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Effects of the industrial revolution

The industrial revolution was an economic and cultural shift from manual labor, cottage industry, and traditional agriculture, to a system of factory-based manufacturing that involved complex machinery, continual technological growth, development in transportation, and new energy sources. The effects of the industrial revolution are both positive and negative as society’s attention turned from human power to mechanical power and from the rural home to the urban factory.

As the industrial revolution progressed, it had a huge impact on almost every aspect of society. In as much as the industrial revolution made people’s lives easier and improved society in many ways, it also had some negative impacts in many aspects. In this article, we will be discussing some of the more lasting and influential effects of the industrial revolution on society.

Negative and Positive Effects of the Industrial Revolution
Negative and Positive Effects of the Industrial Revolution

Related: Crony Capitalism (Cronyism)

What is the industrial revolution?

The industrial revolution was a period of major innovation and mechanization that began during the mid-18th century and early 19th century in Great Britain and later spread throughout the world. Hence, it was the process of change from a handicraft and agrarian economy to one dominated by industry and machine manufacturing.

The exploitation of coal and iron dominated the British industrial revolution. In America, the era saw the manufacturing and the introduction of new modes of transportation such as automobiles, steamships, and airplanes as well as the mechanization of agriculture. The American Industrial Revolution also referred to as the Second Industrial Revolution began in the 1870s and continued through World War II.

Before the industrial revolution, most households earned their living through farming and lived mainly in small, rural communities. However, during the 18th century and with the advent of factories, people began working for companies that were located in urban areas for the first time. Even though the wages were low, and the working conditions were harsh, working for such businesses still paid a better living than farming in that era.

During the industrial revolution, production efficiency improved with inventions such as the steam engine. The steam engine dramatically reduced the time it took to manufacture products. Hence, more efficient production subsequently reduced prices for products, basically due to lower labor costs, which opened the marketing doors to a new level of customers.

Also, the industrial revolution developed in conjunction with the capitalist economies. Business owners (capitalists) under capitalism, began to organize labor centrally into factories and introduced a division of labor to increase profitability and output. Compared to the initial craft and guild systems, capitalist production incentivized innovation and technological change at an extraordinary rate.

What were the effects of the industrial revolution?

Even though the industrial revolution occurred approximately 200 years ago, it is an era that left a profound impact on the way businesses operated and how people lived. It is during the industrial revolution that the factory systems developed which are arguably responsible for creating capitalism and the modern cities of today.

Therefore, the main features involved in the industrial revolution were cultural, technological, and socioeconomic. The technological changes included the following:

  • Use of new basic materials, which were basically iron and steel
  • The use of new energy sources, such as fuels and motive power (e.g coal, the steam engine, electricity, petroleum, and the internal-combustion engine)
  • The invention of new machines, like the spinning jenny and the power loom, allowed increased production with a smaller expenditure of human energy
  • A new organization of work called the factory system, which involves increased division of labor and specialization of function
  • Important developments in communication and transportation, such as the telegraph, radio, steam locomotive, steamship, automobile, and airplane.
  • Increasing application of science to industry.

All these technological changes were responsible for a tremendously increased use of natural resources and the mass production of manufactured goods. The effects of the industrial revolution were also seen in several new developments in nonindustrial areas, such as the following:

  • Agricultural improvements that made the provision of food for a larger nonagricultural population possible
  • Economic changes that resulted in the decline of land as a source of wealth in the face of rising industrial production, a wider distribution of wealth, and increased international trade
  • Political changes reflecting the shift in economic power and new state policies corresponding to the needs of an industrialized society
  • Sweeping social changes, such as the growth of cities, the development of working-class movements, as well as the emergence of new patterns of authority
  • Cultural transformations of a broad order where workers acquired new and distinctive skills, and their relation to their tasks shifted; thus instead of being craftsmen working with hand tools, they became machine operators, subject to factory discipline.
  • Psychological change in the sense that people’s confidence in the ability to use resources and master nature was heightened.

It is no argument that the effects of the industrial revolution on society have brought about both positive and negative lasting effects, which we will be discussing further.

See also: Mercantilism vs capitalism differences and similarities

Effects of the industrial revolution in America and Great Britain

Industrial Revolution reached the United States in the 19th century, which profoundly reshaped the American culture and had a significant impact on subsequent global history. The industrial revolution altered all aspects of American life, from politics to the economy and the fabric of society itself. It brought about sweeping changes in economic and social organization and these changes included a wider distribution of wealth and increased international trade.

By the late 1700s, many people could no longer earn their living in the countryside and increasingly they moved from farms and villages into bigger towns and cities to find work in factories. As a result, managerial hierarchies developed also to oversee the division of labor in factories. However, as the cities grew larger, they were often crowded, dirty, and unhealthy. Also, as workers left their farms to work in factories for higher wages, there was a shortage of food being produced.

During this era, machines greatly increased production and products were cheaper to make and also cheaper to buy. Hence, several factory owners became rich. However, even though machines made work easier in some ways, factory work still created many problems for the laborers. The work was usually dangerous and these factory employees did not earn much. Men, women, and even small children all worked in factories and many of them worked 14 to 16 hours per day, six days every week.

Positive effects of the Industrial Revolution

  1. Increase in employment opportunities
  2. The industrial revolution inspired innovation
  3. Production levels increased
  4. It improved processes in virtually any sector
  5. Improve international trade

Here are some of the positive effects of the industrial revolution in America and Great Britain:

Increase in employment opportunities

An increase in employment opportunities was one of the positive effects of the industrial revolution in America and Great Britain. It created an increase in employment opportunities as wages at the factories were higher than what the individuals were making as farmers. Additional managers and employees were required as factories became widespread. People were required for factory operations, and as such, this increased the supply of jobs and overall wages.

Hence, this era made it possible for more people to have jobs. Before the industrial revolution, jobs were based on family traditions, educational studies, or a unique talent that someone had. But when factories began to be built around the world, people began to earn a living in a way that was very different from the past.

The industrial revolution inspired innovation

This era of the industrial revolution inspired innovation. The increased innovation that was birthed from this era led to higher levels of motivation and education, which resulted in several groundbreaking inventions that are still in use today such as the lightbulb, the sewing machine, the X-ray, the calculator, anesthesia, etc. Hence, it was due to the Industrial Revolution’s advancements, that the nation saw the first combustible engine, incandescent light bulb, and modern assembly line used in manufacturing.

The industrial revolution’s effects on society as a result of some of these innovations changed how people worked, the technologies available to them, and where they lived. Some of the innovations made life comfortable for many, though living conditions for workers remained abhorrent, which eventually led to the rise of labor unions that later resulted in improved working conditions and fair wages for workers.

Production levels increased

An increase in production levels was one impact of the industrial revolution on society. Many products were built or made by hand before the industrial revolution which required a specific time investment by the creator. Hence, mass production was virtually impossible. The industrial revolution changed that as factories enabled groups of people to be more productive than one person on their own. It made it possible for better products to be made and improved the services to be given.

This eventually allowed communities to improve their quality of living over time because there was greater access to goods and services. Also, competition was created as multiple products could be made in any industry or sector. Hence, free market economies began to develop. Customers could choose from a variety of products, the best one that meets their own needs rather than being reliant on a particular business or provider to give them what they needed. Therefore, the industrial revolution shifted power away from businesses into the hands of consumers.

It improved processes in virtually any sector

One of the industrial revolution’s effects on society is that it improved processes in virtually any sector. After the industrial revolution, transportation no longer required a horse, buildings could be made better, clothing could be more durable, and wouldn’t need to be made at home and food products became cheaper to produce. That is every sector of commerce and industry improved during this era, making products and services better.

In addition, another impact of the industrial revolution on society is the improvement in city planning. Since a majority of the factories and large companies were located near the cities, populations migrated to urban areas in search of jobs, overwhelming the available housing supply. This eventually led to significant improvements in city planning.

Improved international trade

Improvement in international trade is definitely one of the positive effects of the industrial revolution. Before the industrial revolution, commerce and trade were restricted to the national level at best. Even though international trade was in existence, it was quite difficult, due to the immense cost of transporting goods.

As the industrial revolution made transportation easier and cheaper, it allowed businesses to create an international presence for their brand. This made it possible for communities to experience new goods or services while still enjoying local products.

Negative effects of the Industrial Revolution

  1. Horrible living conditions for workers
  2. Stressful and unsatisfying lifestyle for workers
  3. Child Labor
  4. Discrimination against women
  5. Urban pollution

Even though there were several advancements during the industrial revolution, the rapid progress of this era caused many negative issues. Here are some of the negative effects of the industrial revolution on society:

Horrible living conditions for workers

During the industrial revolution, cities grew and as a result, there wasn’t enough housing for all the new inhabitants. This led to horrible living conditions for workers in factories. In the 1830s, a survey was done by Dr. William Henry Duncan, a government health official in Liverpool, England, and he found out that a third of the city’s population lived in cellars of houses, which had earthen floors and no ventilation or sanitation.

The survey reported that as many as 16 people were living in a single room and sharing a single toilet. Also, workers and their families were vulnerable to infectious diseases such as cholera due to the lack of clean water and the gutters overflowing with sewage from basement cesspits. Health issues arose for many of the factory workers which gave rise to the labor movement throughout the U.S.

Stressful and unsatisfying lifestyle for workers

Workers having a stressful and unsatisfying lifestyle came with the industrial revolution. This was one of the negative effects of the industrial revolution. The industrial revolution provided an incentive to increase profits, and due to this, working conditions in factories deteriorated. Long hours of work, inadequate remuneration, and minimal breaks became the norm.

The workers that came from the countryside to the cities had to adjust to a very different lifestyle, with little personal autonomy. They had to arrive when the factory whistle blew, or else face losing their pay and being locked out as well as even being forced to pay fines. Once on the job, workers couldn’t freely move around or catch a breath if they needed one because that might require shutting down a machine.

Unlike the craftsmen in rural towns, the days of a worker usually consisted of having to perform repetitive tasks, and continual pressure to keep up and when the workday was finally done, they didn’t have much time or energy left for any sort of recreation. There was poor nutrition among workers and as a result, they frequently suffered from problems with their stomachs and bowels, lost weight, and had skin that was pale, leaden-colored, or of yellow hue.

Also, without much in the way of safety regulation, factories of the industrial revolution could be horrifyingly hazardous. Workers constantly faced the risk of losing a hand while operating the machinery. Also, mines of the era, which supplied the coal needed for the running of steam-powered machines had terrible accidents too.

Child labor

Child labor was a significant issue during the period of the industrial revolution. Even though children worked before the Industrial Revolution, the rapid growth of factories created such a high demand that poor youth and orphans were plucked from London’s poorhouses and housed in mill dormitories.

These children were compelled to do dangerous adult jobs, worked long hours, and were deprived of education, suffering horrifying fates. Hence, the exploitation of child labor happens to be one of the worst negative effects of the industrial revolution on society.

Discrimination against women

One of the negative effects of the industrial revolution is that it helped establish patterns of gender inequality in the workplace that lasted in the eras that followed. Factory owners usually paid women only half of what the men got for the same work, based on the false assumption that women didn’t need to support families, and were only working for pin money that a husband might even give them to pay for non-essential personal items.

Discrimination against women and stereotyping of women workers continued into the second Industrial Revolution. The misconception that women had nimble fingers and could only withstand repetitive, mindless work better than men led to the displacement of men in white-collar jobs such as office work. This led to the assignment of office work to women after the 1870s when the typewriter was introduced. Even though office work was less dangerous and better paid, it locked women into yet another stereotype category of ‘women’s work’ from which it was hard to escape.

Urban pollution

Urban pollution happens to be one of the lasting and negative effects of the industrial revolution. The rapid increase in the number of factories led to an increase in urban pollution. The industrial revolution was powered by burning coal, and as a result, big industrial cities began pumping vast quantities of pollution into the atmosphere. The burning of fossil fuels pumped carbon into the atmosphere. Hence, air pollution continued to rise in the 1800s, which caused respiratory illness and higher death rates in areas that burned more coal. This means that climate change driven by human activity began as early as the 1830s.

Furthermore, pollution wasn’t contained only in the factories. As people flocked to the cities, the urban resources were overwhelmed and the living conditions became deplorable. In some cities, sewage flowed in the streets while manufacturers dumped waste from factories into rivers. The water supplies were not tested and protected as they are today. Hence, regulations, and laws were enacted to protect the population.

See also: Laissez faire capitalism definition and examples

Socioeconomic and Political Impacts of the Industrial Revolution

  • Political effects of the Industrial Revolution
  • Economic impacts
  • Social Effects of the Industrial Revolution

Political effects of the Industrial Revolution

There were definitely political effects of the industrial revolution on society. The political repercussion of the American Industrial Revolution included the rise of the United States as a global economic power, the passage of labor-related legislation, and the clash between traditional culture and modern progress.

The Civil War represented a conflict between an industrial society in which paid employees fueled a consumer economy and an agrarian society, that relied upon slave labor. The expansion of the American economy had international repercussions, such as the opening of relations with Japan, and spurred rapid territorial growth. Also, urban workers became a vocal political class and encouraged the passage of legislation like the 1938 Fair Labor Standards Act.

In conclusion, one of the biggest political effects of the American Industrial Revolution was the US rising to a world power position. The increased domestic and foreign trade opportunities strengthened the nation’s economy and encouraged the US government to become more involved in foreign relations.

Read also: What is mercantilism? examples and theory

Economic effects of the Industrial Revolution

There were economic effects of the industrial revolution as well on society. The American Industrial Revolution announced the arrival and predominance of capitalism. This is an economic principle that was theorized by Adam Smith in ‘Wealth of Nations’ which Karl Marx elaborated upon in his magnum opus, ‘Capital’.

The factories that started off in the Industrial Revolution illustrated the capitalist principle of wage labor, whereby workers disown ownership of the means of production in return for an hourly wage. This process concentrated wealth in the hands of industrialists, whose riches became tied to the fluctuations of a consumer market.

Hence, capitalist America, with its vast natural resources and large population, became an economic juggernaut, during the Industrial Revolution, that took advantage of a vast internal and international consumer market.

Check out: Capitalism characteristics and features

Social Effects of the Industrial Revolution

One of the major social effects of the industrial revolution is that it brought about rapid urbanization and the movement of people to cities. The ever-increasing demand for workers, changes in farming, and the soaring population growth led masses of people to migrate from farms to cities. As a result, small towns around coal or iron mines developed rapidly into cities overnight.

New social classes emerged as a result of the industrial revolution. Another of the social effects of the industrial revolution is that it created a new middle class and the working class. Those in the middle class were the ones that owned and operated the new factories, mines, and railroads, among other industries. Their lifestyle was much more comfortable than that of the industrial working class. They lived in well-furnished, spacious homes on paved streets with their families and had a ready supply of water. Hence, they wore fancy clothing and ate well.

The industrial working class, on the other hand, struggled to survive in foul-smelling slums. They packed into tiny rooms and had no running water, only community pumps. There was no sewage or sanitation system, and as such waste and garbage were left to rot in the streets. Also, sewage was dumped into rivers, which caused an overwhelming stench and contaminated drinking water. This led to the spread of diseases such as cholera among the industrial working class.

See also: Mercantilism vs communism differences and similarities


Conclusively, the industrial revolution was an economic and cultural shift from manual labor, cottage industry, and traditional agriculture, to a system of factory-based manufacturing that involved complex machinery, continual technological growth, developments in transportation, and new energy sources.

Since the 1800s, people have debated whether the effects of the Industrial Revolution were a blessing or a curse. In as much as the early industrial age might have brought terrible hardships; over time, reformers pressed for laws to improve working conditions and labor unions won the right to bargain with employers for better wages, working conditions, and hours.

Therefore, regardless of the social problems created by the Industrial Revolution-low pay, and dismal living conditions, the Industrial Age did have some positive effects. More jobs were created as new factories opened to meet the increasing demand for mass-produced goods. Wages rose so that workers could have enough left for other needs after paying rent and buying food. Also, as the cost of railroad travel was reduced, people could afford to visit families in other towns. The industrial revolution definitely widened horizons and increased opportunities.