One of the most important changes was the continuous expansion of the population and the economy. Most observers in the eighteenth century did not believe that expansion of the population and the economy could be sustained indefinitely.
The population had consistently expanded as the greater agricultural productivity permitted maintaining an adequate food supply. The industrial economy had been able to employ large numbers of workers. Industrialized nations continued to experience an increase in the gross national product and per capita income.
There has been much debate about the impact of industrialization on the working class. The optimists have pointed to the long-term effects of industrialization. Pessimists have emphasized the fact that improvements did not appear for several decades after the beginning of industrialization. Contemporary critics such as Friedrich Engels accused industrial capitalists of robbing the workers of their just wages. Social philosopher Karl Marx used Engels’ critique to call for workers to revolt and seize control of the means of production.
Pessimists also point to the early decades of industrialization, when people were forced to live in decrepit housing around the factories in polluted towns and cities (normally in terrible slum conditions). The monotonous and exhausting nature of factory work adds to the pessimists’ argument against the positive effects of the Industrial Revolution.
During the early Industrial Revolution, large numbers of women and children were part of the workforce. They were willing to accept lower wages and were more easily disciplined.
The factory system changed family life. In the early years of the Industrial Revolution many families worked together in the factories and mines.
The British Factory Act of 1833 enforced restrictions against child labor. Women who did work were usually young and unmarried. The Industrial Revolution did not improve the status of women. Their pay was too little to give them financial independence or prestige, and they frequently were under the control of the male workers.
Historians describe industrial society as divided into three classes based on the type of property they owned. The aristocracy owned land. The bourgeoisie owned capital enterprises and gained their wealth from profits. The working class owned only their labor and received wages.
The Industrial Revolution changed the landscape. Small towns grew into huge cities. In the countryside, bridges, viaducts, railroad lines, and canals were built to improve transportation. The destruction of the natural beauty of the landscape caused a nostalgic reaction that led to the romantic movement in art and literature.
Canal: An artificial waterway or improved river used for travel, shipping, or irrigation.
Factory system: A method of production that brought many workers and machines together into one building
Invention: A new device, method, or process developed from study and experimentation
Labor: Productive work, especially physical work, done for wages
Steam engine: An engine that converts the heat energy of pressurized steam into mechanical energy. This invention revolutionized transportation and was used to power trains and boats.
Slum: A neighborhood with overcrowded, dangerous housing