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The Answer: About $9 Million

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Two-income couples in the United States seem to behave as if, on average, they think the value of a human life is really somewhere between $9 million and $13 million.

Joseph Aldy, an economist at Harvard University, gives that estimate in a new working paper based on data from the Census Bureau’s Current Population Survey program, for the period from 1996 through 2002.

(Related: 3 Ways U.S. Households’ Life and Annuity Use Looks Weird)

Aldy published the working paper, or preliminary version of the paper, on the website of the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER).

Other economists have also tried to estimate how much people think a human life is worth.

Aldy came up with a new approach for doing so, based on job-related risk exposure and earnings differences in two-income couples. Because two people in the same couple tend to be similar to each other, using couples-based differences data can filter out many difficult-to-measure factors, such as age and income, that may throw off other types of human-life-value estimates, Aldy writes in the paper.

Aldy says couple’s views on the value of a human life appear to vary dramatically with age.

People ages 18 to 24 behave as if a human life has a value of about $3 million, according to Aldy’s analysis.

The value of a human life peaks at $16.5 million, for people ages 45 to 54, then falls to $6 million for people ages 55 to 62, according to Aldy’s analysis..


A copy of Aldy’s working paper is available on the NBER website, behind a paywall, here.

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