Urbanization & Other Effects of the Industrial Revolution: Social & Economic Impacts

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  • 0:05 Urbanization
  • 2:13 Working Conditions
  • 4:08 Trade Unions
  • 4:44 Reform
  • 6:12 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Patricia Chappine

Patricia has a Ph.D. in Progress, History and Culture as well as a master's degree in Holocaust and genocide studies. She has taught heritage of the western world and U.S. history.

The Industrial Revolution had a lasting effect on class structure, urbanization and lifestyle. In this lesson, we will learn how the Industrial Revolution changed various aspects of European society.


The Industrial Revolution changed material production, wealth, labor patterns and population distribution. Although many rural areas remained farming communities during this time, the lives of people in cities changed drastically. The new industrial labor opportunities caused a population shift from the countryside to the cities. The new factory work led to a need for a strict system of factory discipline.

During this time, child labor and the unsafe working conditions rampant in many factories led to reform movements. Population movement was caused by people living in small farming communities who moved to cities. These prospective workers were looking for wage labor in newly developed factories.

During the early 19th century, there was a large population growth caused by the improvements of the Agricultural Revolution of the 18th century. Many historians believe this population increase was due to a dramatic decline in the death rate. A drop in famines, warfare and illnesses, and an increase in food sources, all mixed to cause a population spike. As early as 1850, many European cities were centers of industrial growth. In fact, by 1850, over 50% of the entire population of Great Britain lived in either a town or a city instead of in a rural community.

The growth of cities led to horrible living conditions. The wealthy fared far better than the industrial workers because they could afford to live in the suburbs on the outskirts of the city. However, for most of the factory workers, cities were dirty, crowded places where epidemics frequently broke out.

Overcrowded row homes created to house the workers and their families contributed to these conditions. Government reports of the time indicated people sleeping as many as six to one bed.

The sanitary conditions in early industrial cities were filthy as well. Since the municipal governments did not concern themselves with cleanliness at the time, the cities did not have proper waste disposal systems, and people threw trash and sewage directly into the streets. The burning coal of the industrial factories coated cities in a layer of grime and polluted the air, and water supplies were polluted by waste.

Working Conditions

Conditions in factories were deplorable as well. Those workers who had come from agricultural backgrounds were faced with a big adjustment. While farming required irregular hours and periods of work alternating with rest, the factory system required constant labor. Factory owners were faced with the task of breaking the habits of these workers and getting them accustomed to time-based labor.

The discipline of the workers directly impacted their productivity and, ultimately, the profit of the factory. Factory owners instituted regular hours for workers to ensure that their machines were always producing. The employers instituted strict rules and punishment for those who disobeyed. For instance, workers could be fined for being late or fired for being intoxicated at work.

The early factories were extremely unsafe. Imagine going to work without safety regulations and with no protections in place. If you were injured, you were not compensated. If you could not work anymore, you received nothing. It was a very real possibility that a person could become homeless from being out of work.

Also, imagine that there were no laws about how long you could work or how many consecutive days you could labor without time off. A person could work a shift of 12-16 hours. This same person could be asked to work this grueling shift six days per week. Many of these factories were also dusty, unventilated and sweltering hot in the summer.

Conditions in the coal mines were hazardous as well. Usually, men hunched in cramped tunnels that were only about three or four feet high, dug coal and placed it in carts. Then, small children or women would push the carts to the surface. Coal miners were faced with damp, cramped conditions, along with the danger of cave-ins and toxic gas. Many children who worked in the mines had long lasting health effects, such as lung disease and stunted growth.

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