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Study notes

Opportunity Costs and Trade-Offs

  • Levels: AS, A Level
  • Exam boards: AQA, Edexcel, OCR, IB

Opportunity cost is the cost of missing out on the next best alternative. In other words, opportunity cost represents the benefits that could have been gained by taking a different decision.

All businesses have to make choices - and those choices have implications.

In business, resources are usually scarce or limited. Decision are made under circumstances of uncertainty and taking one course of action or decision may affect business ability to take an alternative action.

Opportunity cost measures the cost of a choice made in terms of the next best alternative foregone or sacrificed.

Examples of Opportunity Cost in the Business & Economic Environment

Work-leisure choices

The opportunity cost of deciding not to work an extra ten hours a week is the lost wages given up.

Government spending priorities

The opportunity cost of the government spending an extra £10 billion on investment in National Health Service might be that £10 billion less is available for spending on education or defence equipment.

Investing today for consumption tomorrow

The opportunity cost of an economy investing resources in new capital goods is the production of consumer goods given up for today.

Use of scarce farming land

The opportunity cost of using farmland to grow wheat for bio-fuel means that there is less wheat available for food production, causing food prices to rise


A trade-off arises where having more of one thing potentially results in having less of another. The table below lists some examples of how trade-offs often arise in business - as a result of resource scarcity.

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