Sociological Forum

, Volume 16, Issue 3, pp 385–407 | Cite as

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



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.

age life course childhood cognitive sociology urbanization Great Depression 


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. Bayley, Nancy 1935 “The development of motor abilities during the first three years: A study of sixty-one infants tested repeatedly. ” Monographs of the Society for Research in Child Development 1:26–61.Google Scholar
  2. Berger, Peter L., and Thomas Luckmann 1966 The Social Construction of Reality: A Treatise in the Sociology of Knowledge. Garden City,NY: Doubleday/ Anchor.Google Scholar
  3. Boli-Bennett, John, and John W. Meyer 1978 “The ideology of childhood and the state: Rules distinguishing children in national constitutions, 1870–1970. ” American Sociological Review 43: 797–812.Google Scholar
  4. “Child development” 1936 Science 84 (Sept. 25):282.Google Scholar
  5. Chudacoff, Howard P. 1989 How Old Are You? Age Consciousness in American Culture. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
  6. Corsaro, William A. 1997 The Sociology of Childhood. Thousand Oaks, CA: Pine Forge Press.Google Scholar
  7. Cravens, Hamilton 1985 “Child-saving in the age of professionalism, 1915–1930. ” In Joseph M. Hawes and N. Ray Hiner (eds.), American Childhood: A Research Guide and Historical Handbook: 415–488. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press.Google Scholar
  8. Eisenberg, Arlene, Heidi E. Murkoff, and Sandee E. Hathaway 1989 What to Expect the First Year. New York: Workman.Google Scholar
  9. Ekerdt, David J., and Stanley DeViney 1993 “Evidence for a preretirement process among older male workers. ” Journal of Gerontology 48: S35–S43.Google Scholar
  10. Elder, Glen H., Jr 1974 Children of the Great Depression: Social Change in Life Experience. Chicago: University of Chicago Press (25th Anniversary Edition published in 1999). 1980 “Adolescence in historical perspective. ” In Joseph Adelson (ed.), Handbook of Adolescent Psychology: 3–46. New York: Wiley.Google Scholar
  11. Elder, Glen H., Jr., John Modell, and Ross D. Parke (eds.) 1993 Children in Time and Place: Developmental and Historical Insights. New York: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  12. Fischer, Claude S 1976 The Urban Experience. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich.Google Scholar
  13. French, Valerie 1995 “History of parenting: The ancient Mediterranean world. ” In Marc H. Bornstein (ed.), Handbook of Parenting, Vol. 2: Biology and Ecology of Parenting: 263–284. Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.Google Scholar
  14. Gesell, Arnold 1939 Biographies of Child Development: The Mental Growth Careers of Eighty-Four Infants and Children (“Part One”). New York: Harper & Row. (Reprinted by the Arno Press in 1975.)Google Scholar
  15. Glaser, Barney G., and Anselm L. Strauss 1968 Time for Dying. Chicago: Aldine.Google Scholar
  16. Goffman, Erving 1974 Frame Analysis: An Essay on the Organization of Experience. New York: Harper and Row.Google Scholar
  17. Gubrium, Jaber F., James A. Holstein, and David R. Buckholdt 1994 Constructing the Life Course. Dix Hills, NY: General Hall.Google Scholar
  18. Hawes, Joseph M. 1997 Children Between the Wars: American Childhood, 1920–1940. New York: Twayne.Google Scholar
  19. Karp, David A., Gregory P. Stone, and William C. Yoels 1991 Being Urban:ASociology of City Life, 2nd edn. New York: Praeger.Google Scholar
  20. LaRossa, Ralph 1997 The Modernization of Fatherhood: A Social and Political History. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
  21. LaRossa, Ralph, and Donald C. Reitzes 1993 “Continuity and change in middle class fatherhood, 1925–1939: The cultureconduct connection. ” Journal of Marriage and the Family 55:455–468. 1995 “Gendered perceptions of father involvement in early 20th century America. ” Journal of Marriage and the Family 57:223–229.Google Scholar
  22. Chronometrical Childhood in Early Twentieth Century America 407 Laz, Cheryl 1998 “Act your age. ” Sociological Forum 13:85–113.Google Scholar
  23. Modell, John 1989 Into One's Own: From Youth to Adulthood in the United States, 1920–1975. Berkeley: University of California Press.Google Scholar
  24. Newsweek 1997 “Your child: From birth to three” [Special Issue]. Spring/Summer.Google Scholar
  25. Angelo Patri 1974 Papers. Washington, DC: Library of Congress, Manuscript Division.Google Scholar
  26. Pollock, Linda A. 1983 Forgotten Children: Parent–Child Relations from 1500 to 1900. New York: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  27. Postman, Neil 1982 The Disappearance of Childhood.New York: Delacorte Press.Google Scholar
  28. Riley, Matilda White 1987 “On the significance of age in sociology. ” American Sociological Review 52:1–14.Google Scholar
  29. Rosenbluth, Judy F. 1994 “A singular career: Nancy Bayley. ” In Ross D. Parke, Peter A. Ornstein, John J. Reiser, and Carolyn Zahn-Waxler (eds.), A Century of Developmental Psychology. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.Google Scholar
  30. Simmel, Georg 1950 The Sociology of Georg Simmel (translated by Kurt Wolff). New York: Free Press.Google Scholar
  31. Smith, Richard M. 1997 “A letter from the editor-in-chief. ” [Special Issue: “Your child: From birth to three”] Newsweek, Spring/Summer.Google Scholar
  32. Spock, Benjamin 1946 The Common Sense Book of Baby and Child Care. New York: Duell, Sloan and Pearce. (40th Anniversary Edition published by Pocket Books, 1985, and coauthored by Benjamin Spock and Michael B. Rothenberg.)Google Scholar
  33. Swidler, Ann 1986 “Culture in action: Symbols and strategies. ” American Sociological Review 51:273–286.Google Scholar
  34. U.S. Bureau of Census 1997 Statistical Abstract of the United States. Washington, DC: Government Printing Office.Google Scholar
  35. Thelen, Esther, and Karen E. Adolph 1994 “Arnold L. Gesell: The paradox of nature and nurture. ” In Ross D. Parke, Peter A. Ornstein, John J. Reiser, and Carolyn Zahn-Waxler (eds.), A Century of Developmental Psychology. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.Google Scholar
  36. Wandersee, Winifred D. 1981 Women's Work and Family Values, 1920–1940. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  37. Winn, Marie 1983 Children Without Childhood. New York: Pantheon Books.Google Scholar
  38. Zelizer, Vivian A. 1985 Pricing the Priceless Child: The Changing Social Value of Children. New York: Basic Books. (Reprinted by Princeton University Press in 1994.)Google Scholar
  39. Zerubavel, Eviatar 1991 The Fine Line: Making Distinctions in Everyday Life. New York: Free Press. (Reprinted by the University of Chicago Press in 1993.) 1997 Social Mindscapes: An Invitation to Cognitive Sociology. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Plenum Publishing Corporation 2001

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of SociologyGeorgia State UniversityAtlanta

Personalised recommendations