Option value (cost–benefit analysis)

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In cost–benefit analysis and social welfare economics, the term option value refers to the value that is placed on private willingness to pay for maintaining or preserving a public asset or service even if there is little or no likelihood of the individual actually ever using it. The concept is most commonly used in public policy assessment to justify continuing investment in parks, wildlife refuges and land conservation, as well as rail transportation facilities and services. It is also recognized as an element of the total economic value of environmental resources.

This concept of "option value" in cost–benefit analysis is different from the concept used in finance, where the term refers to the valuation of a financial instrument that provides for a future purchase of an asset. (See Option time value.) However, the two can be related insofar as both can be interpreted as a valuation of risk factors.[1]


In the environmental research literature, option value is commonly interpreted as the value of preserving threatened natural resources so that they might be available for use in the future. It has been applied for establishing the value of preserving wildlife habitats,[2] wilderness areas,[3] and water recreation resources.[4] In the transportation research literature, option value is most commonly interpreted as estimated the value that non-users are willing to pay to ensure continued availability of a rail transport facility and its service (as an option that will be available in the future).[5] It is recognized as a type of benefit to be considered in cost benefit evaluation of transportation investment alternatives by the UK Department for Transport[6] and the Scottish Government,[7] and has also been used for assessment of regional rail projects in the Netherlands.[8] In the US, option value is recognized in several transportation benefit-cost analysis guides, including those of the Transportation Research Board's Committee on Transportation Economics,[9] the Transit Cooperative Research Program,[10] and the Victoria Transport Policy Institute.[11]


The term "option value" and its theoretical underpinnings as a non-user benefit were initially developed in 1964 by Burton Weisbrod.[12] It was posited as an element of benefit distinct from the traditional concept of consumer surplus, and it depended on three factors: (1) uncertainty about future need for the asset, (2) irreversibility or high cost of replacement if the asset is lost, and (3) non-storability of the asset. That was followed by an active academic debate about the concept, and refinement of its measurement. Some economists further developed its distinction from consumer surplus and role as an uncertainty risk aversion premium,[13][14] leading to the suggestion that a concept of "option price" may be more appropriate.[15] Others stressed the irreversibility aspect of the resource and further specified the framework for valuing avoidance of that risk,[16][17][18][19] with suggestions to adopt a concept of "quasi option value" or "irreversibility effect." All of these terms and concepts appear in academic literature. However, the original term "option value" is still commonly used in applied studies (as apparent in works cited in the preceding application section; see also[20]).

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Option Value - Explanation and examples". Conceptually. Retrieved 17 March 2019.
  2. ^ Brookshire, D.S., L.S. Eubanks and R.A. Randall, 1983. "Estimating Option Prices and Existence Values in Wildlife Resources," Land Economics, 69: 1-15
  3. ^ Walsh, R.G., J.B. Loomis and R.A. Gillan, 1984. "Valuing Option, Existence and Bequest Demands for Wilderness," Land Economics, 60: 14-29
  4. ^ Greenley, D.A., R.G. Walsh and R.A.Young, 1981. "Empirical Evidence from A Case of Recreation and Water Quality," Quarterly Journal of Economics, 96 (4): 657-573
  5. ^ Roson, R. 2000. "Social Cost Pricing when Public Transport is an Option Value," Innovation 13 (1): 81-94.
  6. ^ Department for Transport, England. 2004. Transport Analysis Guidance
  7. ^ Scottish Government, 2009, Review of Economic Assessment in Rural Transport Appraisal
  8. ^ Geurs, K., R. Haaijer, and B. Van Wee. 2006. "Option Value of Public Transport: Methodology for Measurement and Case Study for Regional Rail Links in the Netherlands," Transport Reviews, 26 (5):613-643
  9. ^ TRB Economics Committee, 2010, Transportation Benefit-Cost Analysis, Equity and Option Value Benefits, web guide. http://bca.transportationeconomics.org/benefits/equity-benefits
  10. ^ EcoNorthwest and Parsons Brinckerhoff, 2002. Estimating the Benefits and Costs of Public Transit Projects: A Guidebook for Practitioners, Transit Cooperative Research Program, Report 78, Transportation Research Board, Washington, DC
  11. ^ Victoria Transport Policy Institute, 2009. Transportation Cost and Benefit Analysis II , Ch.5.9: Transportation Diversity
  12. ^ Weisbrod, Burton. 1964. "Collective Consumption Services of Individual Consumption Goods," Quarterly Journal of Economics, 78 (3):471-477
  13. ^ Cicchetti, Charles J. and Freeman, A. Myrick, III. 1971. "Option Demand and Consumer Surplus: Further Comment.1," Quarterly Journal of Economics, 85 (Aug): 528-539.
  14. ^ Schmalensee, Richard. 1972. "Option Demand and Consumer's Surplus: Valuing Price Changes Under Uncertainty." American Economic Review, 62(Dec): 813-824
  15. ^ Freeman, A.M., 1985. "Supply Uncertainty, Option Price and Option Value," Land Economics, 6, 176-181.
  16. ^ Arrow, Kenneth J., and Fisher, Anthony C. 1974. "Environmental Preservation, Uncertainty, and Irreversibility," Quarterly Journal of Economics, 88(May): 312-319.
  17. ^ Fisher, Anthony C. and Krutilla, John V. 1974. "Valuing Long Run Ecological Consequences and Irreversibilities," Journal of Environmental Economics and Management, 1: 96-108
  18. ^ Fisher, Anthony C. and Peterson, F.M. 1976. "The Environment and Economics: A Survey." Journal of Economic Literature, 14(March): 1-33
  19. ^ Henry, Claude. 1974. "Option-Values in the Economics of Irreplaceable Assets," Review of Economic Studies: Symposium on The Economics of Exhaustible Resources, pp.89-104.
  20. ^ see Johansson, Per-Olov, 1987. The Economic Theory and Measurement of Environmental Benefits, Cambridge Press