Prospect theory in the health domain: a quantitative assessment

J Health Econ. 2013 Dec;32(6):1057-65. doi: 10.1016/j.jhealeco.2013.08.006. Epub 2013 Sep 3.


It is well-known that expected utility (EU) has empirical deficiencies. Cumulative prospect theory (CPT) has developed as an alternative with more descriptive validity. However, CPT's full function had not yet been quantified in the health domain. This paper is therefore the first to simultaneously measure utility of life duration, probability weighting, and loss aversion in this domain. We observe loss aversion and risk aversion for gains and losses, which for gains can be explained by probabilistic pessimism. Utility for gains is almost linear. For losses, we find less weighting of probability 1/2 and concave utility. This contrasts with the common finding of convex utility for monetary losses. However, CPT was proposed to explain choices among lotteries involving monetary outcomes. Life years are arguably very different from monetary outcomes and need not generate convex utility for losses. Moreover, utility of life duration reflects discounting, causing concave utility.

Keywords: B41; Cumulative prospect theory; D03; I10; Loss aversion; QALY model; Utility of life duration.

MeSH terms

  • Algorithms
  • Health Status*
  • Models, Theoretical*
  • Netherlands
  • Quality of Life / psychology
  • Quality-Adjusted Life Years*