, Volume 16, Issue 3, pp 385-407

Two? Two and One-Half? Thirty Months? Chronometrical Childhood in Early Twentieth Century America

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Abstract

Child-rearing books and manuals from the early twentieth century indicate that pediatricians and developmental psychologists were prone to divide the life course of children into increasingly precise chronometrical “stages,” e.g., focusing on changes from one month to the next rather than one year to another. Little is known, however, of whether parents also chronometricalized their children's lives. Working with 206 advice-seeking letters written by fathers and mothers in the 1920s and 1930s to nationally known educator and author Angelo Patri (1876–1965), we develop a text-based measure of “chronometrical childhood,” employ it in a multivariate analysis, and find that an urban environment heightened parents' tendencies toward chronometricity, while the financial strain of the Great Depression did just the opposite. Our results show how age can be viewed as a social construction, subject to the influence of ideology and economics, and that the scheduling of children's lives can vary in different locales and at different historical moments.