Child's Play and Child's Pay

Child Labor During the Industrial Revolution


During the 1800's, the greatest point of the Industrial Revolution, too much of the workforce population was children. People valued children because they were cheap, agile/small, manipulable, and desperate. They were used to work in the factories, often under terrible conditions.

Social Effects

Great Britain

The entire practice was looked down upon.

E.P. Thompson, a British native, described the factory and child labor system as "places of sexual license, foul language, cruelty, violent accidents, and alien manners." They were viewed as inhumane, but somehow despite all this negative social backlash, it lasted for quite some time.

The World

In America, the other main country in which the practice was prevalent, children made up of 18% of the industrial workforce in 1900. As this number is higher than 0%, it's far too high. As a result of the workforce situation, many children's, women's, and worker's rights unions and movements were started and sparked.

Economic Effects

Great Britain

Because of the usefulness of children in the workforce, naturally, profits went up. The production process was smooth because of the increased workforce, and product production sparked competition as well. Additionally, the children workers found use in other areas besides the factories, like coal mines and textile mills, the latter being Britain's main industrial export.

The World

The net production of.... well, products, was increased because of the larger work force. As a result of the large number of children in the workforce, though, the amounts of adults without jobs was high as well. Many adults were forced into artisanship and craftsmanship as a result. Simultaneously, capitalism ran rampant as the multitudes of dispensable workers were paid little for their work.

Political Effects

Great Britain

The Industrial Revolution and accompanying social movements led to capitalism/industrial related legislature being passed, including the:

  • Regulation of Child Labor Law/Factory Act(1833), which set rules on age limits and work times for British children,
  • Ten Hours Bill/Factories Act(1847), which restricted the working hours of factory workers(women and children) to ten hours a day,
  • Cotton Factories Regulation Act(1819), where the minimum age to work in a cotton factory was raised to 9, and the maximum hours spent working was capped at 12.

The World

There were many responses to the American Industrial Revolution and its child labor situation, which came a while after the one in Great Britain. Some notable acts are those in FDR's "New Deal," Eugene V. Debs' Compulsory Education Law, an act that forced children to attend school, and a whole slew of child labor laws.

Modern Day Counterpart

Today, children do not work at such young ages in harsh conditions. There are compulsory education laws that require children to attend a public or state-accredited private school for a certain period of time. Also, each state has their own laws on what is the legal age to work. The lowest age to work is 14 years. Not only that, but the work place has better fitted conditions for minors. For example, minors should only work for 18 hours a week during the school year. Therefore, unlike during the industrial revolution, children are given the opportunity to go to school and the legal age to work is not as low.
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