Welcome to our educational website devoted to research at Syracuse University on the "Value of a Statistical Life" or VSL. Here, you will discover how economic science informs federal policy, and you will learn about the methodical challenges that VSL researchers face.
In economic terms the Value of a Statistical Life (VSL) is the amount of money a person (or society) is willing to spend to save a life. Since there is no formal market for lives, the only way to measure the VSL is through indirect methods (e.g., surveys or observed human behavior in risky environments).
Understanding the value of life is important for government policies where
citizens' lives are at risk or where the goal is to save lives. For example, if pollution
abatement measures come at a societal "cost per life saved" does the
societal benefit of saving a life exceed this cost? If there are costs and
benefits associated with going to war, how does society value the potential
loss of life? In fact, the U.S. Environmental Protect Agency and the
U.S. Office of Management & Budget have specific guidelines for the
Presidential VSL letter
Report to congress
The act of placing a dollar value on human life is bound to stir up ethical, religious and philosophical questions. Even if one can get passed these deeper issues, there is still much debate on the correct way to indirectly measure the VSL. This website is intended to shed light on this methodological debate, on some of the more credible estimates of the VSL and on VSL research being conducted at Syracuse University.