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Interpretations Of Utility And Their Implications For The Valuation Of Health*


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     This article was developed when Paul Dolan was a Visiting Research Scholar at the Center for Health and Well-being, Princeton University, and we thank the Center for providing support. We are also grateful for the many helpful comments provided by participants at seminars at Harvard University, Boston University, University of Michigan, University of Madison-Wisconsin, University of Chicago, University of North Carolina and the Medical University of South Carolina.


The term ‘utility’ can be interpreted in terms of the hedonic experience of an outcome (experienced utility) or in terms of the preference or desire for that outcome (decision utility). It is this second interpretation that lies at the heart of the methods that economists have developed to value non-market goods, such as health. In this article, we argue that decision utility is unlikely to generate meaningful data on the utility associated with different experiences, and instead economists should look towards developing measures that focus more directly on experienced utility.

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