Michael Jones-Lee and the value of statistical life, health and safety

Graham Loomes, Robert Sugden

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


This paper is an appreciation of the contributions of Michael Jones-Lee (1944–2021) to theory, evidence and policy in relation to the value of statistical life, health and safety. The value of statistical life (VoSL) was at the core of his work from the late 1960s when, as a PhD student, he proposed a new methodology for measuring the ‘value of life’. This methodology was firmly based on the welfare economics of compensation tests (then a minority position among cost-benefit analysts); it valued changes in risks of death rather than ex post outcomes; and (which was revolutionary at the time) used stated-preference survey methods to elicit individuals’ valuations. In the early 1980s, working with psychologists on a project for the UK Department of Transport, he put this proposal into practice in the first large-scale survey-based investigation of individuals’ valuations of reductions in risks of death. From then on, he was involved in almost every official study of this kind in the UK, as well as several in other countries, continually engaged in developing and refining the methodology and updating the values of life and safety used by government departments. From a very early stage in his work, Jones-Lee recognised that stated preferences sometimes showed patterns that were inconsistent with the received theory of rational choice. Anticipating what has now become a major concern of behavioural economics, he looked for ways of improving survey designs to make them better able to elicit consistent preferences, and developed pragmatic methods for providing preference-based policy guidance when inconsistencies remained.
Original languageEnglish
JournalBehavioural Public Policy
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 21 Sep 2022


  • Michael Jones-Lee
  • value of statistical life
  • stated preference methodology

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