Economic Well-Being and Child Labor: The Inter action of Family and Industry

Claudia D. Goldin, Donald O. Parsons

NBER Working Paper No. 707
Issued in July 1981
NBER Program(s):Development of the American Economy

How did industrialization in the nineteenth century affect the well-being of children among American working class families? Two revealing surveys from 1890 and 1907 are used to examine the implications of child labor on schooling decisions and on possible offsetting intrafamily transfers, in the form of current "retained" earnings or future asset transfers. Both issues are analyzed within the context of a formal model of family labor supply, in which returns to schooling accrue after the youth has left the household and thus the interests of the parents and the child need not coincide. Parents working in the industries examined did not, it appears, compensate their children for the reduced future earnings implied by child labor, in either the current or in future time periods. But, in addition, the migration of families in which parental altruism was weak may have eliminated much of the apparent increase in family income due to higher child earnings. We end with a note reconciling our findings with the long term trend away from child labor.

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Document Object Identifier (DOI): 10.3386/w0707

Published: Goldin, Claudia and Donald O. Parsons. "Parental Altruism and Self-Interest:Child Labor Among late Nineteenth Century American Families." Economic Inquiry, vol. 27, pp. 637-659, October 1989.

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