Policy Challenges of the Heterogeneity of the Value of Statistical Life

81 Pages Posted: 9 May 2011 Last revised: 27 Nov 2012

See all articles by W. Kip Viscusi

W. Kip Viscusi

Vanderbilt University - Law School; National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER); Vanderbilt University - Department of Economics; Vanderbilt University - Owen Graduate School of Management; Vanderbilt University - Strategy and Business Economics

Date Written: May 5, 2011

Abstract

Economic research has developed estimates of the heterogeneity of the value of statistical life (VSL) on dimensions such as individual age, income, immigrant status, and the nature of the risk exposure. This paper examines the empirical evidence on the heterogeneity of VSL and explores the potential implications for the valuation of regulatory policies. EPA unsuccessfully sought to adopt age variations in VSL based on survey evidence. However, labor market estimates of VSL indicate a pattern that tracks lifetime consumption trajectories, as the VSL rises with age and eventually tapers off but does not plummet with age. The VSL has an income elasticity of at least 0.5. The analysis of age variations in VSL is accompanied by a review of the value of statistical life year (VSLY) approach. The U.S. Department of Transportation recognizes the influence of a positive income elasticity of VSL, and EPA has proposed adopting a 50% cancer premium. Recent studies suggest that the risk of death from terrorist attacks are of particular concern and may merit a substantial premium in benefit assessments. Whether and how such heterogeneity in VSL should be incorporated in regulatory policy evaluations depends in part on the source of the heterogeneity. Some prominent sources of heterogeneity arise from segmented labor markets in which disadvantaged groups face different labor market opportunities. Blacks and Mexican immigrants face quite different labor market offer curves. As a result, influences that are problematic from the standpoint of setting different benefit levels for policy purposes are differences in VSL by race and immigrant status. The paper also examines the EPA’s recent devaluation of life and the Posner-Sunstein proposal to use VSL estimates to set hedonic damages in tort liability cases. The Posner-Sunstein proposal would lead to excessive levels of compensatory damages and would greatly increase damages amounts.

Keywords: value of statistical life, risk, regulation, hedonic damages

JEL Classification: J17, I18, H40, K32

Suggested Citation

Viscusi, W. Kip, Policy Challenges of the Heterogeneity of the Value of Statistical Life (May 5, 2011). Vanderbilt Law and Economics Research Paper No. 11-20. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1832767 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.1832767

W. Kip Viscusi (Contact Author)

Vanderbilt University - Law School ( email )

131 21st Avenue South
Nashville, TN 37203-1181
United States
615-343-7715 (Phone)
615-322-5953 (Fax)

HOME PAGE: http://law.vanderbilt.edu/faculty/viscusi.htm

National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

1050 Massachusetts Avenue
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

Vanderbilt University - Department of Economics

Box 1819 Station B
Nashville, TN 37235
United States
(615) 343-7715 (Phone)
(615) 343-5953 (Fax)

HOME PAGE: http://law.vanderbilt.edu/faculty/viscusi.htm

Vanderbilt University - Owen Graduate School of Management

401 21st Avenue South
Nashville, TN 37203
United States
(615) 343-7715 (Phone)
(615) 343-5953 (Fax)

HOME PAGE: http://law.vanderbilt.edu/faculty/viscusi.htm

Vanderbilt University - Strategy and Business Economics ( email )

Nashville, TN 37203
United States

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