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social welfare function (SWF), benefit-cost analysis (BCA), value of statistical life (VSL), fair innings, social value of risk reduction (SVRR), utilitarian, prioritarian, risk regulation


The social value of risk reduction (SVRR) is the marginal social value of reducing an individual’s fatality risk, as measured by some social welfare function (SWF). This Article investigates SVRR, using a lifetime utility model in which individuals are differentiated by age, lifetime income profile, and lifetime risk profile. We consider both the utilitarian SWF and a “prioritarian” SWF, which applies a strictly increasing and strictly concave transformation to individual utility.

We show that the prioritarian SVRR provides a rigorous basis in economic theory for the “fair innings” concept, proposed in the public health literature: as between an older individual and a similarly situated younger individual (one with the same income and risk profile), a risk reduction for the younger individual is accorded greater social weight even if the gains to expected lifetime utility are equal. The comparative statics of prioritarian and utilitarian SVRRs with respect to age, and to (past, present, and future) income and baseline survival probability, are significantly different from the conventional value per statistical life (VSL). Our empirical simulation based upon the U.S. population survival curve and income distribution shows that prioritarian SVRRs with a moderate degree of concavity in the transformation function conform to widely held views regarding lifesaving policies: the young should take priority but income should make no difference.

Library of Congress Subject Headings

Welfare economics, Social indicators, Social policy, Cost effectiveness, Distributive justice, Empirical