Wanted: Child Labor
Although families had offered their children for employment for centuries, the demand for child labor changed dramatically with the Industrial Revolution. Much of the work children had been doing on the farm, in family enterprises, in other peoples' homes and in small cottage industries could be done by workers of any age. Parents and children shared the work and when children were not available, adults performed their tasks. In other words, there was nothing special or peculiar about the work the children were doing that made it necessary for children to perform certain tasks. Adults could just as easily plant seeds, weed crops, fetch water, spin thread, clean house and make bonnets. Child labor was used because it was available and allowed parents to complete other tasks which increased the overall output (harvested crop, thread, bonnets, etc.) of the family. Children's work was considered simply an auxiliary by-employment. The Industrial Revolution affected the market for child labor such that this was no longer the case. Industrialization brought innovations to the production process as well as certain mechanical inventions which increased the demand for child labor. Applying the principle of the division of labor and specialization to the production of textiles, to the extraction of coal and to the isolation of copper ore, created jobs for children. In addition, several inventions in the textile industry lead to machines which gave children a comparative advantage over adults. Thus, industrialists preferred child labor over adult labor because children made ideal workers - they were particularly suited to operate the machines and their nature was more compatible with the new industrial regime.
It was demand, not supply, which dramatically increased the employment of children and youths in certain leading industries during the British Industrial Revolution. The Industrial Revolution is associated with an increase in the demand for child labor by factory owners, overseers, butties, masters of mines and by the operatives working in