Kids in history had it hard. There were no Gerber puffs to melt in gummy mouths, no morning cartoons on Saturday morning to entertain them or gobs of stuffed animals to keep them warm at night. Modern conveniences aside, they actually didn’t have it nearly as bad as some people like to think. Listed below are the top three common ideas people have on children in history and the truth behind them:


1. Most children didn’t live past infancy.

In truth, only about 30% of children died before the age of 5 and 40% before the age of 15. While 40% seems like a large percentage, bear in mind that the life expectancy from the medieval days through the 1600’s was approximately 30. So, if one lived to 15, they had already met half their life expectancy. When you consider their lack of antibacterial cleansers, inability to vaccinate and the primitive construction on their cribs and walkers, the fact that 70% survived past the age of 5 is nothing short of a miracle.  Or maybe we’re a little too overprotective these days… (don’t worry, I’m not going there)


2. Children were subjected to unfair labor.

At age 7 or so, middle class children were usually assigned chores to perform. This was nothing they could not handle and usually entailed planting seeds or helping to feed livestock.  Without the ability to pay workers to assist them in their endeavors, middle class families relied on their children to assist with their livelihood, but the childhood tasks were certainly not anything greater than a child could perform.

If one was wealthy enough to be above middle class, but unable afford a tutor, their sons were sent to school at the age of 7. School was not easy and the boys were expected to attend from 6AM – 7PM six times a week. And don’t think the lazy days summer being off or all those teacher planning holidays – that is a thing of today.  Those boys went to school all summer and through most holidays.  Parents, feel free to let your children read this paragraph and bask in the appreciation of today’s light learning schedule.  😉

3.  Children were married off young.

What is considered a child in today’s society was not considered a child in history.  As stated previously, the life expectancy for those in the medieval to 1600’s was 30, so when one reached the age of 15, that was already midlife.  Can you imagine what a 15 year olds mid life crisis would look like?  *shudder*

I digress – girls were wed as early as 12 (so long as they were menstruating) and boys were as young as 14. These ages were not typical, but were as low as was considered appropriate.  By age 12, a girl would already know how to run a household and by age 14, a boy would already be employed.

So, on a completely narcissistic note: the most shocking discovery I made while doing the background legwork for this article was discovering the average life expectancy back then.  I’m considered relatively young by today’s standards, however, If I lived in the 1600’s, I’d be a year over my life expectancy and probably knocking at death’s door.  Scary thought…and a lil depressing if I’m being wholly honest.  But since we aren’t living back then, ya’ll are stuck with me for the next forty years or so.  MUAHAHAHAHAHAHA!

’til next time…

  1. I think part of what brought down life expectancy for women in particular were the dangers of childbearing. Thirty may have been the average life expectancy, but you weren’t old and decrepit by then. And since it was an average, people regularly did live past that age–if they were lucky. 😉

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