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Law of Diminishing Marginal Returns: Definition, Example, Use in Economics


The Law of Diminishing Marginal Returns is an economic principle stating that as additional units of a variable input, such as labor or capital, are added to a fixed input, the resulting increase in output will eventually decrease, creating diminishing returns. This phenomenon occurs because after a certain point, the productivity of each additional input starts to decline. The concept plays a crucial role in economics as it helps businesses and economists understand when to restrict the allocation of resources to avoid wastage and inefficiency.


Here is the phonetic transcription of the keyword:- Law of Diminishing Marginal Returns: /lɔː ʌv dɪˈmɪnɪʃɪŋ ˈmɑːrdʒɪnəl rɪˈtɜːrnz/- Definition: /ˌdɛfɪˈnɪʃən/- Example: /ɪɡˈzæmpəl/- Use in Economics: /juːz ɪn ˌiːkəˈnɒmɪks/Keep in mind that this phonetic transcription is based on the General American English accent.

Key Takeaways

  1. Definition: The Law of Diminishing Marginal Returns states that as additional units of a variable input are added to a fixed input, beyond a certain point, the incremental increase in output or production will begin to decrease. In other words, after a certain level of production, the efficiency of each added unit of variable input will start to decline.
  2. Example: A common example used to illustrate the Law of Diminishing Marginal Returns involves a farmer and his field. Suppose the farmer has a fixed input (the size of his field) and he starts adding workers to tend to the field. Initially, each worker added will significantly increase the output of crops. However, as more and more workers are added, the output will start to grow at a decreasing rate, as the workers become less productive due to limited space and resources.
  3. Use in Economics: The Law of Diminishing Marginal Returns plays a crucial role in various economic theories, especially in the understanding of production functions, cost structures, and decision-making processes. It helps businesses and economists determine the optimal number of inputs to maximize efficiency and output, as well as understand the limitations of using variable inputs in the production process.


The Law of Diminishing Marginal Returns is an essential concept in economics and business, as it explains the point at which adding more inputs to a production process will result in decreasing marginal returns – that is, less additional output per unit of input. This principle demonstrates that, while increasing resources can initially enhance productivity, there is a limit to their effectiveness. In the long run, the overuse of inputs can even lead to inefficiencies. Understanding this concept is crucial for businesses and economists to make informed decisions about resource allocation, operational efficiency, and cost management, as well as guiding production strategies and long-term growth planning. By recognizing the point of diminishing returns, businesses can optimize their production processes and maximize profitability.


The Law of Diminishing Marginal Returns plays a pivotal role in the field of economics, as it helps in understanding the productivity behavior of various factors of production. The essential purpose of this concept is to analyze how efficiently businesses allocate their resources to maximize output and profit. Primarily, it highlights the point at which the addition of a unit of input results in a lower increase in output compared to the previous input. Consequently, businesses can make informed decisions on whether investing in additional production inputs, such as labor and capital, can lead to desired financial results.

In practical applications, the Law of Diminishing Marginal Returns guides businesses to improve their resource allocation strategies and production plans. For example, if a factory witnesses a decline in productivity after hiring extra workers, it may reconsider its decision and explore other alternatives, such as upgrading machinery or optimizing work processes to enhance efficiency. Therefore, this law plays a crucial role in shaping resource management policies and strategic planning for businesses, ensuring they make optimal use of inputs while striving for increased revenue and profit.

In essence, the Law of Diminishing Marginal Returns serves as a critical tool for financial analysis and planning, stimulating economic growth and sustainability.


The Law of Diminishing Marginal Returns is an important economic concept that states that as additional units of a certain resource are added to a fixed set of resources, the incremental increase in output from the added units will eventually decrease. This principle plays an essential role in various aspects of business and finance. Here are three real-world examples:

1. Agricultural Production: Assume a farmer is growing crops on a fixed area of land. Initially, the farmer may notice an increase in yield as more labor (e.g., farmworkers) is added to the land. However, after a certain point, adding more workers will result in diminishing marginal returns, as they will not have as much space to work efficiently and contribute significantly less output per additional worker. The farmer must find an optimal balance between labor and land to maximize their returns.

2. Manufacturing Industry: A factory has a fixed capacity and resources. When the factory starts producing, adding more workers or machinery could initially increase production efficiency and output, because each new addition effectively contributes to the process. However, as more resources are added, the production area becomes congested, making the workers and machinery less productive. At this point, the factory experiences diminishing marginal returns, and adding more resources would not lead to a significant increase in output.

3. Human Resources Management: In a small business, managers might notice an increase in the effectiveness of the team when the first few employees are hired. However, as more employees are added to the team, there is an increase in costs related to training, management, and communication. Eventually, adding more employees begins to produce diminishing marginal returns, as the new hires’ productivity and contributions decrease relative to their cost. To optimize the workforce and maximize the return on investment, business owners should be attentive to the diminishing marginal returns principle while expanding the team.

Frequently Asked Questions(FAQ)

What is the Law of Diminishing Marginal Returns?

The Law of Diminishing Marginal Returns is an economic principle that states that as additional units of a variable input (such as labor) are added to a fixed input (such as capital), the resulting increase in output (or returns) will eventually begin to decrease, holding all other factors constant. This law reflects the reality that, after a certain point, the efficiency of production may decrease as resources become stretched thinner.

Can you provide an example of the Law of Diminishing Marginal Returns?

Certainly! Imagine a small bakery with one oven and a single baker. Initially, adding more bakers will increase the output of baked goods, as they can divide the tasks. However, after the addition of a certain number of bakers, there won’t be enough space at the oven, and the productivity of each baker will start to decline. This illustrates the Law of Diminishing Marginal Returns, as the marginal productivity of each additional baker decreases after a certain point.

How does the Law of Diminishing Marginal Returns apply to economics?

The Law of Diminishing Marginal Returns is a fundamental concept in microeconomics and helps explain various economic phenomena. For instance, it plays a key role in production theory, helping firms determine the optimal quantity of labor and capital needed to maximize profit. Additionally, it helps explain income distribution through the marginal productivity theory of wages, which states that workers are paid according to the value of their marginal productivity. The law also has implications for taxation policies and the allocation and use of scarce resources.

Does the Law of Diminishing Marginal Returns apply to all inputs in production?

While the Law of Diminishing Marginal Returns primarily applies to variable inputs, such as labor, it can also be extended to other inputs in certain cases. For example, if a factory has limited space, adding more machinery beyond a certain point can lead to decreased productivity due to congestion. However, fixed inputs such as capital machinery can also be subject to diminishing returns if upgrading or expanding the machinery does not continue to produce proportional output increases.

Are there exceptions to the Law of Diminishing Marginal Returns?

While the Law of Diminishing Marginal Returns is widely applicable in a broad range of real-world situations, there can be cases where it doesn’t hold true. Some industries may experience constant or even increasing returns to scale due to factors like technological advancements, network effects in marketplaces, or other unique circumstances related to their specific industry. However, these cases are generally considered exceptions rather than the norm.

Related Finance Terms

  • Definition: The Law of Diminishing Marginal Returns states that as more units of a variable input (such as labor or capital) are added to a fixed input (such as land or equipment), beyond a certain point, the additional output produced from each new unit will decrease.
  • Example: A factory producing shoes initially hires 5 workers, and each additional worker increases the total shoe production. However, once the factory employs more than 20 workers, additional workers result in a smaller increase in the number of shoes produced due to cramped workspace and efficiency issues.
  • Use in Economics: The concept is employed to understand the optimal allocation of resources and helps firms determine the ideal production levels to maximize profit and minimize costs.
  • Short-run Production Function: The Law of Diminishing Marginal Returns significantly affects short-run production functions when at least one input is fixed. It helps explain the shape of the total product, marginal product, and average product curves during the production process.
  • Relationship with Marginal Costs: As marginal returns decrease, the marginal costs of production will typically increase, eventually leading to a rise in the average cost of production. This change influences a firm’s decision on when to stop increasing production and helps create long-run average cost curves.

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