Different risks of death are not equivalent because of differences in timing. This paper develops measures of mortality risk that recognize the probability of death, the duration of life lost, and the role of discounting. These adjustments lead to a substantial reordering of the major causes of death. Recognition of duration-related issues explains much of the public’s misperception of mortality risk probabilities, which may reflect duration-related concerns rather than biases in risk beliefs. The estimates suggest that in forming their risk beliefs the public discounts years of life lost at a rate from 3.3—12.4 percent. Standardization of lifetimes at risk also alters the relative efficacy of regulatory policies for which the authors provide a variety of cost-effectiveness measures.
Keywords: risk perception, mortality risks, value of life, rates of time preference.
Full Text: Journal of Risk and Uncertainty, Vol. 14, No. 3, May/June, 1997, pp. 213-33. Earlier report to EPA.