The experiences of children in the recent past cannot be reduced to simple generalizations; there are too many variables. But it is obvious that region, economic health, and aspects such as race, class, and gender all have a major impact on children and childhood. Having noted these difficulties, some observations are possible. Abortion is more common in the industrialized world, whereas infant mortality is much lower. Children are less likely to become orphans in industrialized countries, to experience the death of a sibling, or to die before reaching adulthood. Children in industrialized countries will probably know their grandparents, and their parents may well have been divorced; many of them live in single-parent households, a sharp contrast to the extended households of traditional cultures.
Children in industrialized countries will spend more time in schools than children did in the medieval world, or than they do now where traditional cultures prevail. They will spend more time in groups with children of the same age. Their parents will have relied more heavily on experts, and they will probably have only a few siblings and perhaps a room of their own. They will have money of their own, and parts of the media will cater especially to them. They will also have a legal status that is clearly spelled out, although their status will vary from country to country. Of course even in industrialized countries poorer children will enjoy fewer privileges than the children of middle-class or elite parents.
In the twentieth century the improvements in children's lives in industrialized countries have been dramatic. In the United States, for example, in 1900 infant mortality was estimated to be more than 160 per 1,000 live births; by 1990 this rate had dropped to around 10 per 1,000. In Japan the rate was 5 per 1,000. Similar improvements occurred in access to schooling and literacy. In 1900 high school graduates in the United States constituted less than 4 percent of the seventeen-year-old population. By 1990 they represented approximately 75 percent. Similar evidence of significant improvement in children's health and education can be cited for most, if not all, industrialized nations.
In the modern world childhood has been extended, redefined, and supported by an array of experts and social institutions. Maturity, once a biological matter worth little notice, has become a complex process perhaps more social and psychological than physical in nature. Similarly, the process of socialization is now much more complex, reflecting, as always, the society into which children are to be socialized. In complex modern societies, the preparation necessary to become a productive adult is much longer and more intensive than formerly. In recognition of this, students now extend their schooling well into their twenties and even beyond. Maturation, modernization, and socialization as they have interacted have created an entirely new world of childhood.
SEE ALSO: Abuse, Interpersonal.: Child Abuse; Adoption; Family and Family Medicine; Feminism.; Infanticide; Infants, Public Policy and Legal Issues; Pediatrics, Adolescents; Research Policy: Subjects; Women, Historical and Cross-Cultural Perspectives; and other Children subentries
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