Interpreting the outcomes of cost utility analyses requires an appropriately defined threshold for costs per quality-adjusted life year (QALY). A common view is that the threshold should represent the (consumption) value a society attaches to a QALY. So far, individual valuations of personal health gains have mainly been studied rather than potentially relevant social values. In this study, we present the first direct empirical estimates of the willingness to pay for a QALY from a societal perspective. We used the contingent valuation approach, valuing QALYs under uncertainty and correcting for probability weighting. The estimates obtained in a representative sample of the Dutch population (n = 1004) range from €52,000 to €83,000, depending on the specification of the societal perspective. The scale sensitivity was weak, however. Copyright © 2012 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.