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Policy Monitor How US Government Agencies Value Mortality Risk Reductions

  • Lisa A. Robinson

One challenging task faced by US government agencies is determining whether the benefits of their proposed regulations justify the costs. For benefits associated with reducing the risks of premature mortality, they rely on an analytic construct—the value per statistical life (VSL)—which aggregates the value of small changes in mortality risk across a large population; it is not the value of saving a particular person's life. Empirical research suggests that this value ranges from roughly $1 million to $10 million per statistical life. While federal agencies usually apply values from within this range, they vary in the exact estimates used.The research literature generally addresses mortality risks and populations that differ in some significant respects from those addressed by most major regulations. A particularly contentious issue has been whether to adjust the estimates to reflect age differences. One approach involves translating VSL estimates into a value per statistical life year (VSLY) to take into account the number of years of life extension. Because the years of life extension are closely related to age, the use of a VSLY approach generally results in lower values for older individuals. However, the relationship of the VSL to age or life expectancy is complex, and such adjustments have raised significant concerns about the equitable treatment of individuals of different ages in the development of federal policy. Copyright 2007, Oxford University Press.

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Article provided by Association of Environmental and Resource Economists in its journal Review of Environmental Economics and Policy.

Volume (Year): 1 (2007)
Issue (Month): 2 (Summer)
Pages: 283-299

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Handle: RePEc:oup:renvpo:v:1:y:2007:i:2:p:283-299
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