Regulated Lives

Regulated Lives: Life Insurance and British Society, 1800-1914

TIMOTHY ALBORN
Copyright Date: 2009
Pages: 464
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.3138/9781442697348
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  • Book Info
    Regulated Lives
    Book Description:

    Regulated Livesexplores the British life insurance industry?s changing assessments of the values and risks of human life between 1800 and 1914.

    eISBN: 978-1-4426-9734-8
    Subjects: Economics, Business

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. List of Tables and Figures
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-2)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. 3-18)

    This book explores the transformation of different conceptions of human life in the British life insurance industry between 1800 and 1914, as well as in the more general context of Victorian culture. Through this history, I demonstrate how ideas of life, as they passed into an era of statistical thinking, medicalization, and capitalist bureaucracy, altered to accommodate modernity, while also showing many signs of defying its totalizing promise. The result suggests that the complexity of modern commercial and social institutions diminished the capacity of any one of those institutions to govern the people under their influence. Although insurance companies may...

  6. 1 Insuring Britain
    (pp. 19-52)

    From a narrow basis in London, British life insurance after 1800 expanded in several different aspects. Geographical expansion occurred first in provincial England, then in Scotland, and finally in Ireland, Europe, and overseas. Socially, life insurance offices first added new levels of specialization within an already existing aristocratic market, then they spread out from there. Some forged strong ties to the legal profession, which they used to identify prospective aristocratic customers. Other ʹclass officesʹ built on existing bonds of occupational solidarity or catered to specific religious denominations. With less success, a set of companies after 1830 started reaching beyond these...

  7. 2 Regulated Insurance Offices
    (pp. 53-75)

    In England life insurance grew in fits and starts over the course of the nineteenth century, and efforts to regulate it were similarly sporadic. A rush of heavily capitalized companies formed in the mid-1820s, followed by a stream of more than four hundred in the next four decades. Efforts to regulate growth were mostly ineffectual until 1870, when a wave of mergers was in the process of initiating a tsunami of insolvency. New publicity requirements appeared in 1844, but only for new companies, and neither the press nor a nascent actuarial profession could impose much order on the wayward mid-century...

  8. 3 Doing Business
    (pp. 76-101)

    Describing ʹthe characteristic movementʹ of a Dickens novel, the literary critic Raymond Williams referred to people who ʹspeak at or past each other, each intent above all on defining through his words his own identity and reality,ʹ in the course of developing the ʹprofound and decisive connectionsʹ that ʹare the real and inevitable relationships … of any human society.ʹ Although the society Williams had in mind was the Victorian city (and a fictional one at that), his depiction of the ʹrush and noise and miscellaneity of this new and complex social orderʹ in many ways captures the profusion of human...

  9. 4 Death and the Actuary
    (pp. 102-135)

    Over the course of the nineteenth century, statistics in Great Britain went from being a superficial fashion – everywhere seen to be ʹrequired to give to theory [a] modern colouring,ʹ according to theContemporary Review– to being an unseen foundation of modernity.² Life insurance companies were full participants in this transition. Early prospectuses trumpeted the impressive capacity of statistical thinking to create a profitable and secure industry out of nothing more than a few local death registries and painstakingly tried to teach prospective customers the basics of this science. Meanwhile, the Institute of Actuaries opened shop in 1848 as...

  10. 5 Death and the Salesman
    (pp. 136-165)

    Selling life insurance hinges on convincing customers that death – their own or someone elseʹs – makes a difference to them financially. Because of the enormous variety of financial implications that surrounded death in Victorian Britain, life insurance offices needed first to identify all the different customers who might be receptive to their sales pitch, then modulate their marketing to suit each type. Insured lives could be divided into two broad classes, each capable of further subdivision: breadwinners, whose premature death would interrupt the flow of income to their dependents, and debtors, whose premature death would impede the repayment of...

  11. 6 Consuming Interest
    (pp. 166-196)

    Even in the gloomiest corners of Victorian culture, life insurance was never exclusively about brooding over the untimely demise of breadwinners. From its earliest appearance, life insurance was also always about the accumulation of capital. This was a primary underpinning of the eighteenth-century association of life insurance with gambling, and it resurfaced after 1780 in the new guise of the bonus. Starting with the Equitable and subsequent mutual offices, and quickly copied by ʹmixedʹ offices that split their surpluses between policyholders and shareholders, the life insurance bonus produced the potential of doubling or even tripling the face value of a...

  12. 7 Little Piles of Savings
    (pp. 197-219)

    British life insurance spent most of the nineteenth century perched on a moral high ground, resting on the twin foundations of altruism and an advocacy of thrift that was uniquely disciplinary in its requirement of regular payments until the policyholderʹs death. These two aspects of the business were what, according to the mid-century company promoter Arthur Scratchley, elevated life insurance from being ʹa mere matter of investmentʹ to taking on a sense of ʹmoral urgencyʹ – which, he concluded, afforded ʹearnest reasons why the system should be more extensively adopted.ʹ² Had they been strictly economic institutions, moral urgency might not...

  13. 8 Victorian Gatekeeping
    (pp. 220-249)

    When insurance is bought and sold in the private sector, it typically attracts a disproportionate number of high-risk customers. This, in turn, creates an incentive for insurance companies to maximize profits by refusing to admit the highest risks – something that does not arise in social insurance (or, for that matter, many group insurance schemes), in which members cannot choose whether or not to belong to the risk pool. The technical term for this problem isadverse selection. Since it arises at the point of sale, adverse selection is a different (though related) problem from moral hazard, whereby ʹinsurance actually...

  14. 9 Detecting Deviance
    (pp. 250-270)

    Working when annual medical checkups were far from the norm, Victorian doctors seldom had the chance to detect disease lurking in an apparently healthy patient. They consequently embraced the insurance examination as a rare opportunity to display their diagnostic skill. But to do this, they needed to change the way they interacted with their examinees, who were more interested in buying insurance at the lowest rate than in discovering what was wrong with them. This meant guarding against untruthful responses, which seldom came up when patients voluntarily visited a doctor with medical complaints; it also meant making candidates feel at...

  15. 10 Dealing with Deviance
    (pp. 271-295)

    The increasing prominence of the medical examination after 1850 accompanied a related shift towards ʹrating upʹ risky lives by charging them as if they were several years older than their actual age. Originally spurred by the formation of two ʹunder-averageʹ offices in the mid-1820s, this practice developed without the aid of any reliable statistics. Partly this was because actuaries doubted that they could extend the precision that seemed to hold for age-specific mortality to deviations from health, and partly it was because doctors were ambivalent about slotting individual customers into pre-set categories based on clinical or statistical research. Although some...

  16. Conclusion
    (pp. 296-312)

    In theory, the geographer David Harvey has argued, modernization (and its cultural partner, modernism) was ʹabout the pursuit of better futures,ʹ whereas postmodernism ʹstrips away that possibility by concentrating upon the schizophrenic circumstances induced by fragmentation.ʹ In practice, and upon even cursory scrutiny, modernityʹs bright light has always refracted into numerous rays, which cross each otherʹs paths but fail to converge on a single point. This fragmentary nature of modernity is not a problem for the postmodernist, whose gaze (to paraphrase Frederic Jameson) rests on a series of pure and unrelated pasts. Hence, we find, for instance, Foucauldian genealogies of...

  17. Appendix 1 Life Insurance Offices Doing Business in Great Britain, 1800–1914
    (pp. 313-321)
  18. Appendix 2 Occupations of Insurance Agents
    (pp. 322-328)
  19. Appendix 3 Life Insurance Officesʹ Investments, 1871–1910
    (pp. 329-334)
  20. Notes
    (pp. 335-376)
  21. References
    (pp. 377-422)
  22. Index
    (pp. 423-439)