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Protection through Proof of Age. Birth Registration and Child Labor in Early 20th Century USA


  • Sonja Fagernäs

    () (Department of Economics, University of Sussex)


A birth certificate establishes a child's legal identity and is the sole official proof of a child's age. However, quantitative estimates on the economic significance of birth registration are lacking. Birth registration laws were enacted by the majority of U.S. states in late 19th and early 20th centuries. Controlling for state of birth and cohort effects, the differential timing of birth registration laws across US states is used to identify whether birth registration changed the effectiveness of child labor legislation between 1910 and 1930. The incidence of child labor declined significantly in the early 20th century. The study finds that if a birth registration law had been enacted by the time a child was born, the effectiveness of minimum working age legislation in prohibiting under-aged employment more than doubled. This effect was stronger for children residing in non-agricultural areas.

Suggested Citation

  • Sonja Fagernäs, 2011. "Protection through Proof of Age. Birth Registration and Child Labor in Early 20th Century USA," Working Paper Series 2311, Department of Economics, University of Sussex.
  • Handle: RePEc:sus:susewp:2311

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. 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.
    2. Basu, Kaushik, 2005. "Child labor and the law: Notes on possible pathologies," Economics Letters, Elsevier, vol. 87(2), pages 169-174, May.
    3. Goldin, Claudia, 1979. "Household and market production of families in a late nineteenth century American city," Explorations in Economic History, Elsevier, vol. 16(2), pages 111-131, April.
    4. 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.
    5. Marco Manacorda, 2006. "Child Labor and the Labor Supply of Other Household Members: Evidence from 1920 America," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 96(5), pages 1788-1801, December.
    6. Margo, Robert A. & Aldrich Finegan, T., 1996. "Compulsory schooling legislation and school attendance in turn-of-the century America: A 'natural experiment' approach," Economics Letters, Elsevier, vol. 53(1), pages 103-110, October.
    7. Brown, Martin & Christiansen, Jens & Philips, Peter, 1992. "The Decline of Child Labor in the U.S. Fruit and Vegetable Canning Industry: Law or Economics?," Business History Review, Cambridge University Press, vol. 66(04), pages 723-770, December.
    8. Lleras-Muney, Adriana, 2002. "Were Compulsory Attendance and Child Labor Laws Effective? An Analysis from 1915 to 1939," Journal of Law and Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 45(2), pages 401-435, October.
    9. Ai, Chunrong & Norton, Edward C., 2003. "Interaction terms in logit and probit models," Economics Letters, Elsevier, vol. 80(1), pages 123-129, July.
    10. Joshua D. Angrist & Alan B. Keueger, 1991. "Does Compulsory School Attendance Affect Schooling and Earnings?," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 106(4), pages 979-1014.
    11. 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.
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    More about this item


    Birth registration; Child Labor; Law and Economics; Economic history; USA;

    JEL classification:

    • J88 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Labor Standards - - - Public Policy
    • K4 - Law and Economics - - Legal Procedure, the Legal System, and Illegal Behavior
    • N32 - Economic History - - Labor and Consumers, Demography, Education, Health, Welfare, Income, Wealth, Religion, and Philanthropy - - - U.S.; Canada: 1913-
    • O10 - Economic Development, Innovation, Technological Change, and Growth - - Economic Development - - - General

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