Ages and ages: the multiplication of children’s ‘ages’ in early twentieth-century child psychology

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Publication details

JournalHistory of Education
DateAccepted/In press - 21 Dec 2015
DatePublished (current) - 17 Mar 2016
Issue number3
Pages (from-to)304-318
Original languageEnglish


This paper explores the trend, between 1905 and the late 1920s in UK and US child psychology, of ‘discovering’, labelling and calculating different ‘ages’ in children. Those new ‘ages’ – from mental to emotional, social, anatomical ages, and more – were understood as either replacing, or meaningfully related to, chronological age. The most famous, mental age, ‘invented’ by Alfred Binet in the first decade of the century, was instrumental in early intelligence testing. Anatomical age triggered great interest until the 1930s, with many psychologists suggesting that physical development provided a more reliable inkling of which grade children should be in than chronological age. Those ages were calculated with great precision, and educational recommendations began to be made on the basis of these. This article maps this psychological and educational trend, and suggests that it cultivated a vision of children as developmentally erratic, worthy of intense scientific attention, and enticingly puzzling for researchers.

Bibliographical note

Clementine Beauvais is a lecturer in English in Education at the University of York (UK). She works on scientific and cultural discourses surrounding child precocity.

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    Research areas

  • Child psychology, intelligence testing, mental age, development, age, growth

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