View Full Version : Why is a young life considered more valuable than an adults?

11-18-2002, 04:28 AM
If a child is murdered (or killed in an accident), their death is mourned with greater intensity (in the media) than the death of adults in the same grim situation.

What is the underlying reason for this greater outpouring of grief for an infant rather than an adult? Is it the idea the child has his/her whole life ahead of him/her? Is it that they are considered more innocent, or more defenceless?

If you consider the situation outside of emotional attachment, both deaths should be equally horrific. But for a point of view of the impact a death has on the people nearest to it I would suppose that:

A two year old child dies –death affects dramatically the lives of the parents, close family and friends, maybe a few neighbours.

A twenty five year old adult dies – death affects dramatically the lives of the parents, close family and friends, a few neighbours, old school friends, close friends, work colleagues, their own kids, if any.

I would think the death of the adult affects the lives of many more people and could thus be considered the 'greater' crime.

What is the main argument against this position? Why is the childs life generally considered more valuable, and thus a greater loss?

11-18-2002, 04:39 AM
I think it's the idea that they never had a chance to live their life, and the whole thing about being innocent/defenseless.

I personally think - as you do - it is a much bigger loss in many terms when a breadwinning parent of five dies, rather than one of their five children dies.

I don't think a child's life is universally considered more valuable. From what I understand, many doctors will put saving a mother's life above that of her unborn child if saving both isn't viable. Then again there are pregnant woman who choose to delay life-saving medical treatment (eg chemotherapy) to save their unborn child rather than themselves.

I think it is very difficult to judge and "value" one human life above another in absolute terms. Again, I personally think a doctor or teacher's life has more value than that of a criminal or wastrel. But from a religious point of view, in God's eyes we're all supposed to be equal.

Sir Doris
11-18-2002, 04:42 AM
In terms of compensation, I believe an adult is valued more than a child. But emotionally, a child death effects saddens many more people (outside of their family and friends) for the reasons you list :

They are more defenseless. We the adults should somehow protect them - I guess we see ourselves as surrogate parents, subconsiously or not, to vulnerable children. This links in with the innocence - they need to trust adults to survive. They don't survive when somehow implies their trust was misplaced or even betrayed.

They have their whole lives ahead of them. We certainly invest much more in our children now than when life expectancy was much lower. We expect our children to outlive us. It seems against nature if they don't.

I this our society no longer accepts death as normal (except for the elderly), however, I guess there's a feeling that adults can look after themselves, thus whilst sad, mostly their deaths don't make us feel guilty.

11-18-2002, 04:48 AM
I know that I am much more affected by news reports of children dying than I am of adults (not that the latter leaves me unaffected); apart from all the logical reasons (missed potential etc), some of it is just visceral, I believe; the unconscious fear that it could happen to my children, the feeling that the child will never get to see the life that I have lived (I suppose that could be defined as some sort of survival guilt or something...

Also there's the fact that adults are not generally ignorant of death; unpleasant as the idea is, we're all dimly aware that we might not be here tomorrow; children generally don't have this and it makes us see their death as even more unexpected.

11-18-2002, 07:42 AM
A child's death affects us more than an adults' death because people have an instinctive propensity towards protecting the lives of children. That's how a species stays afloat - keep the young ones coming and healthy. A million years of evolution has made us instinctively more sensitive to the lives of children.

Jonathan Chance
11-18-2002, 08:45 AM
Yes, indeed. I think out own sense of being in loco parentis to all children makes us more likely to be effected by the death of a child.

Why do you think you don't see Sally Struthers doing commercials for 'Save the Adults'?

11-18-2002, 01:07 PM
I think RickJay comes closest to my longheld assumptions for this phenomenon: we are hardwired to more protective of juveniles than of adults.

11-19-2002, 06:51 AM
I too tend to agree with the "hardwired" camp.

11-19-2002, 06:59 AM
Thanks all.

I guess this was more of an IMHO, or even a GQ, rather than a GD. Nothing really to debate here.

I think I was always emotionally moved more by the death of a child than that of an adult, but never felt like it shoud logically be that way. A life is a life, after all.

I guess it is just a matter of human nature rather than some personal choice or ethic.

11-19-2002, 07:04 AM
In my humble opinion, it may seem natural to value the life of a young person over say, an old person in a nursing home who's mind is gone. Even I may have thoughts like that. But the truth is, I think every life should be respected and valued and treated as a human being until natural death.

As far as dying goes, yes we may grieve over some more than others, but the value of all is the same.

11-19-2002, 08:29 AM
I.m not entirely convinced by the evolutionary argument. This seems to rest on the view that natural selection occurs at the species level, rather than the level of the gene. Purely from an evolutionary point of view, surely it is better for me if other people's children die young, since this means they cannot compete with mine.

11-19-2002, 08:35 AM
Except that, Jabba, THE EVOLUTION OF RECIPROCAL SHARING (http://weber.ucsd.edu/~jmoore/publications/Recip.html) is well a understood observation. But there are many better that I on this board to explain this position:

Altruistic behavior is here defined as behavior that benefits an unrelated individual(s) while being detrimental (cost > benefit) to the actor in the short term. Any additional, long term benefits to the actor (which might reverse the C-B inequality) are contingent on subsequent behavior by the recipient (or others) over which the actor has no control. "Cost" and "benefit" are "defined in terms of contribution to inclusive fitness" (Trivers 1971). A reciprocal altruist, in Trivers' model, accepts short-term cost in expectation of future reciprocation and, hence, long term benefit.

11-19-2002, 10:24 PM
Slight and minor hijack but along the same lines, I have noticed that there are some people who seem to think it more 'tragic' when a woman dies than when a man does.

A while back when discussing why women could never be in ground combat in US forces, an acquaintance (that is I know him, but I wouldn't ever call him a friend) said that if two people were identical in all ways save for one being male and one being female, the woman shouldn't fight.

His reasoning was this: "Remember the scene in Saving Private Ryan where they stormed the beach and all of those soldiers got killed? The water and the sand was red with blood and there were bodies everywhere? Now imagine they were all women. It'd be a million times worse."

When I asked him why, he had no answer other than "It just would."

So, it seems there's more than one death double standard.

But where do they come from and are they valid?

11-19-2002, 11:33 PM
I think it's solely a media created phenomenon.

11-20-2002, 12:45 AM
i don't think the value of a younger life over an older life is a double standard, per se.

pretend, for example, that a human life is a glass of water, and the water is gradually poored out, and when it is empty, you will have given all you have, and be dead. for the person dying of old age, that's an empty glass. for the adult, that's a glass with half the water it started with being shattered (say), and for the child, that's a nearly full glass being shattered. if the water is given inherent value (say, what the person will "give" to society), it seems only natural that the full glass shattered will be considered the greatest loss.

surely someone who has 70 years left to give to society is naturally more valuable than one who has 20. i say naturally in the truest sense of the word. to anyone who loses someone special, that loss is as great as any. but from the perspective of society, it's easy to see why children are considered a greater loss.

also, i agree that there is something to be said for the parental instincts in all of us.


11-20-2002, 03:01 AM
I think the woman thing is because they are more likely to be the primary caregiver to a child. Most adults are closer to their mothers than their fathers.

This is a cold way to look at it, but from an economic point of view, adults are more valuable. For most of us, a great deal of money has been spent to educate us. If you're under 35 or so, you've probably spent more years as a consumer than a producer of wealth.

11-20-2002, 03:24 AM
Another vote for instinct. I suspect we are genetically programmed to protect our young.