These days the talk is about adult-olescence, or the seeming extention of adolescence well into ones twenties. But the idea that children should have a childhood at all is actually pretty recent. Before industrialization, when families tended to work their own land, children got to work as soon as they were able. Being apprentices to their parents was the difference between life and death.
Industrialization brought a whole new kind of work: wage work that occurred outside the home. At that time, it made perfect sense that kids would work, as they’d be working on the farm all along. Only later did we decide that working outside the home was different than working at it and that, perhaps, children working outside of the home needed protection. The first federal law regulating child labor was passed in 1938.
The Spinning Factory:
Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College and the co-author of Gender: Ideas, Interactions, Institutions. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.