Statistical vs. Identified Lives in Benefit-Cost Analysis

30 Pages Posted: 7 Mar 2007

See all articles by James K. Hammitt

James K. Hammitt

Harvard University

Nicolas Treich

French National Institute for Agricultural Research (INRA); CESifo (Center for Economic Studies and Ifo Institute)

Date Written: February 2007

Abstract

Economic evaluation of projects involving changes in mortality risk conventionally assumes that lives are statistical, i.e., that risks and policy-induced changes in risk are small and similar among a population. In reality, baseline mortality risks and policy-induced changes in risk often differ among individuals although these differences are imperfectly known. We examine the effects of information about heterogeneity of risk on economic evaluation. Although social welfare (defined as aggregate expected utility) is unaffected by information about risk heterogeneity, the economic valuation of changes in risk (the sum of individual compensating or equivalent variations) is sensitive to this information. The effect of information on economic valuation and hence the outcome of a benefit-cost analysis (BCA) depends on: i) whether information is about heterogeneity of the baseline and/or change in risk, ii) whether risk is valued using willingness to pay (WTP) or willingness to accept (WTA) measures, iii) the status quo policy, and iv) whether individuals are risk-averse or risk-neutral in wealth. We show that BCA does not systematically favor identified over statistical lives and suggest some political factors that may explain the apparent public-decision bias toward protecting identified lives.

JEL Classification: D61, D81, H42, I18

Suggested Citation

Hammitt, James K. and Treich, Nicolas, Statistical vs. Identified Lives in Benefit-Cost Analysis (February 2007). CESifo Working Paper Series No. 1931. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=968616

James K. Hammitt

Harvard University ( email )

718 Huntington Avenue
Boston, MA 02115
United States
617-432-4343 (Phone)
617-432-0190 (Fax)

Nicolas Treich (Contact Author)

French National Institute for Agricultural Research (INRA) ( email )

147, rue de l'Universite
Paris Cedex 07, 78-Yvelines 75338
France
+33 0 1 42 75 90 00 (Phone)
+33 0 1 47 05 99 66 (Fax)

CESifo (Center for Economic Studies and Ifo Institute)

Poschinger Str. 5
Munich, DE-81679
Germany

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