General Science


  • noun a public service company, such as one that supplies water, gas or electricity or runs public transport


  • A grade of softwood lumber used when a combination of strength and economy is desired. Utility grade is suitable for many uses in construction, but lacks the strength of standard, the next highest grade in light framing, and is not allowed in some applications.
  • A grade of Idaho white pine boards, equivalent to #4 Common in other species.
  • A grade of fir veneer that allows white speck and more defects than are allowed in D grade. Utility grade veneer is not permitted in panels manufactured under Product Standard PS-1-83.
  • Gas, water, electrical and sewer beyond 5 feet from a building.


  • noun one of the public utilities (companies, such as electricity, gas or transport, which provide a service used by the whole community)
  • noun the usefulness of a product or service, the satisfaction which a consumer gets from a good or service he or she has bought, or the way in which a good or service contributes to a consumer’s welfare


  • A program that performs tasks pertaining to the management of computer resources. For instance, such programs may perform diagnostic functions, or handle the management of files. Also called or utility program, or computer utility.

Health Economics

  • (written as Utility)

    Utilities are numbers assigned to entities (usually benefits or things presumed to be the objects of people's preferences) according to a rule. This enables the entities to be quantified and ranked according to preference, desirability or choice (these are not, of course, synonyms). There are four common scales of measurement: categorical, in which entities belong to a category like 'able to wash self' or 'not able to wash self' (not necessarily only binary); ordinal, in which rank order is revealed and any numbers will serve that preserve the correct order (e.g. the entity 'dead' is always worse than the entity 'getting along'); interval, in which - like temperature measurement - the ratios of intervals between the points on the scale are the same for each set of possible numbers and the zero point is arbitrary; and ratio, in which - like measures of weight or distance - zero means 'none' and 'twice as much' is indeed twice as much, whichever set of numbers are being used. The final two just mentioned are both forms of cardinal meas urement. The sort of measurement normally used in indifference curve analysis is ordinal.

    The table illustrates three kinds of utility measurement for the four entities that here correspond to health states, or diseases, where high numbers denote better states. The first three columns show some possible numbers (out of an indefinitely large set) that rank the four entities ordinally. Each is equally valid and each ranks them in the same order. The differences between the numbers assigned in each column mean nothing so it is not possible, for example, to speak of increasing or diminishing marginal health (nor marginal utility of health). The second set of three columns show three sets of numbers that have been assigned to the states according to a different (interval) rule. The same order is preserved but this time column 6 = 10 + twice column 5, and column 7 is -10 + column 5. Each is a linear transformation of the other, having the general form A = a + bB. With this second set of numbers one can speak of increasing or diminishing marginal health (or marginal utility of health) as each column will show the changes between cells increasing or decreasing. The final three columns are related by a ratio scale as follows: column 9 is as column 8 multiplied by 0.035 and column 10 is column 8 multiplied by 35. Here the form of the equation relating them is A = bB, where b = A/B, a constant. Not only does this measure rank the entities in the same order, and preserve increasing or decreasing increments or decrements, but we can also say that if 'good health' is 1.67 times as good as 'better health' on one ratio scale, so will it be on any other.

    The welfare connotations of 'utility' are important in economics al though, when used simply as an index or preference, utility theory also forms the usual basis of the economist's approach to behaviour: it is predictive, explanatory and conventionally positive. The usual axioms underlying utility theory are, where the A s, Bs and Cs are 'bundles' of goods or services:

    Completeness: either A is preferred to B, or B to A or an individual is indifferent between them.
    Transitivity: if A is preferred or indifferent to B and B is preferred or indifferent to C, then A is preferred or indifferent to C.
    Continuity: there is an indifference curve such that all points to its north-east are preferred to all point to its south-west.
    Convexity: the marginal rate of substitution is negative.
    Non-satiation: more is always preferred.

    These are essentially positive and experimentally refutable (and have all been more or less frequently refuted empirically!).

    The welfare connotations arise in welfare economics, when the pref erences of individuals form the basic building blocks used to identify improvements or deteriorations in social welfare via a social welfare function. Here 'more utility' is a 'good thing', though one might cavil at the idea of a person whose preferences were disgusting having them honoured in the same way as those of a decent citizen. 'More utility' would also, of course, be a good thing if the basic building block consisted of entities ranked by something other than 'preference' but no less value-laden, for example, entities that one was duty-bound to select, or ones that, on some ethical grounding or other, ought, morally speaking, to be ranked higher than the rest. The fact that what one wants to choose is not what one thinks one ought to choose is rarely reflected in discussions of utility, even though there is no reason why the workhorse of utility numbers could not do duty in ranking either. However, 'utility' is so inextricably wedded to 'preference' that it is better to use some other term when assigning numbers to entities that are not to do with preferences (even when the rules of measurement are similar).

    In a rather different way that is special to health economics, there are welfare connotations arising from the use of utility theory as the analytical framework for constructing indices of health, as in the use of, say, expected utility theory in the standard gamble approach to quality-adjusted life-year (QALY) construction. Here two common, but different, value assumptions may be met. One is that the values embodied in entities (like QALYs) intended to inform public decision-making ought to reflect the preferences of the community on whose behalf the decisions are being made; the other is that the values ought to reflect the preferences (or rankings on other grounds) of decision-makers who are accountable to the public via the usual processes of representative democracy. In either approach, difficulties arise when any of the underlying axioms (assumptions) of utility theory are violated.


  • adjective designed for general use


  • (written as Utility)
    see stock company.