Italian children at work, 1881-1961
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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