Nicholas (nwhyte) wrote,

November Books 8) The Invention of Childhood, by Hugh Cunningham

An attempt to chart society's attitudes to children in Britain from the earliest times to the present day, using literature. archaeology, historical records and of course social policy research for the most recent period. I had a couple of minor frustrations with the framing of Cunningham's analysis - the narrow geographical focus meant that he is comparing British children of a particular historical period largely with British children of other historical periods, and I think it might have been possible to learn from comparison with other countries (the Commonwealth gets a small look-in, but the rest of Europe, including Ireland, does not). And I actually felt he pulled his punches on one of his key arguments, that children should actually be listened to - though this emerges as an important theme of the book, the reasons why children are often not listened to, and why this might be a Bad Thing, are not really explored. 

One tangential statistic which I found interesting - the average marriage age for British women in 1970 was 22! I have done some limited and not terribly systematic research of my own on this and found a fairly but not universally consistent picture of the average marriage age for most women being mid to late twenties (and men a couple of years older) in Europe since the medieval period, so that's a pretty colossal and temporary drop. Of course it was a declaration of independence in many cases. Edited to add: see comments for actual statistics, which tell a different story.

I found myself sympathetic to, but not certain about, Cunningham's conclusions: that childhood itself is becoming eroded as a concept in today's Britain, where overstretched parents do not have the social resources available to them that future previous generations had, and young people often stay living with their parents much later than used to be the case; and that the media coverage of the most egregious criminal cases tends to project the role of impotent victim onto children, rather than actually listening to them, and perhaps this is driven by the wider uncertainty about childhood and parenthood that Cunningham identifies. But I'd have liked some harder facts as well.
Tags: bookblog 2012

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