How Much Risk Should You Take Now?

To decide, you need to understand ‘micromorts’

Will Leitch
GEN
Published in
5 min readMar 24, 2021

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Photo: Graiki/Getty Images

My favorite word I learned during the pandemic was “micromort.” I discovered the micromort from a piece in the New York Times by David C. Roberts, which explained that a micromort is measurement used by scientists (and insurance companies) to calculate risk. A micromort, Roberts writes, is equivalent to a one-in-a-million chance of dying. Every behavior, whether it’s jumping out of a plane (seven micromorts) or giving birth (210 micromorts), has a value that can be attached to it. (Much of Roberts’ research can be found in the entertaining book, The Norm Chronicles.)

Life itself comes with inherent risk. Your odds of dying from something — and the micromort measures only odds of dying, not odds of becoming ill or seriously injured— increase anytime you do anything, other than stay in your house and watch television, on a regular basis. If you ride a motorcycle for six miles, you have increased your risk by one micromort. The same for driving 250 miles, or flying 1,000 miles. Certain activities that we accept as fairly normal aspects of a regular life carry much higher micromort counts than we might think. Riding a horse is about two micromorts. (It’s actually just as dangerous as doing ecstasy.) Going under a general anesthetic is worth five micromorts. You’re probably not going to die doing any of those things. But you’ve increased your chances.

The micromort, as you might suspect, had considerable utility in the early days of the pandemic. Every decision you made, you had to calculate your personal risk threshold. Contracting Covid-19 was estimated at 10,000 micromorts, roughly the same as climbing Everest. If you were above the age of 75 or you had a compromised immune system, your risk was 10 times that, 100,000 micromorts, which is “just slightly less than flying four Royal Air Force bombing missions over Germany during World War II.”

Thus, all moves you made in public or around other people thus came with their own micromort value. And this became increasingly complicated. How worth it was it to go to the store? To have drinks with friends on the porch? To have outdoor dinner at a restaurant? Every banal decision was fraught with risk and peril. But avoiding all those decisions didn’t help either. Sitting…

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Will Leitch
GEN
Writer for

Author of six books, including “How Lucky” and "The Time Has Come." NYMag/MLB.. Founder, Deadspin. https://williamfleitch.substack.com