The Value of a Human Life

Illustration: <a href="/authors/celine-nadeau">Celine Nadeau</a>


What’s your life worth, in dollars? That question routinely bedevils federal bean counters. Though calculating the “value of a statistical life” (VSL) may sound callous or morbid, it can lead to stronger safety and environmental regulations. For example, auto safety rules that would cost $100 million to implement but might protect $500 million worth of lives (say, 100 people at $5 million a pop) are seen as a good deal, cost-benefit-wise.

VSLs can vary widely, depending on the agency crunching the numbers and the administration in office. As this chart shows, the feds currently think each of us is worth somewhere between $5 million and $9.1 million.

  • Kate Sheppard was a staff reporter in Mother Jones' Washington bureau from 2009 to 2013. She is now a senior reporter and the energy and environment editor at The Huffington Post. She can be reached by email at kate (dot) sheppard (at) huffingtonpost (dot) com and you can follow her on Twitter @kate_sheppard.

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