Economic Activity: Pre-Industrial, Industrial & Post-Industrial

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  • 0:08 Pre-Industrial
  • 2:15 Industrialization
  • 4:05 Post-Industrial
  • 6:33 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Jessica Whittemore

Jessica has taught junior high history and college seminar courses. She has a master's degree in education.

This lesson will explore the eras of pre-industrialism, industrialism, and post-industrialism. In doing so, it will highlight subsistence-level living, cottage industries, and the service industry.


In our modern world of huge farms, factories, and computer companies, it can be rather hard to imagine a time when life held no gadgets at all, no grocery stores full of food or men and women bustling around factory floors. However, despite our inability to fathom how people lived without microwaves, manufactured cars, and the Internet, the generations before us somehow got by. In today's lesson, we'll take a look at these generations and our generation, as we discuss economic activity in the pre-industrial, industrial, and post-industrial age.

Going in order from oldest to most recent, we'll kick it off with the pre-industrial age. Stated very simply, the term 'pre-industrial' is defined as the time before industrialization. In other words, it was life before machine manufacturing and mechanization.

When speaking of economies, most activity during the pre-industrial age existed at the subsistence level, in which goods are produced for the consumption and survival of one's family group. In this subsistence lifestyle, most goods were produced by the family for the family. For instance, a farmer grew food for his family, not to sell at a market. And moms made clothes for their kids to actually wear, instead of trying to sell them on a website dedicated to homemade products. Adding to this, most people lived in rural farming societies rather than cities.

Along with subsistence-level living, some people did offer services and products for sale within their small, rural communities. However, unlike our modern world, they were not made by big machines or huge owner-operated factories. Instead, they were produced in what have been coined cottage industries, or businesses or manufacturing systems operating in a person's home or private property. A great example of this is a woman offering seamstress services to her community or a man using his barn to start making and selling horseshoes to his neighbors.


However, as the Industrial Revolution, an era spanning from the 18th to 19th century in which the worlds of Europe and America moved from predominately rural farming areas to industrialized cities, life and economic activity really began to change. With this change, we come to the era of industrialization. Very much like the actual definition of the Industrial Revolution, industrialization simply denotes a society transforming itself from a primarily agricultural society into one based on the manufacturing of goods and services.

With the onset of industrialism, economic activity shifted from the rural countryside to the more industrialized cities. This occurred as many farmers realized there were better paying and more stable jobs in new factories of the modernized world. This movement to city life is known as urbanization, the migrating of people from rural areas to urban ones. Of course, as the people came to the cities, their money came with them.

Although this may sound like it crippled the economic activity of the rural areas, this was really not the case. Quite the opposite, many of the farmers who stayed behind saw their own economic boons as all those new city dwellers needed someone to supply them with food. So, while city economies were thriving through industrialization, rural economies were growing through commercialization, producing for a market, making one dependent on the buying and selling of goods.

For those of us living in the modern West, we are very familiar with the era of industrialization. We see it played out every time we drive past a large factory or buy a mass-produced piece of particle-board furniture. We witness it as we see documentaries on dairy cows being milked by machines or jelly beans being produced by the millions.


However, something we might not be as familiar with is the idea that some argue we are now living in a post-industrial age. To explain this one, post-industrial simply denotes a time in which an economy no longer relies on heavy industry and manufacturing, but instead on the offering of services.

In a post-industrial age, many assert that economic activity is driven by the service industry rather than just the manufacturing industry. Again, keeping things rather simple, the service industry is generally defined as businesses that work for a customer but are not involved in manufacturing.

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