Did the Industrial Revolution benefit British Society?
- GeorgeLv 510 years agoFavorite Answer
During the Industrial Revolution, the social structure of society changed dramatically. Before the Revolution most people lived in small villages, working either in agriculture or as skilled craftsmen. They lived and often worked as a family, doing everything by hand. In fact, three quarters of Britain's population lived in the countryside, and farming was the predominant occupation (Porter). With the advent of industrialization, however, everything changed. The new enclosure laws—which required that all grazing grounds be fenced in at the owner's expense—had left many poor farmers bankrupt and unemployed, and machines capable of huge outputs made small hand weavers redundant. As a result, there were many people who were forced to work at the new factories. This required them to move to towns and cities so that they could be close to their new jobs. It also meant that they made less money for working longer hours. Add to this the higher living expenses due to urbanization, and one can easily see that many families' resources would be extremely stretched.
As a result, women and children were sent out to work, making up 75% of early workers (Stearns). Families were forced to do this, since they desperately needed money, while factory owners were happy to employ women and children for a number of reasons. First of all, they could be paid very little, and children could be controlled more easily than adults, generally through violent beatings (Sadler). Children also had smaller hands, which were often needed to reach in among the parts of a machine. Furthermore, employers found that children were more malleable, and adapted to the new methods much better than adults did. Children were also sent to work in mines, being small enough to get more coal and ore from the deep and very often unsafe pits (Stearns). They could also be forced to work as long as eighteen hours each day (Sadler). For these reasons, children as young as eight years old were sent to factories—usually those which manufactured textiles—where they became part of a growing and profitable business.
This unprecedented growth and profit was another social change that occurred during the Industrial Revolution. The laissez-faire approach taken by the government—and advocated by philosopher-economist Adam Smith—allowed capitalism to flourish. There were little or no government regulations imposed upon factory policies, and this allowed the wealthy, middle-class owners to pursue whichever path was most profitable, regardless of the safety and well being of their workers. This relentless pursuit of money caused another important social change: the ultimate breakdown of the family unit.
Since workers, especially women and children, were labouring for up to eighteen hours each day, there was very little family contact, and the only time that one was at home was spent sleeping. People also had to share housing with other families, which further contributed to the breakdown of the family unit. As a result, children received very little education, had stunted growth, and were sickly. They also grew up quite maladjusted, having never been taught how to behave properly (Sadler). The living conditions were indeed horrible; working families often lived in slums with little sanitation, and infant mortality skyrocketed. During the early Industrial Revolution, 50% of infants died before the age of two (Stearns).
However, the social changes that took place were not all negative. Most classes eventually benefited in some way from the huge profits that were being made, and by 1820 most workers were making somewhat better wages. The "widespread poverty and constant threat of mass starvation…lessened, [and] overall health and material conditions of the populace clearly improved" (Porter). The government, however, did have to eventually intervene in order to put an end to child labour and other unacceptable practices.