Allocative Efficiency

What is Allocative Efficiency?

Definition: Allocative efficiency is an economic concept that occurs when the output of production is as close as possible to the marginal cost. In this case, the price the consumers are willing to pay is almost equal to the marginal utility they derive from the good or the service.

Allocational efficiency (also known as allocative efficiency) is a characteristic of an efficient market in which capital is allocated in a way that is most beneficial to the parties involved. Allocational efficiency represents an optimal distribution of goods and services to consumers in an economy. It also represents an optimal distribution of financial capital to firms or projects among investors.

What Does Allocative Efficiency Mean?

What is the definition of allocative efficiency? This concept represents the degree to which the marginal benefits is almost equal to the marginal costs. Hence, at the optimal level of efficiency, the marginal cost of the last unit is perfectly equal to the marginal benefit that consumers derive from the good or the service.

The basic principle of allocative efficiency is that it guarantees a proper allocation of resources based on the needs and wants of consumers. In economic terms, the allocative efficiency represents the utility derived from the consumption of a good or a service with respect to a certain level of price. Therefore, both producers and consumers benefit.

Allocative efficiency is a state of the economy in which production represents consumer preferences; in particular, every good or service is produced up to the point where the last unit provides a marginal benefit to consumers equal to the marginal cost of producing.

In contract theory, allocative efficiency is achieved in a contract in which the skill demanded by the offering party and the skill of the agreeing party are the same.

Although there are different standards of evaluation for the concept of allocative efficiency, the basic principle asserts that in any economic system, choices in resource allocation produce both “winners” and “losers” relative to the choice being evaluated. The principles of rational choice, individual maximization, utilitarianism and market theory further suppose that the outcomes for winners and losers can be identified, compared and measured. Under these basic premises, the goal of attaining allocative efficiency can be defined according to some principle where some allocations are subjectively better than others. For example, an economist might say that a change in policy is an allocative improvement as long as those who benefit from the change (winners) gain more than the losers lose (see Kaldor–Hicks efficiency).

An allocatively efficient economy produces an “optimal mix” of commodities. A firm is allocatively efficient when its price is equal to its marginal costs (that is, P = MC) in a perfect market. The demand curve coincides with the marginal utility curve, which measures the (private) benefit of the additional unit, while the supply curve coincides with the marginal cost curve, which measures the (private) cost of the additional unit. In a perfect market, there are no externalities, implying that the demand curve is also equal to the social benefit of the additional unit, while the supply curve measures the social cost of the additional unit. Therefore, the market equilibrium, where demand meets supply, is also where the marginal social benefit equals the marginal social costs. At this point, net social benefit is maximized, meaning this is the allocatively efficient outcome. When a market fails to allocate resources efficiently, there is said to be market failure. Market failure may occur because of imperfect knowledge, differentiated goods, concentrated market power (e.g., monopoly or oligopoly), or externalities.

In the single-price model, at the point of allocative efficiency price is equal to marginal cost. At this point the social surplus is maximized with no deadweight loss (the latter being the value society puts on that level of output produced minus the value of resources used to achieve that level). Allocative efficiency is the main tool of welfare analysis to measure the impact of markets and public policy upon society and subgroups being made better or worse off.

It is possible to have Pareto efficiency without allocative efficiency: in such a situation, it is impossible to reallocate resources in such a way that someone gains and no one loses (hence we have Pareto efficiency), yet it would be possible to reallocate in such a way that gainers gain more than losers lose (hence with such a reallocation, we do not have allocative efficiency).

Why does Allocative Efficiency matter?

Operating in accordance with allocative efficiency ensures the correct resource allotment in terms of consumer needs and desires. Virtually all resources (i.e. factors of production) are limited; therefore, it’s important to make the right decisions regarding where to distribute resources in order to maximize value.

The aim is to achieve the ideal opportunity cost. The opportunity cost of a particular thing is the value that must be sacrificed in order to put resources of time, money, etc. toward that thing.

Economies of scale ensure that opportunity costs decrease as production levels increase, up to a point. Then, past certain levels of production, opportunity cost may begin to increase once again. Likewise, with higher supply, demand decreases.

The market equilibrium is the point at which value for society as a whole has been maximized, and allocative efficiency has been achieved. For these reasons, aiming to achieve allocative efficiency is valuable to both consumers and producers.


Malcolm wants to buy a new car. However, he doesn’t know what brand would suit him the best or what color to choose. So, he goes to the car seller, and he asks for advice.

Most car retailers have in-demand vehicles, i.e. merchandise hat most consumers would buy or are willing to buy. Therefore, Malcolm assumes that red cars sells the most and are the ones with the greatest demand. If this stands true, then this represents the allocated efficiency, which suggests that the availability of cars is based on the limited resources of car retailers, who know what will sell the most. So, they provide what consumers need to sell more cars and realize a higher profit.

Malcolm’s marginal benefit is almost equal to the car retailer’s marginal cost, which represents the dollar amount that the car retailer will pay to acquire (produce) extra units of cars. Also, while not all consumers will agree on a red car, if a large group of consumers shows a preference for red cars, car retailers will choose to promote and sell this type of cars.

Understanding Allocative Efficiency

A more precise definition of allocative efficiency is at an output level where the Price equals the Marginal Cost (MC) of production. This is because the price that consumers are willing to pay is equivalent to the marginal utility that they get. Therefore the optimal distribution is achieved when the marginal utility of the good equals the marginal cost.

Example using diagram

Allocative Efficiency
Allocative Efficiency

At an output of 40, the marginal cost of the good is $6, but at this output, consumers would be willing to pay a price of $15. The price (which reflects the good’s marginal utility) is greater than marginal cost – suggesting under-consumption. If output increased and price fell, society would benefit from enjoying more of the good.

Allocational efficiency
Allocational efficiency

At an output of 110, the marginal cost is $17, but the price people are willing to pay is only $7. At this output, the marginal cost ($17) is much greater than the marginal benefit ($7) so there is over-consumption. Society is over-producing this good.

Allocative efficiency will occur at a price of $11. This is where the marginal cost (MC) = marginal utility.

Perfect competition – allocatively efficient

Perfect competition – allocatively efficient
Perfect competition – allocatively efficient

Firms in perfect competition are said to produce at an allocative efficient level because at Q1, P=MC

Monopolies – allocatively inefficient

Monopolies – allocatively inefficient
Monopolies – allocatively inefficient
  • Monopolies can increase price above the marginal cost of production and are allocatively inefficient. This is because monopolies have market power and can increase price to reduce consumer surplus.
  • Monopoly sets a price of Pm. This is allocatively inefficient because at this output of Qm, price is greater than MC.
  • Allocative efficiency would occur at the point where the MC cuts the Demand curve so Price = MC.
  • The area of deadweight welfare loss shows the degree of allocative inefficiency in the economy.

Efficient Markets and Allocation

In order to be allocationally efficient, a market must be efficient overall. An efficient market is one in which all pertinent data regarding the market and its activities is readily available to all market participants and is always reflected in market prices.In order for a market to be efficient, it must meet the prerequisites of being both informationally efficient and transactionally or operationally efficient. When a market is informationally efficient, all necessary and pertinent information about the market is readily available to all parties involved in the market. No parties have an informational advantage over any other parties.

When a market is transactionally efficient, all transaction costs are reasonable and fair, making all transactions equally executable by all parties. No transaction is prohibitively expensive for any party. If these conditions of fairness are met and the market is efficient, capital flows will direct themselves to the places where they will be the most effective, providing an optimal risk/reward scenario for investors.

Allocative vs. Productive Efficiency

Productive efficiency centers around producing goods at the lowest possible cost. This is based on the method of production, in contrast to the allocative efficiency, which is the amount that is produced.

Productive efficiency and allocative efficiency are two ideas that are very different, although they are certainly connected.

If you produce unwanted amounts of goods in a highly efficient manner, you have achieved high productive efficiency, but low allocative efficiency. It is important that both allocative and productive efficiency be reached in order to maximize satisfaction for as many people as possible, and thus benefit society as a whole.


Define Allocative Efficiency: Allocative efficiency means managements across the economy is deploying resources in the most efficient manner to match customer preferences.

  • Allocative efficiency is a property of an efficient market whereby all goods and services are optimally distributed among buyers in an economy.
  • In economics, the point of allocative efficiency for a product or service occurs at the price and quantity defined by the intersection of the supply curve and the demand curve.
  • Allocative efficiency only holds if markets themselves are efficient in general, including informationally and transactionally.