Child Labor In The 1800s
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Although the debate over whether children were exploited during the British Industrial Revolution continues today [see Nardinelli and Tuttle ], Parliament passed several child labor laws after hearing the evidence collected. The three laws which most impacted the employment of children in the textile industry were the Cotton Factories Regulation Act of which set the minimum working age at 9 and maximum working hours at 12 , the Regulation of Child Labor Law of which established paid inspectors to enforce the laws and the Ten Hours Bill of which limited working hours to 10 for children and women.
The significance of child labor during the Industrial Revolution was attached to both the changes in the nature of child labor and the extent to which children were employed in the factories. Cunningham argues that the idleness of children was more a problem during the Industrial Revolution than the exploitation resulting from employment. He examines the Report on the Poor Laws in and finds that in parish after parish there was very little employment for children.
In contrast, Cruickshank , Hammond and Hammond , Nardinelli , Redford , Rule , and Tuttle claim that a large number of children were employed in the textile factories. These two seemingly contradictory claims can be reconciled because the labor market for child labor was not a national market. Instead, child labor was a regional phenomenon where a high incidence of child labor existed in the manufacturing districts while a low incidence of children were employed in rural and farming districts.
Although there is still not a consensus on the degree to which industrial manufacturers depended on child labor, research by several economic historians have uncovered several facts. They calculated that while only 4. Cruickshank also confirms that the contribution of children to textile work forces was significant. She showed that the growth of the factory system meant that from one-sixth to one-fifth of the total work force in the textile towns in were children under There were 4, children in the mills of Manchester; 1, in Stockport; 1, in Bolton and 1, in Hyde , The employment of children in textile factories continued to be high until mid-nineteenth century.
According to the British Census , in the three most common occupations of boys were Agricultural Labourer, Domestic Servant and Cotton Manufacture with ,; 90, and 44, boys under 20 employed, respectively. Similarly for girls the three most common occupations include Cotton Manufacture. In , , girls were Domestic Servants; 62, were employed in Cotton Manufacture and 22, were Dress-makers. It is clear from these findings that children made up a large portion of the work force in textile mills during the nineteenth century. Using returns from the Factory Inspectors, S. Children and youth also comprised a relatively large proportion of the work forces in coal and metal mines in Britain.
By one-third of the underground work force of coal mines was under the age of 18 and one-fourth of the work force of metal mines were children and youth XV. After the Mining Act of was passed which prohibited girls and women from working in mines, fewer children worked in mines. In , Jenkin estimates that roughly 5, children were employed in the metal mines of Cornwall and by the returns from The First Report show as many as 5, children and youth worked in the mines. According to Jenkin the employment of children in copper and tin mines in Cornwall began to decline by , Given the role of child labor in the British Industrial Revolution, many economic historians have tried to explain why child labor became so prevalent. A competitive model of the labor market for children has been used to examine the factors that influenced the demand for children by employers and the supply of children from families.
The majority of scholars argue that it was the plentiful supply of children that increased employment in industrial work places turning child labor into a social problem. The most common explanation for the increase in supply is poverty — the family sent their children to work because they desperately needed the income. Parents had worked when they were young and required their children to do the same. Other less commonly argued sources of an increase in the supply of child labor were that parents either sent their children to work because they were greedy and wanted more income to spend on themselves or that children wanted out of the house because their parents were emotionally and physically abusive. Whatever the reason for the increase in supply, scholars agree that since mandatory schooling laws were not passed until , even well-intentioned parents had few alternatives.
Other compelling explanations argue that it was demand, not supply, that increased the use of child labor during the Industrial Revolution. One explanation came from the industrialists and factory owners — children were a cheap source of labor that allowed them to stay competitive. Managers and overseers saw other advantages to hiring children and pointed out that children were ideal factory workers because they were obedient, submissive, likely to respond to punishment and unlikely to form unions. In addition, since the machines had reduced many procedures to simple one-step tasks, unskilled workers could replace skilled workers.
Finally, a few scholars argue that the nimble fingers, small stature and suppleness of children were especially suited to the new machinery and work situations. They argue children had a comparative advantage with the machines that were small and built low to the ground as well as in the narrow underground tunnels of coal and metal mines. The Industrial Revolution, in this case, increased the demand for child labor by creating work situations where they could be very productive.
Whether it was an increase in demand or an increase in supply, the argument that child labor laws were not considered much of a deterrent to employers or families is fairly convincing. Since fines were not large and enforcement was not strict, the implicit tax placed on the employer or family was quite low in comparison to the wages or profits the children generated [Nardinelli ]. On the other hand, some scholars believe that the laws reduced the number of younger children working and reduced labor hours in general [Chapman and Plener ].
Despite the laws there were still many children and youth employed in textiles and mining by mid-century. Booth calculated there were still 58, boys and 82, girls under 15 employed in textiles and dyeing in In mining the number did not show a steady decline during this period, but by there were 30, boys under 15 still employed and girls under See below. There are many opinions regarding the reason s for the diminished role of child labor in these industries. Social historians believe it was the rise of the domestic ideology of the father as breadwinner and the mother as housewife, that was imbedded in the upper and middle classes and spread to the working-class.
Economic historians argue it was the rise in the standard of living that accompanied the Industrial Revolution that allowed parents to keep their children home. Although mandatory schooling laws did not play a role because they were so late, other scholars argue that families started showing an interest in education and began sending their children to school voluntarily. Finally, others claim that it was the advances in technology and the new heavier and more complicated machinery, which required the strength of skilled adult males, that lead to the decline in child labor in Great Britain.
Although child labor has become a fading memory for Britons, it still remains a social problem and political issue for developing countries today. Alfred Samuel Kydd. The History of the Factory Movement. London: Simpkin, Marshall, and Co. Booth, C. XLIX : Chapman, S. The Lancashire Cotton Industry. Manchester: Manchester University Publications, Clapham, Sir John. An Economic History of Modern Britain. I and II. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, Collier, Francis. Manchester: Manchester University Press, Cruickshank, Marjorie. Children and Industry. Cunningham, Hugh. Engels, Frederick. The Condition of the Working Class in England.
Translated by the Institute of Marxism-Leninism, Moscow. London: E. Hobsbaum, . Freudenberger, Herman, Francis J. Mather, and Clark Nardinelli. Hammond, J. The Town Labourer, A, pt. Supplementary Report. In the early s, abortion was mostly used to avoid the scandal of pregnancy out of wedlock, but by the middle of the century, more married women were seeking abortion to limit the size of their family. Because 19th-century women gave birth so many times during their lives, they had no choice but to continue their everyday work throughout their pregnancies. It was common for women to engage in strenuous physical tasks and heavy lifting while pregnant, and this was thought to help women prepare for labor. The high rates of infant and maternal mortality created a culture of fear and superstition surrounding pregnancy and childbirth.
Many people believed that a mother's state of mind or random occurrences during pregnancy would negatively impact the baby, making it disfigured or mentally ill. The vast majority of births in the 19th century happened at home and were attended by traditional midwives who obtained their training through practical experience. Even in , more than 90 percent of births still occurred at home. In the late 19th century, however, a movement started that shifted maternity care from midwives to doctors and started to define birth as a medical event. Doctors, motivated in part by the income potential of attending births, began offering the hospital as a cleaner, newer, more "scientific" place for wealthy, urban mothers to have their babies.
Doctors also offered drugs for pain relief, and by the early 20th century, it was standard practice to give laboring mothers a combination of morphine and scopolamine. These drugs relieved pain and erased the memory of the birth, but they also caused complications in childbirth for mother and baby, and they did not improve maternal or infant mortality rates. Amy Wilde has worked as a grant developer, copy editor, writing tutor and writer. Based in Portland, Ore. Wilde holds a Bachelor of Arts in English literature and classical civilization from the University of Toronto. Regardless of how old we are, we never stop learning.