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Human Values and the Market: The Case of Life Insurance and Death in 19th-Century America

Viviana A. Zelizer
American Journal of Sociology
Vol. 84, No. 3 (Nov., 1978), pp. 591-610
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/2778256
Page Count: 20
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Since scans are not currently available to screen readers, please contact JSTOR User Support for access. We'll provide a PDF copy for your screen reader.
Human Values and the Market: The Case of Life Insurance and Death in 19th-Century America
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Abstract

Qualitative analysis of historical data concerning the diffusion of life insurance in the United States during the 19th century helps to explore the problem of establishing monetary equivalents for those aspects of the social order, such as death, that are culturally defined as above financial relationships. The financial evaluation of a man's life introduced by the life insurance industry was initially rejected by many as a profanation which transformed the sacred event of death into a vulgar commodity. By the latter part of the 19th century, the economic definition of the value of death became finally more acceptable, legitimating the life insurance enterprise. However, the monetary evaluation of death did not desacralize it; life insurance emerged as a new form of ritual with which to face death.

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