Child Labor: A Historical Perspective


  • Brian Gratton
  • Jon R. Moen

Document type: Encyclopedia Entry

Appears in: Work and Family Encyclopedia

Year: 2007


  • Children
  • Culture
  • Economy
  • Family
  • Jobs


  • Economics
  • History


Understanding child labor depends on both the definition of childhood and social attitudes toward the appropriateness of children working. Each concept varies greatly between human societies, within any one society, and changes across historical periods. In some societies, childhood ends as soon as sexual maturity is reached. Hence, no working person past that point would be a child laborer, even if they were quite young. In some societies, persons defined as children are expected to work. Without thoughtful consideration of these fundamental parameters, the relatively recent rise (in historical terms) of antagonism toward child labor cannot be understood. A variety of historical studies illuminate the historical record (Nardinelli, 1990; Humphries &Horrell, 1995; Tuttle, 1998, 1999; Cunningham, 2000; Hindman, 2002; Zelizer, 1994), and Basu (1999) provides a useful survey of economic research on contemporary child labor.

Link:Child_Labor-Historical_Perspective encyclopedia