WASHINGTON—The old saying “If you have your health, you have everything,” may need updating. According to a new survey by researchers from Resources for the Future (RFF), many Americans feel it’s also important to know that policies designed to reduce environmental health risks provide all communities with equal results. In fact, many are willing to accept a significantly higher increase in health risk if those risks are equally distributed.
The finding comes from a new paper, Preferences for Equality in Environmental Outcomes. Its authors are RFF Senior Fellows Maureen Cropper and Alan Krupnick, and RFF Research Assistant William Raich. Their empirical estimates of public preferences for environmental health risk distributions come from a national internet survey with more than 900 completions, administered in August 2015.
The paper sought to assess individuals’ views of environmental health risks—specifically, risks of cancer and lung disease. Respondents were asked to choose between environmental programs that result in different mean health risks in a population and different distributions of these risks.
The results of the survey suggests that people will accept a program that results in a higher total environmental health risk provided this risk is equally distributed across the population. In fact, the median respondent is willing to accept a 50 percent increase in mean health risk (e.g., total environmental cancer cases) if these risks are distributed equally in the population. This result is the same whether the respondent and his or her family are directly affected by the program or not affected by it directly.
Read the full study: Preferences for Equality in Environmental Outcomes.