Fairness in the contingent valuation of environmental public goods: Attitude toward paying for environmental improvements at two levels of scope

Bradley S. Jorgensen, Mathew A. Wilson, Thomas A. Heberlein

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72 Citations (Scopus)


Respondents to contingent valuation (CV) surveys give a variety of reasons for not wanting to pay money. This variability is likely to reflect people's attitudes toward paying for the public good change, their attitudes toward paying for public goods in general, and a component that is independent of these attitudes but unique to particular beliefs about paying (e.g. 'I can't afford to pay'). Negative attitudes toward paying can contribute to an apparent insensitivity to different levels of the same public good. In a telephone survey, northern Wisconsin property owners were asked about their WTP for four environmental public goods (biodiversity, Indian spearfishing, water quality, and wolves) at two levels of scope (part and whole). For water quality and spearfishing, the part was a chain of lakes that was geographically nested within a larger region of lakes. Similarly, the biodiversity whole represented a region comprising the smaller level of the public good. The scope conditions for wolves were quantitatively nested levels of returning 300 and 800 wolves to northern Wisconsin. Respondents' beliefs about paying for each public good and level of scope were measured in order to test their generality across the different public goods and levels of scope. Negative attitudes toward paying that are general across public goods place restrictions on the use of CV for environmental public goods. However, negative attitudes that are tied to specific environmental public goods suggest that the valuation method might be difficult to implement in these cases only. Moreover, negative attitudes toward paying that are either general or specific may contribute to perfect embedding when they are expressed across different levels of scope for the same public good. Respondents' beliefs about paying for each public good were associated with an attitude toward paying for the respective good and an attitude toward paying for public goods in general at both levels of scope. The general attitude was more explanatory of beliefs about paying for wolf reintroduction and spearfishing than were the specific attitudes. The distribution of beliefs was sensitive to the type of good being valued, but less so to the scope of the public good change. Contingent valuation practitioners should seek improvements in respondents' perceptions of the fairness of the valuation process in order to facilitate citizens' involvement in decisions about environmental public goods. Avenues for future research are proposed and discussed.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)133-148
Number of pages16
JournalEcological Economics
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 3 Feb 2001
Externally publishedYes


  • Attitude toward paying
  • Contingent valuation
  • Economic values
  • Embedding
  • Environmental valuation
  • Procedural fairness
  • Protest responses
  • Public goods
  • Willingness to pay

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