The Industrial Revolution radically changed the organization of work. In the new factories, a large number of workers gathered together six or seven days a week to engage in tightly coordinated tasks paced by machinery. This new organization of work implied a sharp dinstinction between work and home. In earlier types of work, such as farming, trades, and cottage industries, work and home were not necessarily separate spheres and child labor was not a public issue.
Factory work greatly affected the life experiences of children, men, and women. For children, factory work served as a form of hard schooling. It channeled into adult factory jobs child workers who obeyed orders, worked diligently, and survived the health hazards and tedium. While the Industrial Revolution eventually put great pressure on men to engage in paid work outside the home continuously from adulthood to retirement, some men, particularly older men, refused to work in the factories and preferred to engage in spot labor and work around the home. Some women made large contributions to their families through paid labor in the factories. It was not unusual for married women with children to work full-time in early English factors. As a substitute for family members engaging in non-paid home labor, some families made arrangements for paid child care, as well as paid laundry services and cleaning and cooking services.
Outside of the factories, adult women had poor labor market opportunities, and within the factories, adult women earned much less than adult men. These differences may have been economically related. They provided an incentive for men to engage in paid labor outside the home, and women to do non-paid labor within the home.
Below are some of Douglas Galbi's papers on children, men, and women as factory workers in the British Industrial Revolution. This dataset on cotton factories in Lancashire was used in the work below.
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(pdf file here)
[draft; published version in Journal of Population Economics, vol. 10, No. 4 (1997) pp. 357-75]
The share of children employed in English cotton factories fell significantly before the introduction of effective child labor legislation in the early 1830s. The early factories employed predominantly children because adults without factory experience were relatively unproductive factory workers. The subsequent growth of the cotton industry fostered the development of a labor market for productive adult factory workers. This effect helps account for the shift towards adults in the cotton factory workforce.
(pdf file here)
[draft; published version in Social History vol. 21, no. 2 (1996) pp. 142-59]
Women's experience of child labour in factories in early nineteenth century England may have increased their psychological susceptibility, both in life-cycle and social-historical trajectories, to non-wage earning roles as mothers. This paper uses as a primary source an official examination into the punishment of a ten-year old female factory worker. From this text arises an interrelated collection of stories -- the story of that girl and her mother in a psychological and relational struggle under the circumstances of their lives, an alternative story of how other girls coped, and an account of how these personal dynamics fit into the broader social history of women in nineteenth century England. This history offers important insights into the effect of deprivation and brutality on the development of gender.
(pdf file here)
This paper considers sex discrimination in the early English cotton factories. Intrinsic differences between men and women offer a less compelling explanation for sex discrimination than much of the literature suggests. A labor sorting model offers an alternative explanation of how discrimination could be transmitted from established labor markets to the new factory labor market. While the relevance of this model to the early factory workforce has not been recognized in the literature, the historical evidence indicates that it might provide an economic rationale for discrimination between men and women in the early English cotton factories.
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(The above papers are best viewed in the pdf format. Get the Adobe Acrobat reader 4.0 or better to view them in pdf format.)