Course in Benefit-Cost Analysis - Valuing life and health

Event Information

26 September–1 October 2021


Molly Gatel
+1 (617) 432-4042
Event type

This course allows those that have been using benefit-cost analysis for some time to get a refresher on not just the how, but the why, of what we do, to keep improving the quality of our work. It also allows new economists or analysts (or those coming from other specialties) to quickly familiarize themselves with the material and concepts.

Online Program Overview

Promoting Evidence-Based Environmental, Health, and Safety Policies

Benefit-cost analysis is a well-established and widely used approach for systematically assessing the impacts of environmental, health, and safety policies and informing decisions. It is often a required component of the policy development process followed by many government agencies and organizations around the world.

During the COVID-19 epidemic, benefit-cost analysis has received unprecedented attention by playing an important role in highlighting key trade-offs and informing response efforts and related policies. However, this attention has highlighted confusion about the overall framework, its advantages and limitations, and the approaches used to value mortality risk reductions, commonly referred to as the value per statistical life (VSL). Understanding the appropriate use of benefit-cost analysis and its implications is crucial given the importance of promoting evidence-based decisions as we begin to emerge from the epidemic and face many other crucial policy challenges.

In this short online program, Lisa A. Robinson, a leading Harvard expert on benefit-cost analysis, will aid you in understanding the benefit-cost analysis framework and its application globally. You will learn the methods used for valuing changes in health and longevity, the values recommended for use in high-, middle-, and low-income settings, and the implications of the results. Through interactive presentations, case studies, extensive discussion, and optional office hours, you will develop a deeper understanding of these approaches and of their application.

You will leave this program understanding the advantages and limitations of benefit-cost analysis, improving your ability to evaluate, interpret, and use the results.

Understanding Policy Trade-Offs: Are the Benefits Worth the Costs?

Benefit-cost analysis estimates the positive and negative impacts of a policy, clarifying the trade-offs implicit in the policy decision. As illustrated by the COVID-19 pandemic, the core challenge involves assessing the extent to which saving lives should take precedence over incurring economic damages and other costs.

Benefit-cost analysis, which is also known as cost-benefit analysis or return on investment analysis, is used in many other contexts to evaluate environmental, health, and safety policies. For example, it has played a major role in developing air pollution policies, motor vehicle safety regulations, smoking restrictions, and food safety requirements. In each case, benefit-cost analysis addresses the central question: are the benefits provided worth the costs incurred?

Event | 9 August 2021