Both liberals and conservatives consider bodily markets morally wrong, but they do so for different reasons, according to new research from Cornell and Virginia Tech.
Conservatives believe these markets – which include a range of products and services, such as prostitution, commercial surrogacy and the trade of kidneys, blood plasma, sperm and ovum – violate the sanctity of the human body, the researchers found. By comparison, they found, liberals object to the markets because they can be exploitative.
The study, “Why is it Wrong to Sell Your Body? Understanding Liberals’ vs. Conservatives’ Moral Objections to Bodily Markets,” co-authored by Stijn M.J. van Osselaer, the S.C. Johnson Professor of Marketing at the Samuel Curtis Johnson Graduate School of Management, and Shreyans Goenka, Ph.D. ’ 20, an assistant professor of marketing at Virginia Tech, was published Sept. 2 in the Journal of Marketing.
“Conservatives believe that the commercialization of these markets places a monetary value on the human body and reduces it to any other commodity,” van Osselaer said. “They believe that the inherent sanctity of the divinely created human body is diminished or corrupted when it is bought or sold.”
“Liberals believe that the commercialization of these markets can cause harm to vulnerable people and magnify the entrenched inequality in society,” Goenka said. “They think that bodily markets can become another means for rich buyers to exploit poor sellers, causing the latter systematic physical, psychological and economic harm.”
The researchers conducted five studies to examine liberals’ and conservatives’ moral attitudes towards bodily markets and how community leaders stress different moral concerns to their respective audiences. For example, they analyzed church sermons to examine how pastors talk about prostitution and found that relatively conservative pastors tend to emphasize how it violates the sanctity of the human body, while relatively liberal pastors tend to emphasize how prostitution can lead to the exploitation of sellers.
These findings can help policymakers understand constituent and fellow policymaker’s concerns about bodily markets, as well as how their actions might impact those concerns.
The findings also help clarify the different legal enforcements liberals and conservatives would support to regulate bodily markets, showing that liberals are more likely to support laws that punish the buyer over the seller. However, conservatives are more likely to support laws that punish both the buyer and seller.
“Our findings show that liberals are more likely to endorse a petition opposing prostitution when the petition highlights exploitation concerns,” the researchers wrote. “However, conservatives are more likely to endorse a petition opposing prostitution when the petition highlights violation of sanctity concerns.”
The study also provides insights about organizations working to legalize bodily markets across the world.
“Our results suggest that assuaging exploitation concerns increases support and donations from liberals,” the researchers said. “But, assuaging violation of sanctity concerns increases support and donations from conservatives.
“It’s important that we understand each other’s concerns to bring us closer together,” they concluded.
Stephen D’Angelo is a writer and content strategist with the Cornell SC Johnson College of Business.