The Value of a Statistical Life

Forthcoming, Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Economics and Finance

Vanderbilt Law Research Paper No. 19-15

45 Pages Posted: 16 May 2019

See all articles by Thomas J. Kniesner

Thomas J. Kniesner

Claremont Graduate University - Department of Economic Sciences; Syracuse University - Department of Economics; IZA

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: April 10, 2019

Abstract

The value of a statistical life (VSL) is the local tradeoff rate between fatality risk and money. When the tradeoff values are derived from choices in market contexts the VSL serves as both a measure of the population’s willingness to pay for risk reduction and the marginal cost of enhancing safety. Given its fundamental economic role, policy analysts have adopted the VSL as the economically correct measure of the benefit individuals receive from enhancements to their health and safety. Estimates of the VSL for the United States are around $10 million ($2017), and estimates for other countries are generally lower given the positive income elasticity of the VSL. Because of the prominence of mortality risk reductions as the justification for government policies the VSL is a crucial component of the benefit-cost analyses that are part of the regulatory process in the United States and other countries. The VSL is also foundationally related to the concepts of value of a statistical life year (VSLY) and value of a statistical injury (VSI), which also permeate the labor and health economics literatures. Thus, the same types of valuation approaches can be used to monetize non-fatal injuries and mortality risks that pose very small effects on life expectancy. In addition to formalizing the concept and measurement of the VSL and presenting representative estimates for the United States and other countries our Encyclopedia selection addresses the most important questions concerning the nuances that are of interest to researchers and policymakers.

Keywords: value of a statistical life, VSL, CFOI, hedonic equilibrium, value of a statistical life year, VSLY, morbidity risk, mortality risk, benefit transfer, willingness to pay

JEL Classification: I10, K13, K32, D8, D61, J17

Suggested Citation

Kniesner, Thomas J. and Viscusi, W. Kip, The Value of a Statistical Life (April 10, 2019). Forthcoming, Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Economics and Finance ; Vanderbilt Law Research Paper No. 19-15. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3379967 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3379967

Thomas J. Kniesner

Claremont Graduate University - Department of Economic Sciences ( email )

Claremont, CA 91711
United States

Syracuse University - Department of Economics ( email )

Syracuse, NY 13244-1020
United States

IZA

P.O. Box 7240
Bonn, D-53072
Germany

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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