A micromort (from micro- and mortality) is a unit of risk defined as one-in-a-million chance of death. Micromorts can be used to measure riskiness of various day-to-day activities. A microprobability is a one-in-a million chance of some event; thus a micromort is the microprobability of death. The micromort concept was introduced by Ronald A. Howard who pioneered the modern practice of decision analysis.
Micromorts for future activities can only be rough assessments as specific circumstances will always have an impact. However past historical rates of events can be used to provide a ball park, average figure.
|Death from||Context||Time period||N deaths||N population||Micromorts per unit of exposure||Reference|
|All causes||England and Wales||2012||499,331||56,567,000||24 per day
8,800 per year
|ONS Deaths Table 5.|
|All causes||Canada||2011||242,074||33,476,688||20 per day
7,200 per year
|All causes||US||2010||2,468,435||308,500,000||22 per day
8,000 per year
|CDC Deaths Table 18.|
|Non-natural cause||England and Wales||2012||17,462||56,567,000||0.8 per day
300 per year
|ONS Deaths Table 5.19.|
|Non-natural cause||US||2010||180,000||308,500,000||1.6 per day
580 per year
|CDC Deaths Table 18|
|Non-natural cause (excluding suicide)||England and Wales||2012||12,955||56,567,000||0.6 per day
230 per year
|Non-natural cause (excluding suicide)||US||2010||142,000||308,500,000||1.3 per day
460 per year
|CDC Deaths Table 18.|
|All causes – first day of life||England and Wales||2007||430 per first day of life||Walker, 2014|
|All causes – first year of life||US||2013||16.7 per day
6100 per year
|CDC Life Tables |
Blastland & Spiegelhalter, 2014
|Murder/homicide||England and Wales||2012/13||551||56,567,000||10 per year||ONS Crime|
|Homicide||Canada||2011||527||33,476,688||15 per year||Statistics Canada|
|Murder and non-negligent manslaughter||US||2012||14,173||292,000,000||48 per year||FBI Table 16|
Leisure and sport
|Death from||Context||Time period||N deaths||N exposure||Micromorts per unit of exposure||Reference|
|Scuba diving||UK: BSAC members||1998–2009||75||14,000,000 dives||5 per dive||BSAC|
|Scuba diving||UK: non-BSAC||1998–2009||122||12,000,000 dives||10 per dive||BSAC|
|Scuba diving||US – insured members of DAN||2000–2006||187||1,131,367 members||164 per year as member of DAN
5 per dive
|Skiing||US||2008/9||39||57,000,000 days skiing||0.7 per day||Ski-injury.com|
|Skydiving||US||2000–2016||413||48,600,000 jumps||8 per jump||USPA|
|Skydiving||UK||1994–2013||41||4,864,268 jumps||8 per jump||BPA|
|Running marathon||US||1975–2004||26||3,300,000 runs||7 per run||Kipps C 2011|
|Base-jumping||Kjerag Massif, Norway||1995–2005||9||20,850 jumps||430 per jump||Soreide 2007|
|Mountaineering||Ascent to Matterhorn||1981–2011||213||about 75,000 ascents
(about 2500 per year)
|about 2,840 per ascent attempt||Bachmann 2012|
|Mountaineering||Ascent to Mt. Everest||1922–2012||223||5,656 successful ascents||37,932 per ascent||NASA 2013|
Activities that increase the death risk by roughly one micromort, and their associated cause of death:
- Travelling 6 miles (9.7 km) by motorbike (accident)
- Travelling 17 miles (27 km) by walking (accident)
- Travelling 10 miles (16 km) or 20 miles (32 km) by bicycle (accident)
- Travelling 230 miles (370 km) by car (accident) (or 250 miles)
- Travelling 1000 miles (1600 km) by jet (accident)
- Travelling 6000 miles (9656 km) by train (accident)
- Travelling 12,000 miles (19,000 km) by jet in the United States (terrorism)
Increase in death risk for other activities on a per event basis:
- Hang gliding – 8 micromorts per trip
- Ecstasy (MDMA) – between 0.5 and 13 micromorts per tablet (most cases involve other drugs)
- Giving birth (vaginal) – 120 micromorts
- Giving birth (caesarean) – 170 micromorts
- Living in New York City in May 2020, during the COVID-19 pandemic - 50 micromorts per day
Value of a micromort
Willingness to pay
An application of micromorts is measuring the value that humans place on risk. For example, a person can consider the amount of money they would be willing to pay to avoid a one-in-a-million chance of death (or conversely, the amount of money they would receive to accept a one-in-a-million chance of death). When offered this situation, people claim a high number. However, when looking at their day-to-day actions (e.g., how much they are willing to pay for safety features on cars), a typical value for a micromort is around $50 (in 2009). This is not to say the $50 valuation should be taken to mean that a human life (1 million micromorts) is valued at $50,000,000. Rather, people are less inclined to spend money after a certain point to increase their safety. This means that analyzing risk using the micromort is more useful when using small risks, not necessarily large ones.
Value of a statistical life
Government agencies use a nominal Value of a Statistical Life (VSL) – or Value for Preventing a Fatality (VPF) – to evaluate the cost-effectiveness of expenditure on safeguards. For example, in the UK the VSL stands at £1.6 million for road improvements. Since road improvements have the effect of lowering the risk of large numbers of people by a small amount, the UK Department for Transport essentially prices a reduction of 1 Micromort at £1.60. The US Department of Transportation uses a VSL of US$6.2 million, pricing a Micromort at US$6.20.
Micromorts are best used to measure the size of acute risks, i.e. immediate deaths. Risks from lifestyle, exposure to air pollution and so on are chronic risks, in that they do not kill straight away, but reduce life expectancy. Ron Howard included such risks in his original 1979 work, for example an additional one micromort from ...
- Drinking 0.5 liter of wine (cirrhosis of the liver)
- Smoking 1.4 cigarettes (cancer, heart disease)
- Spending 1 hour in a coal mine (black lung disease)
- Spending 3 hours in a coal mine (accident)
- Living 2 days in New York or Boston in 1979 (air pollution)
- Living 2 months with a smoker (cancer, heart disease)
- Drinking Miami water for 1 year (cancer from chloroform)
- Eating 100 charcoal-broiled steaks (cancer from benzopyrene)
- Traveling 6000 miles (10,000 km) by jet (cancer due to increased background radiation)
Such risks are better expressed using the related concept of a microlife.
- Decision analysis
- Decision theory
- Ellsberg paradox
- List of unusual units of measurement
- Pascal's Wager
- Precautionary principle
- Risk of ruin
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