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The notion of the priceless child was brought into regular use with the publication of Viviana Zelizer’s Pricing the Priceless Child: The Changing Social Value of Children in 1985. In it, the American sociologist set out to chart what she described as a profound transformation in the sentimental and economic valuation of children taking place over the 1870–1930 period.

Focusing exclusively on the U.S. context, Zelizer examines social and legal discourses regarding several major social institutions and practices—child mourning, child labor, the Black market for babies, and child life insurance. Through these cases, she argues that children over this period came to be regarded as emotionally priceless in the process of becoming increasingly rendered as economically useless, as these two forms of valuation—market and sentiment—were made ...

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