Social values are the set of shared cultural norms and personal values that make up a society's conglomerate value system. The society's value system can be codified into law and affect public policy. Social values determine the set of morals and ethics adopted by the culture and often have their roots in religious beliefs. These values dictate how individual people are treated by the society, particularly minorities or those seen as nonconforming to the society's set of social values.
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Early American social values were often rooted in the religious beliefs of groups such as the Puritans and Quakers. These groups had strict moral beliefs that they instituted into the legal system. Laws were passed concerning heresy, blasphemy, fornication and the regulation of personal moral behaviour. The concept of progress was an important social value concerning mastery of the wilderness and westward expansion of the colonies.
Social movements of the 1800s were the embodiment of social values put into action for the betterment of society. The abolitionist movement resulted in the banning of slavery and Jim Crow laws. The "child saver" social movement worked to end child labour and enact laws protecting rights of children. The suffragette movement was started to gain equal rights for women. The "settlement house"movement of the 1880s, epitomised by Jane Addam's Hull House, sought to improve the plight of immigrants and slum dwellers.
In the early 1900s moral movements sought to convert social values into public policy. The Harrison Narcotics Act of 1914 and the National Prohibition law of 1920 were passed to prevent social vices and behaviours perceived as sinful. In the 1930s the Social Security Act and other laws were passed, providing a safety net for the economically less fortunate members of society. By the 1950s the Civil Rights movement was gaining momentum in eradicating racism and discrimination. The social values of equal rights were upheld by Brown vs. Board of Education in 1954 and the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
Twentieth century social values concerning environmentalism and man's relation to the ecology resulted in the founding of the Environmental Protection Agency and anti-pollution laws to ensure clean air and water. In modern society, the social value of people is determined by their monetary value. Athletes, business people and movie and music stars are more highly valued than teachers, religious and political leaders. Often the social values of society's subsets come into conflict over the morality of war, immigration, gay marriage and other current issues.
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