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The Income Elasticity of the Value per Statistical Life: Transferring Estimates between High and Low Income Populations

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  07 June 2021

James K. Hammitt
Affiliation:
Harvard University (Center for Risk Analysis) and Toulouse School of Economics (LERNA-INRA)
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Abstract

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The income elasticity of the value per statistical life (VSL) is an important parameter for policy analysis. Mortality risk reductions often dominate the quantified benefits of environmental and other policies, and estimates of their value are frequently transferred across countries with significantly different income levels. U.S. regulatory agencies typically assume that a 1.0 percent change in real income over time will lead to a 0.4 to 0.6 percent change in the VSL. While elasticities within this range are supported by substantial research, they appear nonsensical if applied to populations with significantly smaller incomes. When transferring values between high and lower income countries, analysts often instead assume an elasticity of 1.0, but the resulting VSL estimates appear large in comparison to income. Elasticities greater than 1.0 are supported by research on the relationship between long-term economic growth and the VSL, by cross-country comparisons, and by new research that estimates the VSL by income quantile. Caution is needed when applying these higher elasticities, however, because the resulting VSLs appear smaller than expected future earnings or consumption in some cases, contrary to theory. In addition to indicating the need for more research, this comparison suggests that, in the interim, VSL estimates should be bounded below by estimates of future income or consumption.

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Article
Copyright
Copyright © Society for Benefit-Cost Analysis 2011

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