Life insurance, the medical examination and cultural values

Rajai Jureidini, Kevin White

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

18 Citations (Scopus)


This paper is concerned with the commodification of the risk of death which occurred with the development of life insurance and with the role of the medical examination in making life insurance a viable commodity. Using British and Australian data, it shows how the medical profession and the medical examination were crucial to nineteenth century life insurance institutions in the calculation of the value of human lives. Life insurance institutions combined a developing ideology of health with the knowledge of health statistics and applied both for a developing institutional finance market. The calculation and preservation of the value of individual human lives by the pooling of risks on selected lives is the service which life insurance sells and which underpins finance capital. The knowledge developed from health and morbidity statistics was a process both of social surveillance and of market-oriented monitoring for economic risk-reduction. At the level of the individual the necessity for life insurance was the dissolution of traditional community and familial support as industrial capitalism developed.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)190-214
Number of pages25
JournalJournal of Historical Sociology
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2000
Externally publishedYes


ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • History
  • Sociology and Political Science

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