Law of diminishing returns

The law of diminishing returns states that in a production process, as one input variable is increased while other input variables are kept constant, there will eventually be a point at which the added output from the additional input will start to decrease.
Updated: Jun 21, 2024

3 key takeaways

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  • The law of diminishing returns indicates that adding more of one factor of production, while holding others constant, will yield progressively smaller increases in output.
  • This principle is crucial in understanding the efficiency and productivity limits in various economic and production scenarios.
  • The law highlights the importance of balanced resource allocation to maximize productivity and avoid inefficiencies.

What is the law of diminishing returns?

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The law of diminishing returns, also known as the principle of diminishing marginal returns, is a fundamental concept in economics and production theory. It describes a phenomenon where the incremental output gained from increasing one input variable, while keeping other inputs constant, begins to decline after a certain point. This concept is applicable in various fields, including agriculture, manufacturing, and service industries.

Example in agriculture

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Consider a farmer who uses a fixed amount of land to grow crops. Initially, as the farmer increases the number of workers on the land, the total crop yield increases. However, after a certain point, adding more workers results in less and less additional yield because the land becomes overcrowded and the workers have less space and resources to work efficiently.

Formula and calculation

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The law of diminishing returns can be expressed mathematically in production functions where one input is variable, and others are fixed. If (Q) is the quantity of output, (L) is the variable input (e.g., labor), and (K) is the fixed input (e.g., capital or land), the production function can be written as:
[ Q = f(L, K) ]

As (L) increases while (K) remains constant, the marginal product of labor ((MP_L)), which is the additional output from one more unit of labor, will eventually start to decrease:
[ MP_L = \frac{\Delta Q}{\Delta L} ]

Applications and implications

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Production and cost management

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Understanding the law of diminishing returns helps businesses and producers optimize resource allocation. By recognizing the point at which additional inputs become less effective, managers can make informed decisions about scaling production and managing costs.

Agricultural planning

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In agriculture, this principle guides decisions on labor and resource utilization to maximize crop yields without wasting inputs. Farmers can determine the optimal number of workers or the right amount of fertilizer to use for efficient production.

Industrial production

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Manufacturers use the law of diminishing returns to determine the most efficient combination of labor and machinery. It helps in planning production processes and avoiding overuse of one factor that leads to inefficiencies and higher costs.

Limitations and considerations

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Short-term vs. long-term

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The law of diminishing returns primarily applies in the short term, where at least one input is fixed. In the long term, all inputs can be varied, potentially overcoming diminishing returns through technological advancements and scale efficiencies.


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The principle assumes that technology and methods of production remain constant. Changes in technology, processes, or methodologies can shift the point at which diminishing returns set in or even mitigate the effect entirely.

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  • Marginal utility: Understand how the concept of diminishing returns applies to consumer satisfaction and the consumption of goods and services.
  • Production function: Explore the mathematical representation of the relationship between inputs and outputs in the production process.
  • Economies of scale: Learn about the cost advantages that enterprises obtain due to scale of operation, with cost per unit of output generally decreasing with increasing scale.

The law of diminishing returns is a crucial concept in economics and production management, emphasizing the importance of balanced input use to maximize efficiency and productivity. By recognizing the limits of increasing inputs, businesses and producers can better manage resources and optimize output.

Sources & references
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Arti is a specialized AI Financial Assistant at Invezz, created to support the editorial team. He leverages both AI and the knowledge base, understands over 100,000... read more.