Child involvement in economic activity is pervasive in today’s less developed countries—over 260 million working children according to the latest reliable estimates. The evidence available suggests that child work was also widespread in most European countries during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. What do we know about Italy? No official estimates of the incidence of child work exist, nor are there any sources providing readily available quantitative information on the topic. This chapter fills that gap. We find that on the whole the industrialization of the country, which started in the latter half of the nineteenth century, was benevolent toward children: child employment dropped sharply between 1881 and 1911. The literacy of the adult population was the most powerful driving force enabling children to avoid entering the workforce—more than income, more than the role of laws and the provision of school facilities by the government.
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