How Much Is a Human Life Worth? A Systematic Review

Value in Health
October 2021 Volume 24 Issue 10 p1391-1542


How Much Is a Human Life Worth? A Systematic Review
Elena Keller, Jade E. Newman, Andreas Ortmann, Louisa R. Jorm, Georgina M. Chambers
Published online: May 25, 2021
What is already known about this topic?
Monetary valuation of a human life – the value of a statistical life (VSL) – is used in a broad range of policy areas resulting in a wide range of VSL estimates. Literature reviews and meta-analyses have generally focused on specific elicitation methods or sectors such as traffic or occupational risk. A review of VSL estimates using different elicitation methods across sectors would improve our understanding of recent developments and highlight future directions for research.
What does this article add to existing knowledge?
We included 120 studies which makes our study the most comprehensive review of VSL methods and estimates across sectors to date. The median of midpoint VSL estimates was $6.8 million, $8.7 million, and $5.3 million for the health, labor market, and transportation safety sectors, respectively. The variation in VSL depends mainly on the elicitation context (sector, developed/developing country, socio-economic status, etc) rather than the method used. Stated-preference techniques were the most common elicitation method.
What insights does this article provide for informing healthcare-related decision making?
We provide evidence that for policy evaluations context-specific VSL estimates, rather than one overarching average VSL estimate, ought to be used. Although stated- and revealed-preference elicitation methods yield comparable estimates within a sector, the VSL estimates for labor markets and developed countries tend to be higher. Overall, the VSL literature suggests that individuals value a life-year more highly than willingness-to-pay thresholds used in health technology assessment.