Back To CourseSociology 101: Intro to Sociology
14 chapters | 126 lessons | 10 flashcard sets
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Valerie holds a Ph.D. in Health Psychology.
Have you ever researched your family tree? Do you know what country your great grandparents come from? Many people living in the United States today had relatives who lived in Europe and migrated to America. But, do you know why people migrated here? In this lesson, we will discuss migration from rural to urban settings in Europe and the U.S.
Migration is the physical movement from one area to another. People migrate for various reasons. Some positive reasons people migrate are to obtain a better job, obtain personal freedoms and acquire a better way of life. Some not so positive reasons people migrate are because of war, famine, poverty and oppression.
Prior to the mid-1780s, most of Europe lived in a rural area. A rural area is an area that has a population less than 2,500 people. Life in the rural area consisted of growing crops, such as grain, and raising animals, such as sheep, for wool and meat. Being a farmer is hard work, and the pay is extremely low. In addition, all of the work had to be done by hand as they did not have any machines to aid in their labor. Farmers were also at the mercy of nature. For example, a good weather season meant a bountiful crop and prosperous times. However, an inhospitable weather season meant an anemic crop, which could lead to starvation.
Around 1780 England was undergoing an Industrial Revolution. The Industrial Revolution refers to a period of economic, technological and social change. The Industrial Revolution eventually spread across Europe to America. The reason it started in England is because they had the natural resources, such as iron and coal; they had obtained cotton from their colonies, such as India; and they had just invented many labor saving machines. They also had enough people willing to work in the new industries. When people had a chance to leave the farm in hopes of a better life as a factory worker or coal miner, they jumped at the opportunity. Entire families left the farm and all members of the family - including young boys and girls - went to work in the new industries. As a laborer of industry, a person who worked hard could be promoted to better jobs, earn more money and thus, pull themselves out of poverty. All of these opportunities would never have been granted to them if they had stayed on the farm.
During this period of time, people migrated to wherever the jobs were. For example, coal and iron were in Central and Northern England, which created a job market in this area for people to come and mine these resources. In this example, thousands of people migrated from Southern England to Central and Northern England, which caused Northern cities, like Manchester, to grow.
So, over time, the rural population migrated into the urban areas. An urban area, otherwise known as a city, is an area that has a population of greater than 2,500 people. However, it wasn't just English people migrating to the urban areas - it was people from all over Europe. These people who were migrating into England from a different country are known as immigrants. An immigrant is a person who comes to live in a foreign country, while the act of going to live in a foreign country is called immigration. So, your great grandparents could have immigrated from Europe to America. When they settled in America they were known as immigrants. Now, here is where the terms can get tricky; if your great grandparents, for example, left their birthplace to come to America, the act of leaving the place where you were born is called emigration. The term emigration specifically refers to the act of leaving one's birthplace to settle in another country. The two terms are similar in that they both refer to migrating people from one place to another. However, emigration is the act of leaving, and immigration is the act of entering another country. An easy way to distinguish the two terms is to think of the 'e' in emigration as exiting one's place of birth and think of the 'i' in immigration as going into a place. So, now let's say your great-grandparents who were born in Scotland exited (emigrated) Scotland and went into (immigrated) England in hopes of finding a better job. Once in England, they were immigrants of that country.
The Industrial Revolution had such an impact on the population that it literally changed where the majority of people lived. For example, in the 1700s most of England's population lived in a rural area; however, by the 1800s most of England's population lived in an urban area. Thus, it can be said that the Industrial Revolution eventually transformed England from a primarily agrarian society to an industrial one.
Between 1830 and 1890, the United States was undergoing its own Industrial Revolution. There are several factors that enabled the United States to transform itself from a primarily agrarian society to an industrial one. These factors include having natural resources, such as lumber and coal; the right weather conditions for growing textile crops, such as cotton; and the government issuing 440,000 patents for new inventions. Some of the inventions include the refrigerated railroad car (1860), the typewriter (1867), the adding machine (1888), the telephone (1876), the gasoline engine (1878) and the light bulb (1879). With each new invention, a new industry was created. New industry meant new jobs, and new jobs meant that people migrated from where they were to where the jobs are.
As industry grew, so did the demand for the labor force. Many of the industrial workers came from American farms. The Americans left farm life for the same reasons the Europeans did - in hopes of a better life and earning more money.
Not only American farmers migrated to urban areas, but skilled laborers from Europe did as well. These people came primarily from Britain, Ireland, and Scotland. The industries needed English speaking skilled workers, people who did not need to be trained, and those who already knew how to do their jobs. These workers ran factories, built railroads, worked in the mines and built boats. The owners of the industries were typically willing to pay generous salaries to workers who had the skills they needed, which was a dramatic contrast from how the European skilled worker was paid. So, in hopes of earning more money and having a better quality of life, thousands of Northern Europeans immigrated to the United States.
It was believed that America was the land of opportunity because through hard work it was possible to obtain prosperity. So, when the potato famine hit Ireland in 1847, thousands of Irish immigrated to the United States. During that period of time, a million Irish immigrated to the U.S. Most of these Irish landed in New York, which dramatically added to the expansion of that urban area. Additionally, when the California Gold Rush started in 1849, thousands of Chinese immigrants migrated to the West coast seeking their fortune. The dramatic influx of Chinese greatly added to the expansion of urban areas, such as San Francisco.
During the period between 1880 and 1921, America experienced its largest boom in immigration with more than 23 million people immigrating to the U.S. The majority of the immigrants were from Austria-Hungary, Russia, Italy, Poland, Serbia, Turkey and Greece. The reason why these people emigrated from their birth places is because of harsh economic conditions, war and escaping religious persecution.
Many of the immigrants who came to the U.S. took jobs as unskilled factory workers, while others were farmers who came to America because they could obtain farmland for next to nothing. Immigrants who settled in cities led to the urbanization process. This process occurs when large numbers of people become permanently concentrated in small areas, forming cities.
This tremendous influx of immigrants caused unprecedented urban growth. For example, urban centers with 2,500 or more people went from 6 million in 1860 to 46 million in 1910. It is also estimated that by 1910 more than 10 million Americans migrated from rural areas to urban areas. Today, it is estimated that fewer than 1 in 4 Americans lives in a rural area.
A couple of hundred years ago, most of the populations in Europe and America were living a rural life. However, with the advent of the Industrial Revolution, people migrated from farms to urban areas. They came to the urban areas to work, earn more money and have a chance to improve their quality of life.
The United States of America has become progressively urbanized with more and more people migrating to the urban areas. The urban areas are where the jobs are, which hold the promise of earning higher wages and improving their standard of living. However, people also immigrated to America to escape prosecution, obtain religious freedom and avoid starvation and war.
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Back To CourseSociology 101: Intro to Sociology
14 chapters | 126 lessons | 10 flashcard sets