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Mortality Risk and the Value of a Statistical Life: The Dead-Anyway Effect Revis(it)ed


  • Friedrich Breyer
  • Stefan Felder


In the expected-utility theory of the monetary value of a statistical life, a well-known result found by Pratt and Zeckhauser [1996] asserts that an individuals’ willingness to pay (WTP) for a marginal reduction in mortality risk increases with the initial level of risk. Their reasoning is based on the so-called “dead-anyway effect” which states that marginal utility of a dollar in the state of death is smaller than in the state of survival. However, this explanation is based on the absence of markets for contingent claims, i.e. annuities and life insurance. This paper reexamines the relationship between WTP and the level of risk under more general circumstances and establishes two main results: first, when insurance markets are perfect, for a risk-averse individual without a bequest motive, marginal WTP for survival does increase with the level of risk but this occurs for a different reason, namely an income effect. Secondly, when the individual has a bequest motive and is endowed with a sufficient amount of wealth from human capital, the effect of initial risk on WTP for survival is reversed: the higher initial risk the lower the value of a statistical life. In the imperfect-markets case we interpret this result as a “constrained-bequest effect”. Copyright The Geneva Association 2005

Suggested Citation

  • Friedrich Breyer & Stefan Felder, 2005. "Mortality Risk and the Value of a Statistical Life: The Dead-Anyway Effect Revis(it)ed," The Geneva Papers on Risk and Insurance Theory, Springer;International Association for the Study of Insurance Economics (The Geneva Association), vol. 30(1), pages 41-55, June.
  • Handle: RePEc:kap:geneva:v:30:y:2005:i:1:p:41-55
    DOI: 10.1007/s10836-005-1107-2

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Felder, Stefan & Meier, Markus & Schmitt, Horst, 2000. "Health care expenditure in the last months of life," Journal of Health Economics, Elsevier, vol. 19(5), pages 679-695, September.
    2. Viscusi, W Kip, 1993. "The Value of Risks to Life and Health," Journal of Economic Literature, American Economic Association, vol. 31(4), pages 1912-1946, December.
    3. Hammitt, James K & Graham, John D, 1999. "Willingness to Pay for Health Protection: Inadequate Sensitivity to Probability?," Journal of Risk and Uncertainty, Springer, vol. 18(1), pages 33-62, April.
    4. Rosen, Sherwin, 1988. "The Value of Changes in Life Expectancy," Journal of Risk and Uncertainty, Springer, vol. 1(3), pages 285-304, September.
    5. Smith, V Kerry & Desvousges, William H, 1987. "An Empirical Analysis of the Economic Value of Risk Changes," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 95(1), pages 89-114, February.
    6. Jones-Lee, Michael W, 1974. "The Value of Changes in the Probability of Death or Injury," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 82(4), pages 835-849, July/Aug..
    7. Pratt, John W & Zeckhauser, Richard J, 1996. "Willingness to Pay and the Distribution of Risk and Wealth," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 104(4), pages 747-763, August.
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    Cited by:

    1. Treich, Nicolas, 2010. "The value of a statistical life under ambiguity aversion," Journal of Environmental Economics and Management, Elsevier, vol. 59(1), pages 15-26, January.
    2. James Hammitt & Nicolas Treich, 2007. "Statistical vs. identified lives in benefit-cost analysis," Journal of Risk and Uncertainty, Springer, vol. 35(1), pages 45-66, August.
    3. Bellavance, Franois & Dionne, Georges & Lebeau, Martin, 2009. "The value of a statistical life: A meta-analysis with a mixed effects regression model," Journal of Health Economics, Elsevier, vol. 28(2), pages 444-464, March.
    4. Dionne, Georges & Lebeau, Martin, 2010. "Le calcul de la valeur statistique d’une vie humaine," L'Actualité Economique, Société Canadienne de Science Economique, vol. 86(4), pages 487-530, décembre.
    5. Scotton, Carol R. & Taylor, Laura O., 2011. "Valuing risk reductions: Incorporating risk heterogeneity into a revealed preference framework," Resource and Energy Economics, Elsevier, vol. 33(2), pages 381-397, May.


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