social change of values

How the Change in the Value of Children Can Raise the Value of Humanity

“Kids are economically useless, but emotionally priceless”.

–Viviana Zelizer

Author, economic sociologist, and professor of sociology at Princeton University, Viviana A. Zelizer examines the cultural and moral foundations of developing economies. In her view, the economy consists of much more than financial profit and loss and cannot be fully understood without first understanding what society values and why. In her book, “Pricing the Priceless Child: The Changing Social Value of Children“, she focuses on the historical changes in the social change of values regarding children as expressed by a changing economy.

According to Zelizer, the economy is affected by that which society deems sacred. Things acquire value through the process of sacralization, or being endowed with religious or sentimental meaning. Zelizer demonstrates, through the use of examples of changes in both the legal and economic system, society’s view of children has changed throughout history.

Child Labor and the Social Change of Values

In the past, children were often viewed as an additional source of labor and income to help provide for the family. Their value was more practical than sentimental, and that view was reflected by the legal system. To illustrate this, she provides the example of a 19th century legal case of the death of a child. In that case, the court ruled that the parents could not be awarded damages because the child wasn’t old enough to provide for the family. In the 20th century, that changed with courts awarding money in such cases primarily to ease emotional suffering.

Within the economic system, the value of children began to be commercialized and exploited by the insurance industry. Insurance policies on children’s lives expressed their value as potential future family income. As the economic value of children decreased, partly in response to the creation of social programs for the elderly, their sentimental value increased. That change was also reflected in the insurance industry, with policies focusing more on covering burial expenses in the event of a tragic early death.

Effects of the Social Change of Values Regarding Children

After child labor laws were enacted, the concept of an allowance for children in exchange for performing tasks within the home became popular. Another manifestation of the social change of values regarding children is the construction of playgrounds. Changing values also resulted in a number of positive social constructs that benefitted children, such as the creation of children’s health programs and preschools. Positive social change of values were reflected within the legal system by the creation of the foster care system and adoption laws.

However, there were also some negative results as the social change of values regarding children shifted from economic to sentimental. One of those results was an increase in the demand for babies to adopt, which had the unintended effect of putting an economic price on children. Additionally, that price was often determined by the age, race, and gender of the child, with more value being placed on white, blue-eyed babies. Older children and children of color, less in demand by those who can afford to adopt, are therefore devalued.

The rise of the black market adoption industry is another example of an unintended negative side effect of the social change of values regarding children.

Towards a Continuing Social Change of Values

According to one review of the book, Zelizer believes that many of the negative effects of the social change of values could be solved by bridging the gap between the world of children and that of adults. Few people would want to go back in history to a time in which children labored under often inhumane and unsafe conditions, like those written about by William Blake and Charles Dickens.

However, there are many instances in which work and play coincide.
Zelizer writes to increase awareness of the interconnectedness of social values regarding intimate familial relationships and how they are reflected in the economy. While some of her work focuses on children, she writes about social attitudes towards the value of women as well. In an article in the Huffington Post, she points out that in the past, many housewives, like children, were also given an allowance. She raises the question of whether homemakers should receive a regular salary for the important services they provide. According to Zelizer, society must recognize that households represent a kind of collaborative economy, and reward women’s contributions in accordance with their true value.

The importance of her writing in raising social awareness with the goal of promoting positive social change in values is the reason that she was elected to the PEN American Center PEN American Centein 2006 and to the American Academy of Arts & Sciences in 2007. As a result of continuing work such as hers, we can all look forward to the day when every man, woman and child enjoys equal value.

Cosette's doll, oil painting by Léon-François Comerre. Photograph of reproduction by Siren-Com
Cosette’s doll, oil painting by Léon-François Comerre. Photograph of reproduction by Siren-Com
outsourcing baby care

The Help – All Parents Need Some

“Obviously, you would give your life for your children, or give them the last biscuit on the plate. But to me, the trick in life is to take that sense of generosity between kin, make it apply to the extended family and to your neighbor, your village and beyond.”
Tom Stoppard

Trending: Outsourcing Baby Care

While the term “outsourcing” may conjure up negative images of immigrants and low wages, outsourcing baby care is fast becoming the modern version of the village it takes to raise a child. In fact, there are a great many positive things to be said about employing the unique talents and abilities of multiple people in the interests of raising a child.

Nannies are among the child care professionals utilizes by families with working parents. Despite the fact that the increasing cost of child care can leave little profit from a second income, more women are choosing this option. Several popular television programs such as “Supernanny” have demonstrated the benefits of the intensive training they receive. Some say that they have also contributed to increasing the societal expectation that working mothers be superwomen as well. Working mothers have always been subjected to guilt for outsourcing baby care. They’ve even been subjected to public shaming when they admitted that they couldn’t do it all and sought help.

Many, if not all, new parents would probably prefer to remain at home with their babies, at least for several months. Mothers, both because they are able to breastfeed and because they usually earn less than men, have usually been the parent that opted to remain home to care for the baby. However, the economic consequences for doing so can be substantial and long-lasting. For example, one study concluded that women who left the workplace for a single year earned 20% less for the remainder of their careers. Those who took two to three years sacrificed an additional 10%. That 30% earning disparity remained even twenty years later.

The Resurgence of Wet-Nursing

Statistics like these have a great influence on mothers when deciding how soon to return to work. Whatever she chooses, she is almost sure to experience guilt, either for reducing the family income and becoming economically dependent, or for leaving her child. Studies that have shown the nutritional and emotional benefits of breastfeeding babies for six months to a year only contribute to that guilt.

Wet nursing is becoming a popular option for working mothers who want their children to receive the full benefit of the breast-feeding experience even if they cannot themselves provide it. In the U.S. only half of working mothers receive any paid maternity leave at all. Breast have been so sexualized in western culture that public breastfeeding was once unthinkable. However, it has recently begun gaining wider acceptance and women and babies are no longer relegated to dirty restrooms during babies’ mealtime. Many people are still uncomfortable with it, but more mothers are demanding the right not to be shamed or have to hide a natural process.

The act of breast feeding still retains an element of sacred mother-child bonding. Some believe that outsourcing baby care means outsourcing that bond as well. However, mothers report that rather than viewing them as emotional competition, they grew to consider the wet-nurse a member of the family. Some wet-nurses have continued to visit throughout the child’s lifetime, which contributes to their sense of the permanence of caring.

The loss of the extended supportive family due to increased mobility and economic necessity has resulted in more responsibility for parents. Evolving in tandem with technology, western societies are something of an experiment in which the responsibilities of raising children fall to the parents alone, rather than extended family or the community.

While it may be preferable for a child to be surrounded by a community of caring adults, our mobile society has made it more difficult to monitor our communities. Children once played alone or with other children outdoors, but constant supervision by a trusted adult has now become a necessary element of child safety.

New parents can be completely overwhelmed by the magnitude of the responsibility in caring for a new baby—especially with little or no sleep. Even if it is just long enough to get a good night’s sleep, outsourcing baby care can provide new parents with some much-needed temporary relief. Child care professionals may never be able to replace the extended family, but children can and do benefit from all positive nurturing relationships. Although some view outsourcing baby care as an escape from personal responsibility, it can actually be an opportunity to expand our chosen families.

parental rights
The Lacemaker, Nicolaes Maes, Netherlands, ca. 1656, Credit Line The Friedsam Collection, Bequest of Michael Friedsam, 1931
instinctive motherhood

Instinctive Motherhood? How our Concepts of Motherhood Have Changed Radically Since The 18th Century

One often wonders whether instinctive motherhood exists? But children were subjected to many cruel aspects of society throughout 18th century. Infanticide and acts committed by child molesters represent the most horrifying occurrences that children have been subjected to throughout time. Although infanticide and child molestation were deemed serious felonies, there were many instances of leniency in the law that allowed these acts to take place without proper consequences.

A brief look at the history and punishment of infanticide

Infanticide was one of the most common capital crimes committed by women in 18th century England. It was often called the “murder of a bastard” as many of these children were born from unwed mothers. These deaths did not occur due to stillbirths or natural causes, but rather the deliberate murder of a child at the hands of a mother through poisoning, cutting of the throat, battering, and drowning. Seeing as contraceptives were not available during this time period, it was quite common that young women become pregnant out of wedlock. The fathers often abandoned these women, and they were left with a bastard child that they did not have the means to care for. If there is instinctive motherhood, is was silenced by dominant values of society

Additionally, postpartum depression was not recognized yet, leaving women with no moral support in addition to a lack of financial support.

Although 79 women were hanged for the offense of infanticide in the 18th century, in the early 1900s the Infanticide Act of 1922 was passed, deeming infanticide no longer a capital offense, citing the postnatal depression of these mothers as a partial defense for committing murder.

The Infanticide Act of 1938 eradicated the death penalty for mothers who committed infanticide within the first year of their baby’s life, claiming that

“at the time of the act or omission the balance of her mind was disturbed by reason of her not having fully recovered from the effect of giving birth to the child or by reason of the effect of lactation consequent upon the birth of the child”

The lack of age of consent laws regarding child molesters

Children often suffered at the hands of child molesters in the 1700s. In the mid 18th century, it was reported that 25% of capital rape cases in England were involving children less than 10 years of age. These offenses were often not given the proper punishment that they warranted, seeing as laws preventing child molesters from committing acts against children were not prominent at the time.

It was not until the end of the 18th century that lawmakers began to pass laws addressing age and consent when dealing with sexual acts. The age of consent for girls was set at 10 years old, whereas for boys it was 14. The age for girls was defined in order to protect girls from child molesters, whereas for boys this was not seen as a concern and rather the age of consent was established in order to protect boys from being prosecuted for committing sexual acts.

Although the age of consent changed throughout time, even in the year 1875 the age of consent in England for girls was as young as 13 years old. However, it is important to note that the ‘age of consent’ in this time period often referred to the age that one could legally consent to marriage, as sexual acts outside of a marriage were seen as highly inappropriate. The idea that sexual acts were only acceptable in a marriage is highly correlated with the occurrence of marriages at a much younger age, offering an explanation as to why the age of consent was set so low.

Blurred notions of instinctive motherhood

Although these girls ages 10 and up qualified at the age of consent for marriage, they were still quite young and sexual acts committed against them would qualify as child molestation with no question in today’s society. Just like notions of instinctive motherhood, our viewpoints of what is “the proper age” has changed dramatically.

Due to the emergence of laws that are far more strict, child molesting and infanticide are prosecuted far more harshly today than they were in the 1700s. Child sexual abuse is outlawed nearly everywhere in the world, generally with severe criminal penalties. An adult’s sexual intercourse with a child below the legal age of consent is defined as statutory rape, based on the principle that a child is not capable of consent and that any apparent consent by a child is not considered to be legal consent. Still, the surveys in the book “Father-Daughter Incest” shows that one fifth to one third of all women reported some sort of childhood sexual experience with a male adult.

instinctive motherhood
Dorothea Lange, Resettled farm child from Taos Junction to Bosque Farms project, New Mexico, Farm Security Administration, 1935
child abuse cases

Molestation, battering and child abuse cases through time

While it is certain that children have been the victims of sexual and physical abuse for millennia, it is only recently in the modern era that laws and norms specifically prohibiting such behavior have been enacted.

Throughout most of history, children were considered to be the property of their parents and child abuse cases did not exist. Children were awarded very few rights and could be legally abused at will by their parents. In Ancient Rome, as well as many other ancient cultures, a father could legally kill their children.

Today, modern societies have outlawed such practices. Experts divide child abuse cases into four categories: physical, sexual, psychological and neglect.

An Evolution of Compassion in Society

In the United States, the modernization of laws to protect children from abuse began in 1874. After a young girl was found badly abused by her parents in a New York slum in one of the worst child abuse cases ever reported, and a neighbor found that there was no one to turn to for help, a group of activists came together to found an organization to help abused children.

Modeled after the Prevention of the Cruelty to Animals that he founded six years earlier, Henry Bergh founded the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children after meeting with Etta Wheeler, a religious missionary. Wheeler had discovered the abused girl in the New York slum and supported her as she fought to gain help from the authorities, culminating in a court trial that became a media sensation.

In the next 20 years alone, the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children investigated more than 100,000 suspected child abuse cases. In a grim tale of horror, they discovered thousands of cases where children had been beaten, starved, frozen, drowned, knifed, bitten, burned and smashed into floors and walls. They also found cruel stories of children being forcefed vinegar, alcohol, urine and other noxious substances.

Nonetheless, the child abuse cases were far more numerous than the investigators initially discovered. It was only in 1945, after the development of X-ray technology, that doctors began noticing unusual bone injuries in children. In 1962, a landmark paper by Henry Kempe in the Journal of the American Medical Association outlined the definition of ‘battered children syndrome’, defined as the chronic physical abuse of a child.

According to the Tennyson Center for Children, child abuse cases are reported in America every 10 seconds today. Five children die every day in the United States as a result of child abuse. Furthermore, it is reported that about 30% of abused and neglected children will later abuse their own children.

Child Abuse Cases and the Law

Most modern societies currently have laws that strictly prohibit the sexual or physical abuse of a child. Therapists, social workers and family support nurses currently work with thousands of child abuse cases per year. A wide range of law enforcement agents are currently working to identify and apprehend people who abuse children and prevent future child abuse cases.

The United Nations Conventions on the Rights of the Child is an international treaty that protects children’s rights signed in 1989. Articles 34 and 35 of the convention specifically protect children from all forms of sexual exploitation and abuse. As of December 2014, 195 countries have ratified the Convention. Every modern, western country has ratified the Convention except for the United States.

The United States has aggressive laws in place to protect children from all forms of abuse. Most forms of abuse of children are violations of federal law, which means they are uniformly mandated throughout all 50 states and American territories. The United States is unique, however, in that it allows religious exemptions to some of the laws on child neglect.

In India, a 2012 law named the Protection of Children Against Sexual Offences took effect, protecting children from primarily sexual forms of abuse.

In South Africa, a 2007 amendment to the country’s criminal law banned a number of sexual offenses against children, including grooming children for sexual contact, displaying pornography to children and forcing children to witness sexual acts.

In Britain, a 2003 update to the Sexual Offences Act criminalized a number of forms of abuse against children.

In the European Union, the Convention of the Protection of Children against Sexual Exploitation and Abuse is in effect for all of its 28 member nations.

In Africa, a Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child is the first step towards protecting children in the continent not just from physical and sexual abuse, but also from being forced to serve in the military.

The Minimum Age Convention, adopted by the United Nations in 1973, seeks to limit the abuse of children by the complete abolition of juvenile labor. Various exemptions still exist that permit young children to work on farms or as performers in the entertainment industry.

The existence of infanticide throughout time, is very much linked to the topic of child abuse. And again while society was and is opposed to infanticide and demanded that these monstrous mothers be prosecuted, there was not much done to create parental bonds.

Some additional sources

  • UN Child Rights
  •, one of the world’s largest non-subscription legal information site, has a list of child abuse laws here
  • Childsafe International Laws
  • Council of Europe Convention on the Protection of Children against Sexual Exploitation and Sexual Abuse with summary and full texts, here
  • child abuse cases