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

  • Claudia D. Goldin
  • Donald O. Parsons

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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Paper provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Working Papers with number 0707.

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Date of creation: Jul 1981
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Publication status: published as 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.
Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:0707
Note: DAE
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  1. Blinder, Alan S, 1976. "Intergenerational Transfers and Life Cycle Consumption," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 66(2), pages 87-93, May.
  2. Sandell, Steven H, 1977. "Women and the Economics of Family Migration," The Review of Economics and Statistics, MIT Press, vol. 59(4), pages 406-14, November.
  3. Leibowitz, Arleen, 1974. "Home Investments in Children," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 82(2), pages S111-S131, Part II, .
  4. Benham, Lee, 1974. "Benefits of Women's Education within Marriage," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 82(2), pages S57-S71, Part II, .
  5. Arleen Leibowitz, 1974. "Home Investments in Children," NBER Chapters, in: Economics of the Family: Marriage, Children, and Human Capital, pages 432-456 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  6. Mincer, Jacob, 1978. "Family Migration Decisions," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 86(5), pages 749-73, October.
  7. Manser, Marilyn & Brown, Murray, 1980. "Marriage and Household Decision-Making: A Bargaining Analysis," International Economic Review, Department of Economics, University of Pennsylvania and Osaka University Institute of Social and Economic Research Association, vol. 21(1), pages 31-44, February.
  8. Lee Benham, 1974. "Benefits of Women's Education within Marriage," NBER Chapters, in: Economics of the Family: Marriage, Children, and Human Capital, pages 375-394 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  9. Arleen Leibowitz, 1974. "Home Investments in Children," NBER Chapters, in: Marriage, Family, Human Capital, and Fertility, pages 111-135 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  10. Claudia D. Goldin, 1980. "The Historical Evolution of Female Earnings Functions and Occupations," NBER Working Papers 0529, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  11. Ishikawa, Tsuneo, 1975. "Family Structures and Family Values in the Theory of Income Distribution," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 83(5), pages 987-1008, October.
  12. Lee Benham, 1974. "Benefits of Women's Education within Marriage," NBER Chapters, in: Marriage, Family, Human Capital, and Fertility, pages 57-75 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  13. W. Lee Hansen, 1963. "Total and Private Rates of Return to Investment in Schooling," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 71, pages 128.
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