Contrast of Children's Lives

“Compare and contrast children’s lives in Britain in the 19th Century with the 20th Century.”

    Children’s lives and experiences of childhood have undergone many changes over the last two centuries. In order to evaluate these changes this essay will draw on a number of issues. The first will be child labour, and the processes by which it eventually became outlawed. The second will be the issue of schooling; not only the length of time at school day to day, but the age to which children stayed on at school. This essay will then go on to consider children and the family economy, their place within the family, as well as the issue of a prolonged childhood as a time of parental dependence and limited responsibility. These issues will be explored by drawing comparisons of evidence from 19th and 20th Century sources, which exist in the form of literature, official enquiries, legislation and first-hand accounts. For the purpose of this essay the focus will be solely on children’s lives in Britain.

    Britain was the first country to embark upon the process of industrialisation in the late 18th and early 19th Centuries (Cunningham,2003,Pg 82). This was a period of immense social change which raised moral and ethical issues, especially in relation to children and work. Before industrialisation, children would have been engaged in work-related activities appropriate to their age and level of physical development, in small scale domestic or agricultural contexts. As work became increasingly mechanised, the context moved from the cottage to large-scale mills and factories, and provided more opportunity for mass employment, a significant proportion of which were children. A prevailing Puritan discourse encouraged this as a means of preventing potentially negative social consequences resulting from ‘idleness’ (Cunningham,2003,pg 84). Children worked in poor conditions, for long hours, with no framework of laws for their protection against exploitation and injury. The...