EXETER, United Kingdom — Our lives may be priceless to each of our families and friends. When countries are weighing the impacts of shutting down their economies however, does your life have a fixed price? A new study claims nations that went into lockdown early due to COVID-19 placed a tremendous dollar value on the lives of their residents. The nations that entered lockdown later, including the United States and United Kingdom, have the lowest “price of life.”
Researchers from the University of Exeter say that if the U.K. began its coronavirus lockdown three days earlier, 20,000 lives could have been saved. Their study looks at the COVID-19 policy decisions in nine countries and links them to the financial costs that shutting down their respective economies has on GDP. Those nations include the U.S., U.K., Belgium, Germany, South Korea, Italy, Denmark, China, and New Zealand.
“Price of life estimates are of critical importance given that government intervention has the ability to save life, yet trades off against other goods,” says lead author Ben Balmford in a university release.
How ‘price of life’ measures up among nations
The British team says their “price of life” calculator measures the amount of money governments are willing to pay to protect their citizens. The amount reflects the economic activity sacrificed by shutting down, which impacts countless businesses and millions of jobs.
Researchers estimate that two of the quickest-acting nations (South Korea and New Zealand) placed the highest value on life. South Korea’s price of life is just under $11.6 million per person, and over $6.7 million in New Zealand. Germany and Denmark also cross the $1 million mark, according to the research.
“Those who pursued an early lockdown strategy reveal themselves to be willing to pay a high price to save their citizen’s lives,” says Balmford. “However, some countries, those which imposed lockdown relatively late-on in their respective pandemics, were clearly only willing to pay far less.”
For the United States, the study authors put the price of life at around $150,000 per person. That number falls to just over $100,000 for the U.K. Only Italy and Belgium finished lower among the nations examined.
Did early COVID-19 lockdowns save lives?
The Exeter research team contends that the countries that moved to stop COVID-19 early, placing a high value on their population, are also seeing the best results health-wise during the pandemic. Their study draws links to each country’s lockdown dates and the wide range in death tolls globally as a result.
Their model predicts that if the U.K. waited another three days to shut down, 32,000 would have been lost. The models show similar delays in Italy are behind the country’s death toll as well.
“By choosing not to impose lockdowns three days earlier, governments rejected saving more lives when the price was relatively high,” Balmford says.
The study appears in the journal Environmental and Resource Economics.