The gap of ICs increases as they get closer to the X-axis. IC and IC2 are not parallel because the diminishing marginal rate of substation between commodities X and Y is unequal.

18. Indifference curves may not necessarily be linear: Indifference curves can take many shapes, including bowed-inward or bowed-outward, depending on the degree of substitutability or complementarity between the goods. They may be concave or convex, reflecting the changes in the marginal utility of the goods as the consumer moves along the curve.

Indifference curves may also be nonlinear, indicating that the consumer’s preferences for the goods are not linearly related. For example, the curve may be curved or kinked to show that the consumer’s preferences change at a certain point, indicating a shift in their preferences.

19. Indifference curves include more indifference curves between their gap:

An indifference curve represents a set of combinations of two goods that give a consumer the same level of satisfaction. Since there are an infinite number of possible combinations of two goods, there are also an infinite number of indifference curves that can be drawn to represent different satisfaction levels.

If two indifference curves are drawn, such as IC1 and IC2, and there is a gap between them, there must be other indifference curves. These additional indifference curves represent different satisfaction levels and show that the consumer can achieve various satisfaction levels by choosing different combinations of the two goods.

The gap between the indifference curves shows the degree of substitutability or complementarity between the goods. A larger gap indicates a higher degree of substitutability, while a smaller gap indicates a higher degree of complementarity.

As shown in the figure above, there can be as many indifference curves between the gap or open space between the indifference curves IC1 and IC2. The satisfaction derived from the indifference curves between IC1 and IC2 is less than that derived from the higher indifference curve IC1 and more than that derived from the lower indifference curve IC2.

20. An indifference curve is tangent to a budget line: When an indifference curve is tangent to a budget line, the consumer maximizes their utility by choosing the optimal combination of goods.

The budget line represents all possible combinations of two goods that the consumer can purchase with their given income and prices of goods. The slope of the budget line is equal to the ratio of the prices of the two goods.

On the other hand, the indifference curve represents all the combinations of two goods that give the same level of satisfaction or utility to the consumer. The slope of the indifference curve is equal to the marginal rate of substitution (MRS), which measures the rate at which the consumer is willing to trade one good for another while keeping the utility constant.

At the point of tangency between the indifference curve and the budget line, the MRS is equal to the ratio of the prices of the two goods. This is because any other combination of goods that lies above or below the point of tangency would result in a lower level of utility or exceed the budget constraint, respectively.

Therefore, the optimal combination of goods that maximizes the consumer’s utility lies at the point where the indifference curve is tangent to the budget line. At this point, the consumer is getting the most value for their money by allocating their income between the two goods in a way that makes the MRS equal to the ratio of the prices of the two goods.

## Limitations of the indifference curve

Some of the significant limitations of the indifference curve are explained as follows:

1. Assumes Constant Prices: Indifference curve analysis assumes that the prices of goods are constant, which is not always the case in the real world. In reality, goods prices can change, affecting the consumer’s budget constraint and their preferences for the goods.
2. Ignores Changes in Tastes: Indifference curve analysis assumes that the consumer’s tastes do not change, which is also not always the case in the real world. Consumers’ tastes can change over time, affecting their preferences for the goods.
3. Ignores Consumer’s Budget Constraint: Indifference curve analysis assumes that the consumer’s budget constraint is not binding, meaning they can afford to buy any combination of goods they desire. In reality, the consumer’s budget constraint may be binding, meaning they can only afford to buy a limited combination of goods.
4. Ignores External Factors: Indifference curve analysis assumes that the consumer’s preferences are independent of external factors, such as advertising, peer pressure, and cultural influences. In reality, these external factors can significantly shape the consumer’s preferences for the goods.
5. Limited Representation of Consumer Behavior: Indifference curve analysis only represents a limited aspect of consumer behavior and does not consider the consumer’s behavior in other areas, such as the time they spend working, their choice of leisure activities, or their savings behavior.