What is a Life Worth?

4 Pages Posted: 26 Jan 2005

See all articles by Ike Brannon

Ike Brannon

University of Wisconsin - Oshkosh


An unpleasant but necessary job of policymakers is to place a value on saving a human life. Because society has limited resources that it can spend on health and safety improvements, it should obtain the greatest benefit for each dollar spent, and ascertaining an appropriate value is necessary to that effort. As one would expect, the correct numerical value to place on a life, typically called the value of a statistical life, or VSL, is a matter of great controversy. Hundreds of analyses using widely varying methodologies have been conducted to determine this value. Despite their differences, most of the studies center on one basic idea: The VSL should roughly correspond to the value that people place on their lives in their private decisions.

Keywords: risk, mortality risk reductions, value of life, value of a statistical life, VSLs, forensic economics, quality-adjusted life-year, QALY, value of a statistical life year, VSLY, cost-benefit analyses, public policy, regulation

JEL Classification: J17, J18

Suggested Citation

Brannon, James Isaac, What is a Life Worth?. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=654544

James Isaac Brannon (Contact Author)

University of Wisconsin - Oshkosh ( email )

Oshkosh, WI 54901
United States
920-424-7154 (Phone)

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