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An overview of child labour in the 19th century

Tuttle, Carolyn Published by EH. Cambridge University Press, 2010.

  • The first effective law was passed in 1833;
  • Finally, despite the existing laws limiting the number of hours of work for those still attending school, some children continue to labor an excessive number of hours or hold prohibited jobs;
  • Although the official figure of 1.

Jane Humphries of All Souls College at Oxford University masterfully provides a unique look into childhood and child labor during the British Industrial Revolution that has, up until this point, been largely neglected in the literature. Promoting the view that Britain experienced a? Humphries sets out to provide some concrete answers to three areas of debate within the literature — the timing, causes and consequences of child labor.

Her contribution to the first area of controversy, the trends in children? Whether or not child labor did rise during the Industrial Revolution, as she claims, cannot be gleaned from a collection of individuals at various points in time.

The level of child employment over time is more accurately discerned from employers? She does, however, make a significant contribution to the other two areas of continuing debate. In fact, her findings are seminal and will become a reference for scholars in decades to come.

Identifying the causes of child labor, which has significant implications for developing countries today, has been the subject of considerable research. Scholars have adequately developed the demand-side argument but have only been able to model the supply-side, lacking evidence on family behavior. Her insights into the decision-making process of families fill this void and seriously challenge the demand-induced argument. With death at their doorstep, parents often had no choice but to an overview of child labour in the 19th century their children to work.

And finally, the vivid memories of childhood contained in the autobiographies reveal the physical and psychological consequences of child labor. The bravery, stoicism and tenacity displayed by the children as they left home to work is both inspiring and disheartening. This book represents original research that integrates the approaches of historians, economists and sociologists to explain children?

Humphries applies this interdisciplinary approach to over 600 autobiographies written by working men of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Humphries is meticulous in finding and revealing a unique perspective on child labor,? This type of evidence, however, is considered by some scholars an unconventional and controversial source of information. While it is arguably one of the greatest strengths of this research, others will see it as its greatest weakness. Acutely aware of the problems of using autobiographies for data, she convincingly defends their accuracy, relevance and applicability in representing the lives of poor and working-class children during the British Industrial Revolution Chapter 2.

As she argues, it is a? Although she admits it is not a random sample, it is also not an unbiased sample because it only represents the lives of literate men. The absence of girls? With the information she gleans from pouring over the autobiographies, she supports certain?

First, working-class parents sent their children off to work because they were poor and needed the wages of their children to survive Chapters 3 and 7.

Child Labor

The relationship between children and their parents was altruistic at best and benign at worst Chapter 5. The majority of parents were not abusive or alcoholic but simply poor. Although the reasons for this poverty varied from family to family, the reality of not having enough food on the table did not. Secondly, the wages children earned were not trivial and made a significant contribution to the family purse Chapters 7 and 8.

Third, the occupational distribution of children did change during the Industrial Revolution Chapter 8. Although most children were still employed in agriculture, the number of children working in factories was significant and increased during the first part of the nineteenth century Chapter 8.

And finally, there was no discernible growth in formal schooling of the working class during this period of industrialization Chapter 10. Although many children delighted in opportunities to learn to read, the fact that? School enrollment and attendance was low for working-class children.

The few who did go to school skipped during harvest season and left as soon as they were old enough to find a job. Overall, reality fits the model, the supply of child labor increased because children played an extremely crucial role in family survival during the Industrial Revolution. Equally as important, several of Humphries? In their place she creates an entirely different version and possibly reveals new? Three in particular deserve mention, two offer insights into the causes of child labor supply and the other, the consequences.

The unconventional model of the household that Humphries proposes in this book is both provocative and compelling. Her research calls into question a longstanding belief of most scholars about the family structure before and during the Industrial Revolution. She found that families were largely dependent on father? In her sample fewer than half of married women with husbands present were economically active p.

This finding challenges much of the existing literature that there was an increase in the labor force participation of women during industrialization.

  • Gradually children were protected by the law more and more;
  • Girls from upper class families were taught by a governess;
  • Despite these activities, success depended heavily on the political climate in the nation as well as developments that reduced the need or desirability of child labor;
  • Readers interested in family dynamics, childhood, child labor and education will find the words Humphries chooses captivating and the story the working-class men tell fascinating;
  • However school was not free, except for the poorest children until 1891 when fees were abolished;
  • They also had dolls houses, model shops and skipping ropes.

Another surprising conclusion of her research is the high proportion of families that were fatherless or motherless. Although the traditional family was the most prevalent among the autobiographers, single-headed households were not uncommon. She found that children exposed to this? The struggles of family survival did not, as the conventional view claims, lead to physical abuse of the most vulnerable members of the family.

Humphries finds that working-class childhood? Recollected work experiences, moreover, reveal that the physical and emotional damage from working was considerably less than implied by the Factory Commission Reports in 1831-32. Children experienced the most violence, not in the home or even in the factory, but in private dame schools.

Dame schools were unpleasant places of learning. Teachers were incompetent and often physically abusive. Children vividly recalled the thrashings by the holly-stick, ebony ruler and cane they received from the school master. The strength of the book and its greatest contribution to the literature on child labor is in the presentation and discussion of the qualitative evidence and not the an overview of child labour in the 19th century of the quantitative data.

Humphries is extremely effective at revealing the factual and emotional? Her attempt to assemble and analyze quantitative data from the large sample of autobiographies is laudable and the tables on the wages of boys Table 8. But the regressions seem to force cliometrics onto the autobiographical information and the results are often not statistically significant. Although knowing the effects of apprenticeships and schooling on occupational outcomes would have an immeasurable impact on the literature, understanding the factors that determined children?

Readers interested in family dynamics, childhood, child labor and education will find the words Humphries chooses captivating and the story the working-class men tell fascinating.

Although some may not appreciate the theoretical and econometric tools used to analyze the life histories, everyone will be captivated by the voices of the children. Copyright c 2011 by EH. This work may be copied for non-profit educational uses if proper credit is given to the author and the list. For other permission, please contact the EH. Net Administrator administrator eh.

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