NATIONAL BUREAU OF ECONOMIC RESEARCH
NATIONAL BUREAU OF ECONOMIC RESEARCH

Life (evaluation), HIV/AIDS, and Death in Africa

Angus Deaton, Jane Fortson, Robert Tortora

NBER Working Paper No. 14637
Issued in January 2009
NBER Program(s):   AG   HC   HE   PE

We use data from the Gallup World Poll and from the Demographic and Health Surveys to investigate how subjective wellbeing (SWB) is affected by mortality in sub-Saharan Africa, including mortality from HIV/AIDS. The Gallup data provide direct evidence on Africans' own emotional and evaluative responses to high levels of infection and of mortality. By comparing the effect of mortality on SWB with the effect of income on SWB, we can attach monetary values to mortality to illuminate the often controversial question of how to value life in Africa. Large fractions of the respondents in the World Poll report the mortality of an immediate family member in the last twelve months, with malaria typically more important than AIDS, and deaths of women in childbirth more important than deaths from AIDS in many countries. A life evaluation measure (Cantril's ladder of life) is relatively insensitive to the deaths of immediate family, which suggests a low value of life. There are much larger effects on experiential measures, such as sadness and depression, which suggest much larger values of life. It is not clear whether either of these results is correct, yet our results demonstrate that experiential and evaluative measures are not the same thing, and that they cannot be used interchangeably as measures of "happiness" in welfare economics.

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Published: A. Deaton, J. Fortson and R. Tortora Life (evaluation), HIV/AIDS, and death in Africa Chapter 5 in E. Diener, J. Helliwell, and D. Kahneman (eds.), International Differences in Well-Being, pp. 105-136, Oxford: Oxford University Press (2010)

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