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Italian Children at Work, 1881-1961

  • Gianni Toniolo

    (Duke University and CEPR)

  • Giovanni Vecchi


    (University of Rome "Tor Vergata")

This paper quantifies the extent and the main characteristics of child work in Italy during the years 1881-1961. From population censuses, we created a new database of the economically active population aged 10-14 by gender, region, and economic sector. We find that child work incidence declined sharply over time, from 64.3 percent in 1881 to 3.6 percent in 1961. This pattern holds true both nationally and within regions. The new body of evidence we provide casts serious doubts on international comparisons which portray post-war Italy as a country with peculiarly high employment rates for children. Our findings also challenge the view that the initial phases of industrialization had a negative impact on the living standards of Italian children. We show that, in the case of Italy, industrialization coincided with a decline in the employment of children. Our analysis of the determinants of child work suggests that (i) changes in the allocation of total active population among productive sectors explain only a small amount of changes in the employment of children; (ii) changes in labor and compulsory-schooling legislation indicates that the impact of institutions on child labor was modest until the late 1930s. Overall, the increasing GDP per head was probably the main, but not the only, driving force behind declining child work incidence.

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Article provided by GDE (Giornale degli Economisti e Annali di Economia), Bocconi University in its journal Giornale degli Economisti.

Volume (Year): 66 (2007)
Issue (Month): 3 (November)
Pages: 401-427

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Handle: RePEc:gde:journl:gde_v66_n3_p401-427
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  1. Moehling, Carolyn M., 1999. "State Child Labor Laws and the Decline of Child Labor," Explorations in Economic History, Elsevier, vol. 36(1), pages 72-106, January.
  2. Ranjan, P., 1999. ""Credit Constraints and the Phenomenon of Child Labor"," Papers 98-99-12, California Irvine - School of Social Sciences.
  3. Dirk Krueger & Jessica Tjornhom Donohue, 2007. "On The Distributional Consequences Of Child Labor Legislation," Working Papers id:975, eSocialSciences.
  4. Duryea, Suzanne & Lam, David & Levison, Deborah, 2007. "Effects of economic shocks on children's employment and schooling in Brazil," Journal of Development Economics, Elsevier, vol. 84(1), pages 188-214, September.
  5. Vecchi, Giovanni & Coppola, Michela, 2006. "Nutrition and growth in Italy, 1861-1911: What macroeconomic data hide," Explorations in Economic History, Elsevier, vol. 43(3), pages 438-464, July.
  6. Eric V. Edmonds & Nina Pavcnik, 2005. "Child Labor in the Global Economy," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 19(1), pages 199-220, Winter.
  7. Kaushik Basu, 1999. "Child Labor: Cause, Consequence, and Cure, with Remarks on International Labor Standards," Journal of Economic Literature, American Economic Association, vol. 37(3), pages 1083-1119, September.
  8. Jean-Marie Baland & James A. Robinson, 2000. "Is Child Labor Inefficient?," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 108(4), pages 663-679, August.
  9. Edwin Leuven & Barbara Sianesi, 2003. "PSMATCH2: Stata module to perform full Mahalanobis and propensity score matching, common support graphing, and covariate imbalance testing," Statistical Software Components S432001, Boston College Department of Economics, revised 19 Jan 2015.
  10. Guarcelllo, Lorenzo & Mealli, Fabrizia & Rosati, Furio Camillo, 2003. "Household vulnerability and child labor : the effect of shocks, credit rationing and insurance," Social Protection Discussion Papers 29136, The World Bank.
  11. Matthias Doepke & Fabrizio Zilibotti, 2005. "The Macroeconomics of Child Labor Regulation," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 95(5), pages 1492-1524, December.
  12. Muller, Adrian, 2006. "Clarifying Poverty Decomposition," Working Papers in Economics 217, University of Gothenburg, Department of Economics, revised 17 Nov 2008.
  13. Skoufias, Emmanual & Parker, Susan W., 2002. "Labor market shocks and their impacts on work and schooling," FCND discussion papers 129, International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI).
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