The Impact of the Industrial Revolution
As the Industrial Revolution progressed, it had a massive impact on almost every aspect of society. In many ways, it improved society and made people’s lives easier. However, it also had negative impacts as well. By its end, the Industrial Revolution had long-lasting and influential effects on the future society.
During the early Industrial Revolution, working conditions were usually terrible and sometimes tragic. Most factory employees worked 10-14 hours a day, six days a week, with no time off. Each industry had safety hazards that led to regular accidents on the job. As the era progressed, conditions became somewhat safer. However, it would take time for workers to unionize and demand safer conditions before things improved.
Working in new industrial cities had an effect on people’s lives outside of the factories as well. Urbanization was the greatest change to industrialized society. Cities expanded enormously as workers left their farms and migrated from rural areas to the city in search of jobs. In pre-industrial society, over 80% of people lived in rural areas. By the early 1900's, a majority of people in England and America lived in cities.
The densely packed and poorly constructed working-class tenements in cities contributed to the fast spread of disease. Neighborhoods were filthy, unplanned, and had muddy roads. Tenement apartments were built touching each other, leaving no room for ventilation. These apartments often lacked toilets and sewage systems, and as a result, drinking sources were frequently contaminated with disease. Cholera, tuberculosis, typhus, typhoid, and influenza ravaged new industrial towns, especially in poor working-class neighborhoods.
For skilled workers, their quality of life decreased in the early Industrial Revolution. Machines replaced the skills that weavers were previously paid well for. However, eventually the middle-class would grow as factories expanded and allowed for managers and higher wages for workers.
Gradually, a middle-class did emerge in industrial cities toward the end of the 19th century. Until then, there had only been two major classes in society; aristocrats born into their lives of wealth and privilege, and low-income working-class commoners. New urban industries eventually required more “white collar” jobs, such as businesspeople, shopkeepers, bank clerks, insurance agents, merchants, accountants, managers, doctors, lawyers, and teachers.
Despite strong pushback from management and business owners, labor unions developed among workers. These unions used strikes, boycotts, and collective bargaining to win higher wages, shorter workdays, and other concessions that made their jobs more tolerable.
Laws were eventually passed to end the abuses of child labor. With children in more densely packed cities, the first public school systems developed, greatly increasing the education level in society.
Women entered the workforce in textile mills and coal mines in large numbers, despite being paid less than men. Women began to organize and protest for more equality in society, most importantly for the right to vote. In the early 1900s, women finally won greater rights, including suffrage.