Skip to main content

Trading Off Consumption and COVID-19 Deaths

Quarterly Review 4211 | Published June 23, 2020

Download PDF


Robert E. Hall Stanford University and NBER
Charles I. Jones Stanford University and NBER
Peter J. Klenow Consultant
Trading Off Consumption and COVID-19 Deaths


This note develops a framework for thinking about the following question: What is the maximum amount of consumption that a utilitarian welfare function would be willing to trade off to avoid the deaths associated with COVID-19? The answer depends crucially on the mortality rate associated with the coronavirus. If the mortality rate averages 0.81%, as projected in one prominent study, our answer is 41% of one year's consumption. If the mortality rate instead averages 0.44% across age groups, as suggested by a recent seroprevalence study, our answer is 28%.