During the period of 1760-1850, Great Britain experienced a phenomenon that earned it the title “the workshop of the world”. It was an incident characterized by the rise of machine-powered factories, technological advances, an increase in population with a decline of agricultural population, and the expansion of trade. These are the characteristics of the Industrial Revolution, defined by Arnold Toynbee to be the “substitution of competition for the medieval regulation” . Adam Smith envisioned it to be an economy free of government interference, driven by forces of competition and the nature of human greed.
Smith’s ideas were published in the book The Wealth of Nations, and these ideas manifested to produce the characteristics seen by the Industrial Revolution. Therefore, it is implied, if not apparent, that one of the causes that led to the rise of the Industrial Revolution of 1760-1850 was the manifestation of the ideas Smith put forth to achieve wealth and productivity for a nation. The process of industrialization, however, resulted social impacts that concern the standard of living of the working class.
Opponents to the Industrial Revolution, dubbed “pessimists” , feel that “the effects of the Industrial Revolution prove that free competition may produce wealth without producing well-being” . On the contrary, proponents supporting the process of industrialization and the introduction of the factory system, dubbed “optimists”, claim that the standard of living, or the quality of life, of the working class actually improved throughout the Industrial Revolution entire initial period.
Did the Industrial Revolution raise or lower the standard of living of the social working class? These two different viewpoints clash when attempts are made to answer the preceding question. However, upon examining statistical evidence, I contend that living standards of workers did improve throughout the duration of the Industrial Revolution, or at least there was no deterioration of their quality of life. The reason for clashing of viewpoints lies in the different way each group defines the phrase “standard of living. ” Its definition is defined accordingly below.
According to the optimists, standard of living refers to tangible “material conditions such as wages, purchasing power, food and diet, housing, health and length of life, population growth, and clothing”. These are measurements that optimistic historians can obtain quantitatively. In the proceeding arguments, proponents to the factory system and industrialization will provide quantitative evidence to prove that the quality of life of an average working class person did increase due to the process of industrialization.
One such optimist scholar G. R. Porter argues that the paramount objective to show progress, or a better quality of life, of a people is to show that its population increases from an earlier period to a relatively later period. Thus “between 1780 to 1850 the population of England and Wales rose from some 7. 5 to 18 millions”. Additionally, there is evidence provided by Porter that mortality rates were decreasing. Porter successfully shows that mortality rates decreased substantially in cities undergoing major industrialization, such as Manchester, Salford, England, and Wales, through statistics taken from the reports of the Registrar-General.
According to the data then available, “the annual mortality of England and Wale was 1 in 40 in 1780; in 1801, it was 1 in 48; and in 1830, it had decreased to 1 in 58”. A decrease in mortality rates, as these numbers clearly point out, suggests that people were living healthily, and that sanitary conditions were acceptable to produce a viable environment in growing manufacturing cities. This argument disproves the notion that the general quality of life of people diminish by over-crowding of space, “by their being brought together in masses,” and by the introduction of the factory system.
Therefore, we can conclude from the quantitative evidence given above that the standard of living was improved. The increase in population and the decrease in mortality rates indicate the factory system must have worked well to provide good living standards that allow long life spans. If it is not convincing that industrialization improved the quality of life of the working class, then at least the evidence defends that the process of industrialization did not deteriorate their standard of living. increasing consumption cannot be a irect measurement of the well-being of workers.
The living standards are incapable of being measured because they include “home and family life, education, play and leisure, the conditions of work, the psychological adaptation from handwork to the time clock and machine discipline of the factory system, and child and woman labor. ” Pessimists provide evidence for their arguments through testimony of the Blue Books, and the books, pamphlets, and articles used by contemporary observers and witnesses.
These are qualitative evidence and analyses and are used to embrace the traditional family values and those of human values as well. They insist that through the process of industrialization, the quality of life of the working class did indeed deteriorate. In conclusion, the debate over whether industrialization increased or deteriorated the standard of living of the working class is compromised. Proponents to the factory system and the process of industrialization overwhelm their opponents with statistical data, proving that living standards improved throughout the duration of the Industrial Revolution.
Data such as population growth, low death rate, better working conditions with less work-related injuries and sicknesses, and an increase in saving deposits signify and is indicative that the working class was under healthy environments, and that their living standards were improved due to the introduction of the factory system. Finally, it is important to notice the significance of this paper. Its significance lies in defending logic, science, and methodology against personal values and prejudice. Its significance lies in comparing and contrasting the quantitative method and the qualitative method.
It shows that the qualitative approach to analyze effects of a historical event holds no importance because this qualitative evidence is usually one-sided, argued from personal values and beliefs. On the contrary, quantitative analyses of evidence provide a more accurate tale of what happened without the bias and personal values. Concrete numbers do not lie, and from these numbers we can infer about what exactly happened. Thus statistical evidence shows us that the Industrial Revolution did improve the standard of living of the social working class.