Much research has focused on the reasons for child labor. This paper, in examining the experiences of late nineteenth century Australia seeks to ask the alternate research question: “What are the factors that cause managers to desist from the use of child labor during periods of initial industrialization, even where the society is characterized by a youthful demography and low levels of manufacturing productivity?”.
This study measures the incidence of child labor in Queensland, Australia's third largest state, through an examination of the censuses for 1891 and 1901. It then locates the results of this analysis in the nineteenth century Australian peculiar pattern of economic investment.
It is found that industrializing Australia had an extremely low incidence of child labor. This is attributed to the highly capitalized nature of the Australian rural and mining sectors, and the linkages between these sectors and the wider economy. This suggests that counties, or regions, with a highly commercialized primary sector, and with manufacturing establishments with high skill requirements (even if characterized by low productivity), will have a low incidence of child labor.
The most effective policy for reducing the incidence of child labor is to enhance capital investment in the primary sector and enhance the need for workplace skills in the secondary sector.
The International Labor Organisation suggests that there is currently a revival in child labor. This paper suggests that the most effective policies for reducing the incidence of child labor are ones that seek to foster increased levels of capital investment in the primary sector, rather than ones directed towards legal restriction or poverty alleviation.
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