Utilitarians probably wasting time on recreation

[Post ed­ited to use life ex­pec­tancy data from es­ti­mated time of birth rather than from 2012 and avoid ex­tra sig­nifi­cant digits.]

[Edited again to make the ti­tle more to the point and less abra­sive, change the math since I found that Uganda is not one of their top four coun­tries aided, in­clude an ac­cu­rate figure for the av­er­age age of an AMF benefi­ciary, link to sources on life ex­pec­tancy and mosquito net dis­tri­bu­tion data, and im­prove some word­ing.]

This post ar­gues that work­ing a job and donat­ing the re­sul­tant money to the Against Malaria Foun­da­tion (AMF) is more benefi­cial than recre­ation from a util­i­tar­ian stand­point.

AMF, GiveWell’s cur­rent top rated char­ity, dis­tributes mosquito nets to peo­ple at high risk of con­tract­ing and dy­ing from malaria. To find the amount of life saved by donat­ing a dol­lar to AMF, I use the fol­low­ing for­mula: (av­er­age life ex­pec­tancy in aided coun­try—av­er­age age of benefi­ciary) /​ dol­lars AMF needs to save one life.

Ac­cord­ing to an email from AMF rep­re­sen­ta­tive Rob Mather, the av­er­age age of an AMF benefi­ciary is 25-30. I’ll pick the age 28 to be con­ser­va­tive on the amount of life saved per dona­tion. I made a weighted av­er­age by nets dis­tributed of the life ex­pec­tan­cies of the top three coun­tries that AMF has worked in (Zam­bia, Malawi, and Tan­za­nia) to es­ti­mate the av­er­age life ex­pec­tancy in a typ­i­cal AMF-aided coun­try.

Zam­bia has 332,660 nets dis­tributed, Malawi has 355,400 nets dis­tributed, and Tan­za­nia has 131,293 nets dis­tributed, for a to­tal of 819,353. Zam­bia has ~41 per­cent of nets dis­tributed among the top three, while Malawi has ~43 per­cent and Tan­za­nia has ~16 per­cent. Zam­bia’s life ex­pec­tancy for the av­er­age 28-year-old benefi­ciary is 51.56 years, Malawi’s is 51.08 years, and Tan­za­nia’s is 45.75 years. The av­er­age life ex­pec­tancy for an AMF benefi­ciary in the top three aided coun­tries mul­ti­plies and adds up to ~50.42 years. (Source on life ex­pec­tancy. Source on net dis­tri­bu­tion.)

This means that the time saved per life saved is ~22 years. Ac­cord­ing to GiveWell, AMF needs just un­der two thou­sand dol­lars to save a life. 22 di­vided by two thou­sand is ~0.011 years saved per dol­lar, or ~4.0 days saved per dol­lar. Sup­pose that you gave up some recre­ation time and in­stead worked some part-time job such as filling out on­line sur­veys for five dol­lars an hour. If each dol­lar was donated to AMF, that would save ~20 days per hour, or ~480 hours per hour. If the high­est-pay­ing job you could work in your recre­ation time pays five dol­lars an hour, then to jus­tify your spend­ing time on recre­ation rather than on work­ing and donat­ing the money to AMF within an al­tru­is­tic moral­ity, your recre­ation time would need to be ~480 times as valuable as an equiv­a­lent amount of time in a third world per­son’s life. Your recre­ation time would need to be even more valuable if a higher-pay­ing job was available. Just mul­ti­ply the available hourly salary by the amount of life AMF can save per dol­lar to find how much life you can save per hour.

If any­one has more ac­cu­rate figures, please post them.