Do people favour policies that protect future generations? Evidence from a British survey of adults

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Long-range temporal choices are built into contemporary policy-making, with policy decisions having consequences that play out across generations. Decisions are made on behalf of the public who are assumed to give much greater weight to their welfare than to the welfare of future generations. The paper investigates this assumption. It briefly discusses evidence from sociological and economic studies before reporting the findings of a British survey of people's intergenerational time preferences based on a representative sample of nearly 10,000 respondents. Questions focused on two sets of policies: (i) health policies to save lives and (ii) environmental policies to protect against floods that would severely damage homes, businesses and other infrastructure. For both sets of policies, participants were offered a choice of three policy options, each bringing greater or lesser benefits to their, their children's and their grandchildren's generations. For both saving lives and protecting against floods, only a minority selected the policy that most benefited their generation; the majority selected policies bringing equal or greater benefits to future generations. Our study raises questions about a core assumption of standard economic evaluation, pointing instead to concern for future generations as a value that many people hold in common.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)423-445
Number of pages23
JournalJournal of Social Policy
Issue number3
Early online date19 Jan 2017
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2017

Bibliographical note

© Cambridge University Press 2017.
Nominated for the Cambridge University Press Awards for Excellence in Social Policy

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