How Much Is a Human Life Worth? A Systematic Review [Editor's Choice]



To systematically review studies eliciting monetary value of a statistical life (VSL) estimates within, and across, different sectors and other contexts; compare the reported estimates; and critically review the elicitation methods used.


In June 2019, we searched the following databases to identify methodological and empirical studies: Cochrane Library, Compendex, Embase, Environment Complete, Informit, ProQuest, PubMed, Scopus, and Web of Science. We used the Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Reviews and Meta-analyses guidelines for reporting and a modified Consolidated Health Economic Evaluation Reporting Standards checklist to assess the quality of included studies.


We identified 1455 studies, of which we included 120 in the systematic review. A stated-preference approach was used in 76 articles, with 51%, 41%, and 8% being contingent valuation studies, discrete-choice experiments, or both, respectively. A revealed-preference approach was used in 43 articles, of which 74% were based on compensating-wage differentials. The human capital approach was used in only 1 article. We assessed most publications (87%) as being of high quality. Estimates for VSL varied substantially by context (sector, developed/developing country, socio-economic status, etc), with the median of midpoint purchasing power parity–adjusted estimates of 2019 US$5.7 million ($6.8 million, $8.7 million, and $5.3 million for health, labor market, and transportation safety sectors, respectively).


The large variation observed in published VSLs depends mainly on the context rather than the method used. We found higher median values for labor markets and developed countries. It is important that health economists and policymakers use context-specific VSL estimates. Methodological innovation and standardization are needed to maximize comparability of VSL estimates within, and across, sectors and methods.


Elena Keller Jade E. Newman Andreas Ortmann Louisa R. Jorm Georgina M. Chambers

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