Marginal cost

Marginal cost is the additional cost incurred from producing one more unit of a good or service.
Updated: Jun 24, 2024

3 key takeaways

Copy link to section
  • Marginal cost helps businesses determine the cost of increasing production.
  • It typically decreases initially due to economies of scale but eventually increases due to the law of diminishing returns.
  • Understanding marginal cost is crucial for pricing, production decisions, and maximizing profit.

What is marginal cost?

Copy link to section

Marginal cost is a measure of the cost associated with producing one additional unit of a good or service. It reflects the change in total production costs that arises when the quantity produced is incremented by one unit. Marginal cost is an essential concept in economics and business because it helps firms decide the optimal level of production to maximize profit.

The calculation of marginal cost involves only variable costs, such as raw materials and labor, which change with the level of output. Fixed costs, such as rent and salaries, are not included in marginal cost calculations since they do not vary with production levels.

How to calculate marginal cost

Copy link to section

The marginal cost is calculated using the following formula:
\text{Marginal Cost (MC)} = \frac{\text{Change in Total Cost}}{\text{Change in Quantity}}

For example, if producing 100 units of a product costs $1,000 and producing 101 units costs $1,010, the marginal cost of producing the 101st unit is:
\text{MC} = \frac{1010 – 1000}{1} = 10 \text{ dollars per unit}

Importance of marginal cost

Copy link to section
  • Pricing Decisions: Knowing the marginal cost helps businesses set prices that cover the additional cost of production and contribute to overall profitability.
  • Production Planning: Marginal cost is crucial for determining the most efficient level of production. Firms aim to produce up to the point where the marginal cost equals the marginal revenue (the additional revenue from selling one more unit).
  • Profit Maximization: Understanding marginal cost allows businesses to maximize profits by ensuring that they do not produce units that cost more to make than they generate in revenue.

Behavior of marginal cost

Copy link to section
  • Economies of Scale: Initially, as production increases, marginal cost tends to decrease due to economies of scale, where per-unit costs fall as output rises.
  • Diminishing Returns: After a certain point, the law of diminishing returns sets in, and marginal cost starts to increase as additional units become more expensive to produce.

Examples of marginal cost

Copy link to section
  • Manufacturing: A car manufacturer calculates the marginal cost of producing one additional car by considering the extra raw materials, labor, and energy required.
  • Technology: A software company determines the marginal cost of adding one more user to its online platform, which might include server space and customer support.
  • Agriculture: A farmer assesses the marginal cost of planting one more acre of crops, including seeds, fertilizers, and labor.

Factors affecting marginal cost

Copy link to section
  • Variable Costs: Changes in the cost of raw materials, labor, and other variable inputs directly affect marginal cost.
  • Production Efficiency: Improvements in production processes can lower marginal costs by reducing the amount of resources needed for each additional unit.
  • Scale of Production: The level of output influences marginal cost, with larger production volumes potentially benefiting from economies of scale initially.
Copy link to section
  • Average Cost: Understanding the total cost per unit of output, calculated by dividing total costs by the number of units produced.
  • Marginal Revenue: Exploring the additional revenue generated from selling one more unit of a good or service.
  • Economies of Scale: Learning about the cost advantages that firms experience as production increases and how it affects marginal cost.

For further exploration into average cost, marginal revenue, and economies of scale, delve into these topics to enhance your understanding of marginal cost and its significance in business and economics.

Sources & references
Risk disclaimer
AI Financial Assistant
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.