Welcome to the Harvard Center for Risk Analysis

The Harvard Center for Risk Analysis (HCRA) is a multidisciplinary group of faculty, research staff, students, and visiting scholars who work together to improve decisions about environmental health and other risks. We conduct state-of-the-art research, educate the next generation of leaders in risk analysis and related disciplines, and encourage public discourse about risk topics. To learn more about HCRA, please contact any member of our faculty or research staff below or click here to join our email list.

Counting and Valuing “Premature Deaths”

In a recent article in Risk Analysis, “Premature Deaths, Statistical Lives, and Years of Life Lost: Identification, Quantification, and Valuation of Mortality Risks,” Dr. James K. Hammitt and co-authors identify and try to clear up some important misconceptions about mortality risk and economic valuation. The mortality effects of exposure to air pollution and other environmental hazards are often described by the estimated number of “premature deaths” and the economic value of a reduction in exposure as the number of “statistical lives saved” multiplied by the “value per statistical life.” These terms can be misleading because the number of deaths advanced by exposure (the “etiologic” fraction) cannot be determined from mortality data; it could be that everyone exposed to air pollution dies a little earlier than they otherwise would have, or that only a small fraction die much earlier than they would have. Total life years lost due to exposure can be estimated but cannot be disaggregated by age or cause of death. Economic valuation of a change in exposure-related mortality risk is not affected by inability to know the fraction of deaths that are etiologic, although information about how the risk is distributed in the population could affect its value.

For a summary of this research, see our May 2020 Risk in Perspective.

Valuing COVID mortality risks

HCRA Director James K. Hammitt is quoted in several recent articles on the value of reducing deaths from the COVID pandemic, including the Wall Street Journal, fivethirtyeight.com, and Forbes. When estimating the benefits and costs of policy interventions, the value of reducing mortality risk is summarized by the value per statistical life (VSL). VSL is based on individuals’ willingness to exchange income for small changes in their own risk. To read more about this approach and current practices, as well as learn about Dr. Hammitt’s related work with HCRA’s Lisa A. Robinson, click here.


James K. Hammitt, Professor of Economics and Decision Sciences

Joel Schwartz, Professor of Environmental Epidemiology

Core Faculty and Affiliates

John Evans, Adjunct Professor of Environmental Health

Elsie Sunderland, Gordon McKay Professor of Environmental Chemistry

Lisa A. Robinson, Senior Research Scientist

Katherine von Stackelberg, Research Scientist

Jonathan B. Wiener, Duke University

Visiting Scholars

Eva Tène, Toulouse School of Economics (2020)

Rebecca McDonald, University of Birmingham (2019)

Danae Arroyos-Calvera, University of Birmingham (2019)

Nathalie de Marcellis-Warin, Polytechnique Montreal (2015-2016)

Daniel Herrera, Toulouse School of Economics (2014)

Emmanuelle Lavaine, Toulouse School of Economics (2014)

Damian Tago, Toulouse School of Economics (2014)

Tuba Tuncel, Toulouse School of Economics (2014)