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Industrial revolution 'spurred on by child labour'

25th June 2010

Child labour was one of the driving forces behind the industrial revolution in Britain, a new book has argued.

Professor Jane Humphries' Childhood and Child Labour in the British Industrial Revolution examines the recollections of over 600 working men of the 18th and 19th centuries to study the sharp rise in child labour that occurred during this important period.

'In the cohorts which lived through this period, the sons of miners, factory workers, outworkers, casual workers and soldiers all, on average, started work below age ten. The frequency of such very young working was surprising,' explained the author, who is a professor of economic history at the University of Oxford.

The academic added that one common theme in the source material is children being motivated to work by extreme hunger. She singled out one example, in which a child asked his brother if there would be plenty of food in heaven, moments before he died.

Reviewing the book, University of Rochester professor of economics and history Stanley Engerman said it sheds 'considerable new light' on the history of the industrial revolution and role of child labour and family relations during this time.

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