Anchoring Biases in International Estimates of the Value of a Statistical Life

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U.S. labor market estimates of the value of a statistical life (VSL) were the first revealed preference estimates of the VSL in the literature and continue to constitute the majority of such market estimates. The VSL estimates in U.S. studies consequently may have established a reference point for the estimates that researchers analyzing data from other countries are willing to report and that journals are willing to publish. This article presents the first comparison of the publication selection biases in U.S. and international estimates using a sample of 68 VSL studies with over 1000 VSL estimates throughout the world. Publication selection biases vary across the VSL distribution and are greater for the larger VSL estimates. The estimates of publication selection biases distinguish between U.S. and international studies as well as between government and non-government data sources. Empirical estimates that correct for the impact of these biases reduce the VSL estimates, particularly for studies based on international data. This pattern of publication bias effects is consistent with international studies relying on U.S. estimates as an anchor for the levels of reasonable estimates. U.S. estimates based on the Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries constitute the only major set of VSL studies for which there is no evidence of statistically significant publication selection effects. Adjusting a baseline bias-adjusted U.S. VSL estimate of $9.6 million using estimates of the income elasticity of the VSL may be a sounder approach for generating international estimates of the VSL than relying on direct estimates from international studies.

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Journal of Risk and Uncertainty

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