Working for peanuts: Children's market work in urban areas of Senegal

Date of Completion

January 1997


Economics, Labor|Sociology, General|Sociology, Social Structure and Development|Sociology, Demography




Child labor is widespread in the informal sector economy of Senegal. Although child labor is widely viewed as a problem of poor countries, this serious subject has received little scholarly attention (Gilbert and Gugler 1992; Gugler 1997). Of the scant scholarly research completed, most studies have been completed by anthropologists or historians. However, child labor research has much yet to gain from sociological theory and methods. This research investigates children's roles as workers in open-air markets in urban areas of Senegal. My goal is to understand the patterns of children's work embedded within the cultural and structural environment of the market and with respect to household economic strategies.^ This research considers the roles of child workers by seeking a relationship among three areas: (1) the relative household position of a child worker, (2) the relative societal position of a child worker's household, and (3) the types of work a child will engage. I adopt a theoretical framework which considers children's relationships to household economic strategies. The household maximizes its production as a means to survival by investing different opportunities in its children (Becker (1981) 1991). I explain the work of children by placing them within a household economic context and considering the influence of broader factors within and outside the household context. This research addresses the question: why and how are children incorporated into certain types of market work?^ This dissertation draws on two years of research in Senegal's urban markets, and uses both qualitative and quantitative methods: participant-observation, in-depth interviews, and a national survey of child market workers. This research concludes that children are incorporated into market work as part of a household adaptive strategy. Most children are being trained for adult careers in the market setting.^ The data indicate that gender is the most important structuring influence in the market. Aside from gender, urban background, socio-economic level, and education are major predictors of what market work opportunities children will receive. Also, the social relationships of children's household members influence a child's market work opportunities. ^