An Economic Exploration of Sex, Marriage and Family
Chapter 14: Child labour, 'working daughters' and population theory
This chapter analyses several aspects of child labour, including its determinants and its effects on children's education, child welfare and fertility. There are two main reasons for this endeavour. First, child labour has commonly been observed throughout human history. Recall Cheung's (1972, p. 641) vivid description of the parent-child relationship in the traditional societies of China: 'Just as dogs were raised to hunt for their masters before they were pets, so in early traditional China children were raised as a source of income.' While Cheung's (1972) focus is on how parents tried to extract more money and resources through their children's marriages, the same logic clearly applies to child labour. There is substantial empirical research documenting a large amount of information about child labour in both historical and contemporary times. For example, in 1861, 36.9 per cent of boys and 20.5 per cent of girls in the 10-14 age group in England and Wales were labourers (Basu, 1999). Child labour is still prevalent in many developing countries. According to an International Labour Organization estimation, about 200 million children under the age of 15 were working in 1995 (ILO, 1996). Further, in the 1980s, about 20 per cent of African children were working, with child workers constituting as much as 17 per cent of the workforce in some African countries (Fyfe, 1989). Second, although child labour is rarely observed in rich countries today, its widespread existence in the past and in some poor countries provides economists with a 'natural experiment' to better understand parent-child and even sibling relationships within a family.
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