Children and Work

Middle-class children largely escaped work. However, children in less affluent families had to play a role both in the home and in formal employment.

The census of 1871 showed that:

 

per cent in employment

children aged 5 to 9

<1%

boys aged 10-14

32%

girls aged 10-14

20%

By 1901 these figures had declined:

 

per cent in employment

children aged 5 to 9

0%

boys aged 10-14

22%

girls aged 10-14

12%

Working-class children did not work all the time, but as the need arose, and as schooling was made compulsory, in their free time. Children tended to help members of their close or extended family with their own employment; whether this was mill work, labouring, dress-making and in shops. Even by 1900, work as seen as a valuable part of a child's education.

Other children found another way of earning money. Henry Mayhew's research in 1860s in London led him to believe that there were between 10,000 and 20,000 street sellers offering matches, firewood, fruit and buttons.

The decline in child labour came about through mechanisation (which reduced the need for unskilled workers) and ethical and political changes.

In the home, all boys and girls had tasks, for example helping their mother or maid with washing and cooking. This was particularly true of older girls.