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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.

Comments

( 6 comments — Leave a comment )
yea_mon
Nov. 16th, 2012 04:56 am (UTC)
I can certainly attest to the lack of parental resources here in Japan.

Also, surely you mean "past generations" instead of future ones in the last paragraph?
nwhyte
Nov. 16th, 2012 01:17 pm (UTC)
Er, yeah.
fjm
Nov. 16th, 2012 05:19 am (UTC)
In the 1970s it is actually rising back to the norm after a severe drop after the second world war.
nwhyte
Nov. 16th, 2012 02:45 pm (UTC)
Indeed - I located the full stats at http://www.ons.gov.uk/ons/rel/vsob1/marriages-in-england-and-wales--provisional-/2010/rtd-age-at-marriage-and-previous-marital-status.xls - average age at first marriage for women was in fact below 22 from 1958 till 1991, having been hovering around the 21-22 mark since records began in 1846. After that the rise is quite rapid - 23 by 1996, 24 by 2001, 25 by 2004. So the picture given by Cunningham is actually rather incomplete.
unwholesome_fen
Nov. 16th, 2012 05:09 pm (UTC)
Marriage was expensive prior to the 20th century - often something you had to save up for years for. (One book about Tudor England I read suggested it was commonplace for people to cohabit for years with the ambition of being able to marry eventually, sometimes in middle age.) So my guess would be that the arrival of the welfare state allowed people to marry who wouldn't previously have been able to (at least not straight away), and then the trend towards gender equality moved the marriage age back upwards again as more alternatives became available to young women.
nwhyte
Nov. 16th, 2012 06:12 pm (UTC)
Well, the stats going back to 1846 are pretty consistent with an age at first marriage of 21-22 for women, right up to the 1990s, so I don't think the welfare state has a provable effect.
( 6 comments — Leave a comment )

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