Two-Person Fair Division of Indivisible Items when Envy-Freeness is Impossible

Steven J. Brams, D. Marc Kilgour, Christian Klamler

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


    Suppose that two players, P1 and P2, must divide a set of indivisible items that each strictly ranks from best to worst. Assuming that the number of items is even, suppose also that the players desire that the allocations be balanced (each player gets half the items), item-wise envy-free (EF), and Pareto-optimal (PO). Meeting this ideal is frequently impossible. If so, we find a balanced maximal partial allocation of items to the players that is EF, though it may not be PO. Then, we show how to augment it so that it becomes a complete allocation (all items are allocated) that is EF for one player (Pi) and almost-EF for the other player (Pj) in the sense that it is EF for Pj except for one item — it would be EF for Pj if a specific item assigned to Pi were removed. Moreover, we show how low-ranked (for Pj) that exceptional item may be, thereby finding an almost-EF allocation that is as close as possible to EF — as well as complete, balanced, and PO. We provide algorithms to find such almost-EF allocations, adapted from algorithms that apply when complete balanced EF-PO allocations are possible.

    Original languageEnglish (US)
    Article number24
    JournalOperations Research Forum
    Issue number2
    StatePublished - Jun 2022


    • 2-Person fair division
    • Envy-freeness up to one item
    • Indivisible items
    • Pareto-optimal

    ASJC Scopus subject areas

    • Control and Optimization
    • Applied Mathematics
    • Economics, Econometrics and Finance (miscellaneous)
    • Computer Science Applications


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