An indifference curve shows combination of goods between which a person is indifferent. The main attributes or properties or characteristics of indifference curves which are explained with the help of following examples and diagrams:
(1) Indifference Curves are Negatively Sloped – Diagram:
The indifference curves must slope down from left to right. This means that an indifference curve is negatively sloped. It slopes downward because as the consumer increases the consumption of X commodity, he has to give up certain units of Y commodity in order to maintain the same level of satisfaction.
In fig. 3.4 the two combinations of commodity cooking oil and commodity wheat is shown by the points a and b on the same indifference curve. The consumer is indifferent towards points a and b as they represent equal level of satisfaction.
At point (a) on the indifference curve, the consumer is satisfied with OE units of cooking oil and OD units of wheat. He is equally satisfied with OF units of cooking oil and OK units of wheat shown by point b on the indifference curve. It is only on the negatively sloped curve that different points representing different combinations of goods X and Y give the same level of satisfaction to make the consumer indifferent.
(2) Higher Indifference Curve represents Higher Level – Diagram:
A higher indifference curve that lies above and to the right of another indifference curve represents a higher level of satisfaction and combination on a lower indifference curve yields a lower satisfaction.
In other words, we can say that the combination of goods which lies on a higher indifference curve will be preferred by a consumer to the combination which lies on a lower indifference curve.
In this diagram (3.5) there are three indifference curves, IC1, IC2 and IC3 which represents different levels of satisfaction. The indifference curve IC3 shows greater amount of satisfaction and it contains more of both goods than IC2 and IC1 (IC3 > IC2 > IC1).
(3) Indifference Curve are Convex to the Origin – Diagram:
This is an important property of indifference curves. They are convex to the origin (bowed inward). This is equivalent to saying that as the consumer substitutes commodity X for commodity Y, the marginal rate of substitution diminishes of X for Y along an indifference curve.
In this figure (3.6) as the consumer moves from A to B to C to D, the willingness to substitute good X for good Y diminishes. This means that as the amount of good X is increased by equal amounts, that of good Y diminishes by smaller amounts. The marginal rate of substitution of X for Y is the quantity of Y good that the consumer is willing to give up to gain a marginal unit of good X. The slope of IC is negative. It is convex to the origin.
(4) Indifference Curve cannot Intersect each other – Diagram:
Given the definition of indifference curve and the assumptions behind it, the indifference curves cannot intersect each other. It is because at the point of tangency, the higher curve will give as much as of the two commodities as is given by the lower indifference curve. This is absurd and impossible.
In fig 3.7, two indifference curves are showing cutting each other at point B. The combinations represented by points B and F given equal satisfaction to the consumer because both lie on the same indifference curve IC2. Similarly the combinations shows by points B and E on indifference curve IC1 give equal satisfaction top the consumer.
If combination F is equal to combination B in terms of satisfaction and combination E is equal to combination B in satisfaction. It follows that the combination F will be equivalent to E in terms of satisfaction. This conclusion looks quite funny because combination F on IC2 contains more of good Y (wheat) than combination which gives more satisfaction to the consumer. We, therefore, conclude that indifference curves cannot cut each other.
(5) Indifference Curves do not Touch the Horizontal or Vertical Axis – Diagram:
One of the basic assumptions of indifference curves is that the consumer purchases combinations of different commodities. He is not supposed to purchase only one commodity. In that case indifference curve will touch one axis. This violates the basic assumption of indifference curves.
In fig. 3.8, it is shown that the in difference IC touches Y axis at point C and X axis at point E. At point C, the consumer purchase only OC commodity of rice and no commodity of wheat, similarly at point E, he buys OE quantity of wheat and no amount of rice. Such indifference curves are against our basic assumption. Our basic assumption is that the consumer buys two goods in combination.