anthropology · behavior · children · culture · education · family

Children’s past role and identity as worker

Children in Jerusalem.
The role of children has changed significantly over the past 100 years. Image via Wikipedia

This call for paper submissions from the The Society for the Study of Childhood in the Past got me thinking about how actively children used to participate in the daily household and economic life of families, from general maintenance like sweeping the kitchen to vital income by helping during harvest time.  Children used to have to help out on the farm, and later work in factories, in order to help their families make ends meet. While some of the work was dangerous and unhealthy, some of the work was beneficial to both the kid and the family. Kids felt like they contributed to their family, and learned skills from farming to general entrepreneurship. I wonder what kids are missing out on by not having as many daily chores to do, or summer jobs like mowing lawns and lemonade stands, and how children fit into our idea of work now.


In 2011, the themed session will be on children and work. The aim of the themed papers will be to bring together scholars from a wide range of academic disciplines who are studying any aspect of children and work in the past – children as economic contributors, children as slaves, elite children taking on adult roles, children as carers, children as consumers, the impact of working in childhood on children and society. The aim will be to advance cross-cultural knowledge and understanding of childhood and children in the past, and in particular to evaluate the varying nature and impact – social, economic, cultural, medical – of work performed by or for children in the past. Archaeology, history, literature and other sources will be explored.
In providing this opportunity for scholars of childhood to present their work to an international, interdisciplinary audience, the SSCIP International Conference aims to generate new perspectives on existing knowledge and to stimulate new avenues of research for the future.

I’d be interested to hear what jobs you had growing up, before the age of 18. Did your parents encourage you to work? Did you get an allowance or did you get paid by the job, or were you just expected to “earn your keep”? How is it different with your own kids, or nieces and nephews?

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