The industrial revolution and its consequences have been a disaster on the other hand despite its benefits and positive changes to society. Right from the 1800s, people have been involved in debates regarding whether the industrial revolution was a blessing or a curse. The early industrial age brought about terrible hardships but as time went on, reformers pressed for laws that were meant to improve working conditions. With this, labor unions were able to win the right to bargain with employers for better wages, hours, and working conditions. The working-class men eventually gained the right to vote thereby gaining political power.
As the demand for mass-produced commodities continued to grow, new factories opened thereby creating more job opportunities. After the emergence of labor unions, there were rises in wages so that workers could have enough after making payments for rent and other basic necessities of life, or probably visit a music hall. As there was a fall in the cost of railroad travel, it became easier for people to visit their families in other towns. With this, horizons widened and opportunities increased as well.
The effects of the Industrial revolution comprise both positive and negative effects. Despite the social problems or negative consequences that the industrial revolution brought about, there are some positive effects such as the creation of economic growth and more goods available were available; also, a prosperous middle class emerged that grabbed some of the economic power that was once possessed by aristocrats. It also led to the rise of specialized jobs in the industry. All these constitute the social effects of the industrial revolution. In this article, we see the industrial revolution and its consequences, precisely the negative consequences it had on society at large.
See also: What is the Free Enterprise System? Effects and How it Works.
The industrial revolution explained
An industrial revolution is a process whereby society transits from a dominantly agricultural economy and adopts a modern economy that is dominated by industries, machines, and advanced technology. During the industrial revolution in the 18th century, society experienced an economic shift from the old traditional methods of agriculture and human labor to manufactured goods that are produced in factories by complex and sophisticated machines, making use of new sources of energy and technology.
Technological advancements brought about improvements in the production of goods, transportation, and the emergence of new towns and cities. With this, the industrial revolution brought about significant changes in society. One of the changes was the shift from work being carried out at home by hand in cottage industries to work and production carried out in factories.
One of the challenges was that there were harsh and unsafe working conditions in those early factories as the machines posed a significant threat to the lives of workers. Even more deadly was the work that was carried out in coal mines. The owners of mines and factories had considerable control over the lives of laborers who worked for long hours daily for low pay.
An average worker would work for fourteen hours on a daily basis and six days a week. For the fear of losing their jobs, workers would typically not complain about the horrible conditions they are faced with as well as the low pay. Also, owners of factories realized that they could pay women and children less than men. There was an increase in child labor because this kept the costs of production low and profits high. This, in turn, caused the working class to live in poverty while bosses who formed part of the middle class grew wealthier.
The industrial revolution which started roughly in the second half of 1700 and extended into the early 1800s was a period in which Europe and America experienced enormous change. The invention of new technologies from mechanized looms for weaving clothes and the steam-powered locomotive to improvements in iron smelting, brought about transformation to what had been rural societies of farmers and craftsmen who made goods by hand. A large number of people moved from the countryside into cities that were growing fast where they worked in factories filled with machinery.
Although the industrial revolution had positive effects on society such as the creation of economic growth and the availability of new opportunities, there are consequences as briefly highlighted above. These downsides range from damage to the environment and health to safety hazards as well as unpleasant and dirty living conditions for workers and their families. Historians state that many of these problems persisted and grew in the second industrial revolution which was another period of rapid change that began in the late 1800s. Having discussed this, we discuss the industrial revolution and its consequences on society.
See also: Free Enterprise vs Capitalism Differences and Similarities
The industrial revolution and its consequences
- Horrible living conditions for workers
- Poor nutrition in the growing cities
- stressful and unsatisfying lifestyles
- Dangerous or hazardous workplaces
- Child labor
- Discrimination against women
- Environmental harm and urban pollution
- The double burden for women
- Worse conditions for miners
Horrible living conditions for workers
As cities continued to grow during the industrial revolution, there was no adequate housing for all new inhabitants who were jammed into unpleasant and dirty-looking inner-city neighborhoods as wealthier residents fled to outlying parts of these cities and towns.
In the 1830s, Dr. William Henry Duncan, a government health official in Liverpool, England, surveyed living conditions and discovered that a third of the city’s population was living in cellars of houses that had earthen floors and there were no ventilation and sanitation. It was so bad that as many as sixteen people were living in a single room and sharing a single secret, meaning that there was no privacy. Also, the lack of clean water and gutters overflowing with sewage from basement cesspits caused workers and their families to become vulnerable to infectious diseases such as cholera.
Poor nutrition in the growing cities
James Philips Kay, a physician and a social reformer in his 1832 study entitled “Moral and Physical Conditions of the Working Classes employed in the Cotton Manufacture in Manchester”, described the inadequate diet of the British industrial city’s laborers that were paid lowly, who fed on a breakfast of tea or coffee with a little bread, and lunch that typically comprised boiled potatoes, melted lard and butter, and sometimes with a few pieces of fried fatty bacon mixed with the meal.
Laborers, after finishing work, may have some more tea and a little bread or maybe oatmeal and potatoes again. As a result of malnutrition, Kay wrote that workers frequently suffered from problems with their stomachs and bowels, loss of weight, and pale, leaden-colored, or yellow-hue skin.
Stressful and unsatisfying lifestyle
The fact that workers came from the countryside to the cities requires that they adjust to a very different pattern of existence, with little personal autonomy. It was required of them to arrive when the factory whistle blew or else face some consequences such as being locked out and losing their pay or even being coerced to pay fines. Once they had started doing their job, they usually did not have the privilege to move around or catch some rest or breathing space if they needed one as that might necessitate shutting down a machine.
As the case was totally different from that of the craftsmen in rural areas. Their days often comprised having to perform tasks repeatedly as well as face continuous pressure to keep up, “faster pace, more supervision, less pride” as described by Peter N. Stearns who was a historian at George Mason University. As described by him in his 2013 book, The Industrial Revolution in World History, When the workday was finally done, they had not much time or energy for any form of recreation.
To worsen the matter, the officials of the city banned festivals and other activities that they had once enjoyed in rural areas. Workers instead, usually spent their leisure time at taverns in the neighborhood where alcoholic drinks were made available to provide an escape route from the boredom or monotony of their lives.
Dangerous or hazardous workplaces
Looking at the fact that there was not much in the way of safety regulation, the industrial revolution factories could be extremely horrifying and hazardous. In other words, there were no protection facilities that would create a safe environment for the workers to carry out their tasks without being prone to danger.
Peter Capuano wrote in his 2015 book, “Changing Hands: Industry Evolution and the Reconfiguration of the Victorian Body”, that workers were faced with the risk of losing their hand in the machinery. Also, a contemporary newspaper account described how a millworker, Daniel Buckley suffered grisly injuries. His left hand was caught, torn, and roughly rent, with his fingers crushed. Before his coworkers could stop the machine, Daniel eventually died as a result of trauma.
During that period, mines that supplied the needed coal for keeping the steam-powered machines running had terrible accidents also. The 2018 book, “Disability in the Industrial Revolution” by David M. Turner and Daniel Blackie, describes a massive gas explosion that took place at a coal mine that left a thirty-six years old man known as James Jackson with severe burns on his face, neck, and chest, hands, and arms. He found himself in such an awful shape that required the use of opium in order to cope with the excruciating pain. After six weeks of recuperation, it was determined by a doctor that he was fit to return to work but probably with permanent scars that resulted from the ordeal.
These accident cases made it certain that there were no adequate protection facilities and workers lived their lives being faced with the risks of accidents that could happen to anyone at any time. Insurance policies such as disability insurance were not in place and there was yet no legislation to protect workers until the emergence of labor unions. In essence, factory workers were faced with harsh conditions.
Doing work in a factory was greatly different from working on a farm. Although people worked hard in rural villages, their work varied based on the season. Also, even though life was also hard for poor rural workers who were part of the putting-out system, they could at least work at their own pace without being pressured. In the case of the workers in the grim factories of industrial towns, workers had to face rigid schedules set by the factory whistle, long working hours with shifts that last from 12 to 16 hours, and six to seven days a week. It was only possible for workers to take breaks when the factory owners granted permission.
With this, workers could get exhausted and as a result, suffer accidents from machines that did not have safety devices and the risks of losing a limb, finger, or even their lives, just as a few cases were stated. Aside from these accidents, workers in textile mills constantly breathed contaminated air, usually filled with lint thereby causing damage to their lungs. In most cases, those workers who became sick or injured lost their jobs.
At some point, the majority of the factory workers were women rather than men. Employers usually preferred to hire women because they felt or thought that it was easier for them to adapt and they could be managed easier. In addition to this, these employers paid women half the amount they paid men.
While children worked even before the industrial revolution, the rapid growth factors brought about a demand that poor youth and orphans were brought from London’s poorhouses and then housed in mill dormitories. These children worked long hours and were deprived of education as well as compelled to carry out dangerous and hazardous adult tasks. With this, children usually suffered horrifying fates.
John Brown revealed in his book published in 1832, “A Memoir of Robert Blincoe, an Orphan Boy”, a ten years old girl named Mary Richards whose apron was caught in the machinery in a textile mill and as a result, an irresistible force drew the poor girl and dashed her on the floor. Brown also revealed that she uttered the most heart-rending distressful expressions.
A history professor at the University of Alberta, Beverly Lemire, views “the exploitation of child labor in a systematic way, the use of which catalyzed industrial production”, as the worst consequence or negative effect of the industrial revolution.
Having seen these facts, child labor and low wages were not sustainable. Factory owners would employ children because they were easier to exploit, however, adults were also poorly paid. As this continued, there came a need for child labor reform laws also known as “Factory Acts”. These reform laws were passed in the early 1800s in order to reduce a child’s workday and remove children that are under the age of eight or nine from cotton mills.
As a result of the fact that the laws were generally not enforced, British lawmakers came up with teams of inspectors to ensure that factories and mines complied with the laws in the 1830s and 1840s. Subsequently, more laws were passed in order to reduce the workday for women and require that child workers be educated.
Discrimination against women
The industrial revolution contributed immensely to establishing the patterns of gender inequality in the workplace that lasted in the eras that followed. A retired professor of history at Northeastern University who is also an author of the book, ” The Industrial Revolution: A History in Documents”, stated that owners of factories often paid women only half of the amount that men were paid for the same work. This was done based on the false assumption that women did not need to support families and were just working for a little allowance that a husband might give them to pay for personal items that are not essential.
Discrimination against women as well as a generalized belief about women workers proceeded into the Second Industrial Revolution. Frader stated that the myth that women were klephtic and that they could withstand repetitive and mindless work better than men brought about the displacement of men in white-collar jobs such as office work. also, that the assignment of such jobs was apportioned to women after the 1870s when the typewriter was introduced. She further explained that while office work was less dangerous and had better pay for employees, women were locked into yet another category of women’s work from which it was hard to escape.
Environmental harm and urban pollution
One of the social effects of the industrial revolution was environmental harm and urban pollution such as the pollution from copper factories in Cornwall, England. Mostly, burning coal powered the industrial revolution which caused big industrial cities to begin to pump vast quantities of pollution into the atmosphere. Between 1760 and 1830, there was a dramatic rise in London’s concentration of suspended particulate matter as illustrated by “World in Data”. Manchester experienced awful environmental pollution such that a writer named Hugh Miller noted “the lurid gloom of the atmosphere overhangs it” as well as described the innumerable chimneys.
There was a continuous rise in air pollution in the 1800s which resulted in respiratory illness and higher death rates in those areas that burned more coals. A yet worse effect was the fact that the burning of fossils pumped carbon into the atmosphere. In 2016, a study was published which suggests that human activities are the factors that drive climate change and this began as early as the 1830s. Aside from the environmental pollution that resulted as factories produced dangerous gasses, wastes were also poorly disposed of thereby causing litter all over the environment. This poor waste disposal exposed people to dangerous diseases.
Having known that the increase in the number of factories brought about an increase in urban pollution, this pollution was not contained only in the factories but as people flocked to the cities, the living conditions therein became very bad as the resources in the urban areas were overwhelmed. Sewage often flowed in the streets of some cities while manufacturers dumped factory wastes into rivers. During this period, water supplies were not tested and protected as it is today. This brought about the enactment need for laws and regulations to protect the population.
The double burden for women
Aside from the fact that women were faced with gender-based discrimination, factory work brought about a double burden for them. This was because their jobs took them out of their homes for at least twelve hours on a daily basis. They would return to their abodes which often consisted of one damp room with a single bed. It was also necessary for them to feed their families, do house chores such as cleaning, and still cope with problems such as sickness and bodily injury.
Looking at child labor above, factories also hired a vast number of boys and girls and these children often started working at the age of seven and eight and a few of them were as young as five. As nimble-fingered and quick-moving as they were, they were involved in changing spools in the hot and humid textile mills where sometimes, they would not be able to see because of the dust flying around. They also crawled under machinery to repair threads in the mills.
Worse conditions for miners
The industrial revolution brought about an increase in the demand for iron and coal which in turn brought about an increase in the need for miners. Although miners received more payments for their jobs, their working conditions were even worse than in the factories. While they worked in the darkness, the coal dust destroyed their lungs.
Miners were often prone to the dangers of explosions, flooding, and collapsing tunnels. Women and children would carry and convey heavy loads of coal, sometimes on all fours in low passages. They also climbed heavy ladders with heavy baskets of coal on their heads and they do this several times daily. With this, conditions were even worse for children that were working in the mines. Some would sit all day in darkness, opening and closing air vents while others would pull heavy coal carts in the extreme heat.
Since children had helped with farm work, the idea of child labor was accepted by parents, and the wages earned by the children were needed to keep their families from starvation.
See also: Crony Capitalism (Cronyism)
Video: The industrial revolution and its consequences
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