6.4 Social Effects of Industrialization

4 min readfebruary 12, 2023

Sharii Liang

Sharii Liang

Jillian Holbrook

Jillian Holbrook

AP European History 🇪🇺

335 resources
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The Working Classes

Socioeconomic Class Structure

The factories of the industrialized era gave rise to two socioeconomic classes that were strangely class-conscious and understanding of their rights.

Proletariats: The Working Class

The proletariat (lower class) manually ran the machines and produced the goods. It consisted of urban factory workers who worked long hours for low wages in often unsafe and unhealthy conditions. They had little control over their work due to replaceability and were subject to the whims of factory owners and managers. The growth of the proletariat class was a consequence of the shift from manual to machine-based production, which required large numbers of workers to operate and maintain the machines. Exploitation of the proletariat class created social unrest and the rise of labor movements aimed at improving working conditions and wages for workers.

Bourgeoisie: The Wealthy Class

The bourgeoisie (upper class) were typically wealthy industrialists, bankers, and merchants who owned and controlled the means of production, such as factories and businesses. By leveraging new technologies and innovations from industrialization, the bourgeoisie gained significant economic and political power as they expanded their businesses. The growth of the bourgeoisie class contributed to the rise of capitalist economies and the spread of free-market ideologies at the expense of the working class.

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. Housing was insufficient to support the population. Overcrowding became the norm because there was no plan in place to house the sheer number of workers. Waste covered the streets, and pollution worsened living conditions even further. Crime and disease proliferated considerably with rapid urbanization.
In contrast, the bourgeoisie controlled the means of production, meaning they could enjoy life in the suburbs and the countryside, which were far, far away from the city and its pollution. Having the ability to live outside the city allowed the bourgeoisie fresh air, limited disease, low rates of 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 Cult of Domesticity

Demand for labor did little for women's opportunities. Gender roles became increasingly defined. Men were expected to be breadwinners, and women were revered for taking care of the home so their husbands could relax and find refuge after a tiring day at work.

The Cult of Domesticity emphasized the importance of women's roles in the home and their responsibilities as wives and mothers. The ideal woman in this ideology was expected to be pious, pure, submissive, and focused on domestic duties, including cooking, cleaning, and caring for children. It oppressed any kind of progress women tried to make regarding workforce integration and access to education. However, it also served as a catalyst for the women's rights movement, as many women began to question and challenge their assigned roles in society.
The Cult of Domesticity was closely tied to the rise of the middle class and the spread of industrialization, as the growing prosperity of the middle class allowed for a greater separation of public and private spheres. 👩🙇‍♂️🙇‍♂️ (In the Cult of Domesticity, "cult" stands for culture, not an actual cult!)

The Nuclear Family

The nuclear family became the dominant family structure in Western societies during the Second Industrial Revolution. It consists of a married couple and their children living in a household separate from other relatives. The growth of industrialization and urbanization in the 19th century contributed to the emergence of the nuclear family because factory work prompted a greater emphasis on separating work from home life. Nuclear families were seen as a way to instill values in children, such as hard work, self-discipline, and respect for authority. 👪 

Marriage and Leisure

The working classes also began to seek marriage for companionship instead of financial or economic gains. 👰
Leisure activities became 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. 
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