Transportation choices and the value of statistical life
This paper exploits an unusual transportation setting to estimate the value of a statistical life (VSL). We estimate the trade-offs individuals are willing to make between mortality risk and cost as they travel to and from the international airport in Sierra Leone (which is separated from the capital Freetown by a body of water). Travelers choose from among multiple transport options – namely, ferry, helicopter, hovercraft, and water taxi. The setting and original dataset allow us to address some typical omitted variable concerns in order to generate some of the first revealed preference VSL estimates from Africa. The data also allows us to compare VSL estimates for travelers from 56 countries, including 20 African and 36 non-African countries, all facing the same choice situation. The average VSL estimate for African travelers in the sample is US$577,000 compared to US$924,000 for non-Africans. Individual characteristics, particularly job earnings, can largely account for the difference between Africans and non-Africans; Africans in the sample typically earn somewhat less. There is little evidence that individual VSL estimates are driven by a lack of information, predicted life expectancy, or cultural norms around risktaking or fatalism. The data implies an income elasticity of the VSL of 1.77. These revealed preference VSL estimates from a developing country fill an important gap in the existing literature, and can be used for a variety of public policy purposes, including in current debates within Sierra Leone regarding the desirability of constructing new transportation infrastructure.
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