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6.4 Social Effects of Industrialization


⏱️  3 min read

written by

Sharii Liang

sharii liang

May 12, 2020

The Working Classes

The factories of this time gave rise to two classes that were strangely class-conscious and understanding of their rights. The proletariat (lower class) were the ones manually running the machines and producing the goods. They were aware of how easily replaceable they were. The bourgeoisie (upper class) were the factory owners and often enjoyed life in the suburbs which were far, far away from the city and its pollution. 


Image Courtesy of Monthly Review

Urbanization and the Countryside

With the mass migration of peasants to the city during the First Industrial Revolution, the cities and suburbs were flooded with people and not enough homes. There was no plan in place for the sheer amount of workers and as a result, homes filled up with more people than they could handle. Waste covered the streets and pollution only made living there worse. Crime and disease were rampant.

🎥 Watch: AP European History - The Industrial Revolution

For the bourgeoisie, they could be found in the suburbs and countryside. They had the means to get themselves away from the city, and that meant fresh air, little disease, low crime, and clean streets. However, rural areas suffered from the migration of their labor force and realized that their communities had grown weak.

Industrialization and the Home

The need for labor didn’t do much for women. Gender roles became extremely defined as men were expected to be the breadwinners, and they continued to do that during the Industrial Revolution. 

Surprisingly, women were revered for taking care of the home as they were the refuge for their husbands to relax after a tiring day at work. Known as the Cult of Domesticity 👩🙇‍♂️🙇‍♂️ (cult stands for culture, not an actual cult!), it was a prevailing value system for upper and middle-class women that empowered their roles as mothers and housewives but oppressed any kind of progress they tried to make in workforce integration.

The working classes also began to seek marriage for companionship instead of financial or economic gains. Leisurely activities began to become family or group-oriented at this time as well, and the quality of life for the household increased due to labor laws, birth control, and an improved diet. 

The First Signs of Reform

In response to decades of child labor and inhumane working conditions, reformers sought to enact laws that gave workers rights. Laws like the Factory Act of 1833 and the Ten Hours Act of 1847 addressed these problems by shortening working days and improving labor conditions for children. During this age, strikes also became more common as it was difficult for an owner to replace all the workers instead of just one worker. 

However, working in factories was still dangerous, and these new reforms could not cover everything. In 1911, a fire broke out at the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory in New York. Due to commonplace practices like locking the doors, the women that worked there (usually unmarried and single) could not escape. Known as the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire, it killed 145 workers but led to stricter fire laws regarding factories.

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