Life: How Much is Yours Worth?

I was once offered Y10,000 (approximately £50) as a reward by the father of a boy who I’d helped to safety after he got into trouble whilst swimming in a river. I did of course refuse his generous offer, but it did get me to thinking – how much is a life really worth?

According to an online life value generator, my life is worth $731,000. The site asks for information such as age, salary and present health to calculate this figure. As no further explanation is given, it’s impossible to tell how exactly the site uses this information to come up with this figure, but it doesn’t seem like much.

Another way of looking at life worth is by looking at the value of our possessions. In 2000, an American man listed everything he owned on eBay, from his favourite records to his set of false teeth. Naming his mission “AllMyLifeForSale” – bidding for each item began at $1 and the buyer would receive a brief history of the item and the goals of the project. In 2001 the auction closed and he then began stage two of the project; to visit his onetime possessions in their new homes. Whilst the total value was never revealed, he looked at this project as a way of quantifying the value of his material life.

Many would advocate that it’s impossible to put any monetary value on life because, as unique beings, we cannot be replaced with a new model if we die. By this thinking, your life is of a different value to different people; to your friends and family, you are worth much more than to someone you’ve never met.

One way of pinning a monetary value on life, is to look at how much extra people are paid for doing jobs considered more dangerous than average. Termed “danger money”, those who work in war zones or dangerous industrial environments are usually rewarded with high pay. For example, Western firms offer substantial sums of money to expatriate staff in Iraq to encourage them to work in the country amidst the current climate of suicide bombings, kidnappings, violence and unrest.

Insurance companies are experts at calculating the monetary value of a life. This allows them to create a value for life insurance, the sum of money that your next of kin will receive should you pass away. Life assurance companies base their results on the number of years you have until retirement, your current annual income, the expected rate of inflation and your expected income growth. Using these criteria, they can calculate an approximate value of your life in terms of your earning power.

So we see that there are a number of ways of looking at the value of life; by our possessions, by our emotional influence and by our earning power, but most people who had to put a value on their own life, would probably mark the tag “priceless”.

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