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European Industrial Revolution

The European Industrial Revolution began in Great Britain in the 1700s; this was a time of significant innovation that led to goods being produced in large quantities as a result of machine manufacturing. This was a period of major mechanization and innovation that began in Great Britain and later spread throughout the world. This era was the first industrial revolution and was dominated by the exploitation of coal and iron.

The industrial revolution in Europe was a period of a cultural and economic shift from manual labor, traditional agriculture, and cottage industry to a factory-based manufacturing system. A factory system that involved complex machinery, development in transportation, new energy sources, and continual technological growth. In this article, we will discuss the European Industrial Revolution, why it started in Europe, and its changes in European society.

European industrial revolution
European industrial revolution

Related: What Caused the Second Industrial Revolution?

European industrial revolution explained

Europe’s Industrial Revolution was a time of great change and development throughout parts of Europe in which European society made substantial technological progress. A large amount of this progress was centered in Britain, basically because of its resources and the economic conditions that were present in Britain during the time.

This was a period of transition that included going from hand production methods to machines. This era also involved the development of machine tools, increasing use of steam power and water power, new chemical manufacturing, new iron production processes, and the rise of the mechanized factory system.

During the industrial revolution in Europe, output greatly increased, and there was an extraordinary rise in population. Textiles were the dominant industry of the European Industrial Revolution in terms of employment, the value of output, and capital invested. Hence, the textile industry was the first industry to use modern production methods.

When was the industrial revolution in Europe?

The industrial revolution in Europe started around 1760 in Great Britain and later spread to the rest of Europe and other parts of the world. This was the transition to new processes in manufacturing in Great Britain, continental Europe, and the United States. The Industrial Revolution in Continental Europe came later than in Great Britain. Hence, it started in Belgium and France, and then by the middle of the 19th century, it spread to the German states.

The majority of the technological and architectural innovations were of British origin and most European governments provided state funding to the new industries. Hence, Britain became the world’s leading commercial nation by the mid-18th century; thereby controlling a global trading empire with colonies in North America and the Caribbean. The rise of business and the development of trade were therefore among the major causes of the European Industrial Revolution.

How did the industrial revolution change Europe?

The European Industrial Revolution marked a major turning point in history as it influenced in some way almost every aspect of daily life. Average income and population began to exhibit unequaled sustained growth during this era. Some economists have said that the most important effect of this era was that for the first time in history, the standard of living for the general population in the western world began to increase consistently, though others have said that this effect did not begin to meaningfully improve until the late 19th and 20th centuries.

Prior to the European Industrial Revolution and the emergence of the modern capitalist economy, GDP per capita was broadly stable. The Industrial Revolution, therefore, began an era of per-capita economic growth in capitalist economies. Economic historians are of the opinion that the onset of the Industrial Revolution is the most important event in human history since the domestication of plants and animals.

The European industrial revolution began in Britain, starting with mechanized spinning in the 1780s, with high rates of growth in steam power. Then, iron production occurred after 1800. From Great Britain mechanized textile production spread to continental Europe, and then later to the United States in the early 19th century. The innovations of the European industrial Revolution that were adopted included mechanized spinning and weaving, locomotives, steamboats and steamships, and hot blast iron smelting.

Check out: The Industrial Revolution and its Consequences

Why did the industrial revolution start in Europe?

It is still not clear among economic historians why the Industrial Revolution actually started in the 18th century in Britain (northwestern Europe). However, there are several factors that have been known to have facilitated the start of the industrial revolution in Europe. They included high levels of agricultural productivity to provide excess manpower and food; available ports, rivers, canals, and roads to cheaply move raw materials and outputs; a pool of managerial and entrepreneurial skills; natural resources such as coal, and iron; political stability, a legal system that supported business; and financial capital available to invest.

Once the industrial revolution began in Great Britain, the eagerness of British entrepreneurs to export industrial expertise and the willingness to import the process also contributed to the spread of industrialization to other parts of Europe. The industrial revolution started in Britain in the mid-to-late 17th century, and then in the early 19th century, Britain exported the process to western Europe (especially France, Belgium, and the German states).

Causes of the industrial revolution in Europe

  1. Capitalism
  2. European Imperialism
  3. Mining of Resources
  4. Agricultural Revolution
  5. Technological Innovations

Let’s discuss some of the factors that are responsible for the start of Europe’s industrial revolution:


Capitalism is one of the reasons why the industrial revolution started in Europe. It is one of the factors that led to the rise of industrialization in Europe. Capitalism in the 18th Century is usually considered to be laissez-faire capitalism by historians. During this time, the government did not have any control over the economy and therefore allowed the wealthy to carry out their affairs. Hence, private individuals made trade and industry for profit.

Prior to this time, mercantilism was the economic system that was used, whereby the government had a heavy hand with trade and industry. Following mercantilism favored the government and allowed them to control all aspects of the economy. However, with the emergence of capitalism, the government was asked to stay out of the economy and allow the people to carry out their economic activities. This, therefore, encouraged the European industrial revolution because industrialization took great work and heavy investment from the common people and not the government.

In the 18th century, there were many wealthy entrepreneurs in Great Britain, and as such, this is where the Industrial Revolution had its start. Hence, the first Revolution began in the mid-to-late 1700s in Great Britain. Capitalism required more work and investment from the people instead of the government. It was these wealthy entrepreneurs in Britain that invested and set up factories as well as mines. These investments were backed by the motive of profits, which originated due to capitalism. Hence, capitalism remains one of the critical factors leading to the Industrial Revolution.

European Imperialism

One of the causes of the European industrial revolution was the European imperialism movement. The growth of the European nation gave room for more people and areas to work on industrialization. Large countries during the age of imperialism came under European control and European imperialism provided the resources that were needed to start the mass production of goods and services. Hence, many European states by the mid-18th century were rising in colonial powers.

European Imperialism played a significant role in industrialization. It had access to a large number of raw materials, which could be used to produce goods. This was because the European countries had a reach in North and South America from where they could get their resources. Hence, European Imperialism provided the funds which were necessary for the production of goods that facilitated the industrial revolution.

Also, European imperialism created a substantial market for products. This was because the European countries had well-established trade routes. Hence, they were able to sell the products they manufactured around the world.

Mining of Resources

The mining of resources was one of the major contributors to why the industrial revolution started in Europe. Resources, such as coal and iron were vital to the European Industrial Revolution. Britain had vast reserves of these resources, and this, therefore, aided the growth of industries and factories.

As the coal-powered steam engine was invented, there was an increased demand for coal which resulted in the improvement of the techniques used for the mining of coal. Coal was required for other means of transportation and the smelting of iron ores. Hence, with the rising efforts to refine iron and thereby, reducing its cost, England was able to reduce its dependency on Northern Europe for iron. It ended up becoming the biggest iron industry around the globe. Their iron was used in several industries, such as steam engines, railroads, textile inventions, tools, construction, and shipbuilding.

Agricultural Revolution

The Agricultural Revolution is arguably one of the biggest causes of the European industrial revolution. The mining of coal took place during the agricultural revolution and helped develop the groundwork for the European Industrial Revolution. Great Britain was the first country to industrialize the mining of coal and so was able to obtain massive amounts.

The Agricultural Revolution was about the tremendous growth of the agricultural sector of Britain from the 17th to the mid-19th century. During this period, the methods of intensive farming were revolutionized, such as selective breeding, heavy manuring, enclosed fields, crop rotation, and the improved versions of Chinese Ploughing.

This caused the industrial revolution in Europe because as the farming methods got better, farmers started using machinery in the farms, and the workforce in farms was reduced. Food production grew and due to the use of machinery, the farm work could be done with a reduced workforce. This caused people to shift from farms to mines and factories. Hence, the cities and towns with mines and factories grew.

The Enclosure Movement also caused the European industrial revolution. The Enclosure Movement was part of the agricultural revolution. This was a push in the 18th and 19th centuries to take land that had formerly been available to the public for grazing animals and growing food or owned in common by all members of a village, and change it to privately owned land. Hence, the Agricultural Revolution included an increase in land ownership which further augmented the population of the country.

Due to the increase in private ownership of lands, such as farms, small farmers could not gain control over their lands. This resulted in an increase in the workforce in mines and factories. As farmers lost their traditional lands, they migrated to towns and cities in search of wages. Hence, factory and mine owners could then exploit the large workforce. Hence, the Agricultural Revolution was definitely a significant cause of the Industrial Revolution in Europe.

Technological Innovations

One of the major factors which helped the industrial revolution in Europe succeed was the advancement in technology. In terms of the textile industry, due to the cold climate and lack of manpower, Britain could not grow cotton itself to meet the demand. Hence, it was only known for its woolen industry. However, the innovations in weaving techniques finally helped enhance the growth of Britain’s textile industry.

James Kay, in 1733 improved the traditional handloom and introduced a simple flying shuttle that doubled the productivity of its previous version. Also, James Hargreaves 1764 invented the Spinning Jenny, which simplified and automated the process of pulling and twisting the cotton fibers, which then resulted in a strong thread. This helped increase productivity eightfold.

With the invention of the water frame in 1769, an entire factory could complete the process of manufacturing a finished cloth from its raw material at a single point. Another significant invention in the Industrial Revolution was the steam engine. This invention also powered the textile industry of Britain along with other countries in Europe. It allowed industries to reduce their dependence on water and also facilitated the easy transportation of goods.

See also: Social Effects of the Industrial Revolution

How did the industrial revolution change economies throughout Europe?

The Industrial Revolution changed countries throughout Europe as it transformed economies that had been based on handicrafts and agriculture into economies based on mechanized manufacturing, large-scale industry, and the factory system. The industrial revolution in Europe involved the use of new machines, new power sources, and new ways of organizing work which made existing industries more efficient and productive.


The Habsburg realms which became Austria-Hungary in 1867 included 23 million inhabitants in 1800, which grew as a result of the European industrial revolution to 36 million by 1870. This era enhanced transportation in Austria-Hungary as the railway system was built in 1850–1873. Before this time, transportation was very slow and expensive. Hence, the industrial revolution helped to improve the means of transportation in Austria-Hungary.

Proto-industrialization began by 1750 in the Alpine and Bohemian (modern-day Czech Republic) regions and became the center of the first phases of the industrial revolution after 1800. The textile industry was the main industry that was enhanced during this era as it utilized mechanization, steam engines, and the factory system. As a result of this, textile production flourished particularly in Prague and Brno.

Furthermore, technological change accelerated industrialization and urbanization in Austria-Hungary. From 1870 to 1913, the GNP per capita grew roughly 1.76% per year. This level of growth was compared very favorably to that of other European nations like Britain (1%), France (1.06%), and Germany (1.51%). Nonetheless, the Austro-Hungarian economy as a whole still lagged when compared with Germany and Britain.


Belgium was the second country and the first in continental Europe that the European Industrial Revolution took place. Wallonia, one of the regions of Belgium took the lead. During this era, starting in the middle of the 1820s, there were numerous works in Belgium comprising coke blast furnaces. Also, puddling and rolling mills were built in the coal mining areas around Charleroi and Liege.

How did the industrial revolution change economies throughout Europe? Belgium, as one of the first industrialized countries, was able to draw on rich resources of coal and iron ore as well as a strong tradition of textile manufacturing. Hence, its industrial development ran along similar lines to that in Great Britain.

Wallonia is a typical example of the radical evolution of industrial expansion in Belgium. Thanks to coal, the region geared up to become the second industrial power in the world after Britain. In this region, there was a huge industrial development based on coal mining and iron-making. In fact, many of the 19th-century coal mines in Wallonia are now protected as World Heritage sites.


The industrial revolution in France did not correspond to the main model followed by other countries as the economic growth and industrialization of France were slow and steady through the 18th and 19th centuries. France faced limitations in its path toward becoming an industrialized country because it did not have the resources (large quantities of iron and coal) required to pursue industrialization. Much of its iron and coal lay in the eastern and northern parts of the country and much of its coal came from Belgium.

However, this never stopped France from developing its own industries. Here are some changes that occurred in France during the European industrial revolution as identified by Maurice Levy-Leboyer:

  • French Revolution and Napoleonic wars (1789–1815)
  • Industrialization, along with Britain (1815–1860)
  • Economic slowdown (1860–1905)
  • Renewal of the growth after 1905

How did the industrial revolution change economies throughout Europe? After the long Napoleonic Wars, France took the path of industrialization. The majority of the French businessmen who sought refuge in Britain returned to France and applied British technology in their business. The new developments in specialization and agricultural methods led to an increase in consumer spending in agricultural centers across the countries. This increase in demand led to production increases and the development of industries.

The steam engine which was one of the inventions of the European industrial revolution arrived in France from Britain and proliferated to about 6,800 engines by the mid-19th century, which was the largest number in Europe. The proliferation of this machine led to the rise of textile and coal production in France.

Hence, the textile industry in France saw developments after the Napoleonic War. From 1830 to 1860, the use of spindles, which was adopted from Britain, led to an increase in the textile production by two-fold. Apart from the arrival of foreign technology, some Frenchmen also sought ways to improve production. For instance, Barthelemy Thimonnier invented the sewing machine in 1830, which make chain stitches and made cloth making faster.


The European industrial revolution made some impacts on Germany’s economy even though new methods of production developed very late in Germany because the country was divided up into so many small states. However, after the customs union of 1834, productive heavy industries developed in the mining regions of Upper Silesia, in the Saarland and the Ruhrgebiet.

The germans lacked a technological base at first and so imported their engineering and hardware from Britain, but quickly learned the skills needed to operate and expand railways. Hence, by 1850, Germany was self-sufficient in meeting the demands of railroad construction, and the building of the railways was a major force for the growth of the new steel industry in Germany. It gave a decisive boost to expanding steel production and mechanical engineering.

Due to Germany’s high reserves of capital and high standards of training, their businesses were able to take over a leading role in the new chemical and electro-technical industries towards the end of the 19th century in the second industrial revolution. By 1880, Germany had 9,400 locomotives pulling 43,000 passengers and 30,000 tons of freight, thus, pulling it ahead of France.


Sweden experienced its first Industrial Revolution from 1850 to 1890 with a veritable explosion in export, dominated by wood, crops, and steel. During the European industrial revolution (1790–1815), Sweden experienced two parallel economic movements:

  • An agricultural revolution with larger agricultural estates, commercialization of farming, new crops, and farming tools
  • Proto-industrialization, with small industries being established in the countryside caused workers to switch between agricultural work in summer and industrial production in winter.

This led to economic growth in Sweden as it benefited large sections of the population which led to a consumption revolution that started in the 1820s. Between 1815 and 1850, the protoindustries developed into more specialized and larger industries. Hence, this period witnessed increasing regional specialization with mining in Bergslagen, forestry in Norrland, and textile mills in Sjuharadsbygden.

Furthermore, several important institutional changes took place in Sweden during the European industrial revolution, such as:

  • Free and mandatory schooling introduced in 1842
  • The abolition of the national monopoly on trade in handicrafts in 1846
  • Stock company law in 1848

In the 1850s, Sweden abolished most tariffs and other barriers to free trade and joined the gold standard in 1873. During this period, large infrastructural investments were made, mainly in expanding the railroad network, which was financed in parts by the government and private enterprises. Also, from 1890 to 1930, new industries developed in Sweden with their focus on mechanical engineering, power utilities, papermaking, and textile.

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What was a result of the industrial revolution in Europe?

The major result of the industrial revolution in Europe was that a greater number and variety of goods became available to more people as it transformed the economies of the European countries from agriculture and handicrafts into economies that were based on mechanized manufacturing, large-scale industry, and the factory system. Also, this era resulted in various inventions.

Three of the most influential of the European industrial revolution inventions were the coke-fueled furnace, steam engine, and spinning jenny. These inventions, as a result of the industrial revolution in Europe, increased production capabilities in large amounts in many parts of Europe.

The European inventors during the industrial revolution included:

  1. Abraham Darby, that created the coke-fueled blast furnace
  2. James Watt, who improved the steam engine
  3. Richard Trevithick who created the first steam locomotive
  4. James Hargreaves who invented the spinning jenny

During the 18th century, the European industrial revolution inventions themselves were not an immediately profitable investment throughout many parts of Europe and, as such, were not a smart venture to participate in many countries. Inventors in Britain, however, had the economic conditions and resources available to make a profitable product that could be duplicated, improved upon, and would eventually spread throughout many parts of Europe.

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How the industrial revolution changed European society

  1. Factory system
  2. Change in food supply and agricultural practices
  3. Inadequate housing and poor sanitation
  4. Improvement in water supply
  5. Mass production
  6. Improvement in clothing
  7. Increase in consumer goods
  8. Increase in population
  9. Urbanization
  10. Dramatic changes for women
  11. Change in social structure
  12. Poor working conditions
  13. Child labor
  14. Pollution

How did the industrial revolution change European society? There were so many effects of the industrial revolution in Europe; some were positive and some were negative. Here are some of the areas in which the industrial revolution changed European society:

Factory system

Factory systems developed as a result of the industrial revolution. Before the European Industrial Revolution, the majority of the workforce was employed in agriculture, either as landowners, self-employed farmers, tenants, or as landless agricultural laborers. It was common in various parts of the world for families to spin yarn, weave cloth and make their own clothing.

At the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, China, India, regions of Iraq, and elsewhere in Asia and the Middle East produced most of the world’s cotton cloth while Europeans produced linen and wool goods. The putting-out system which was described as a cottage industry was practiced in Britain in the 16th century whereby farmers and townspeople produced goods for a market in their homes.

The putting-out system goods included spinning and weaving. Merchant capitalists usually provided the raw materials, paid workers by the piece, and were in charge of selling the goods. The problems of this system were the embezzlement of supplies by workers and poor quality. There were limitations of the putting-out system such as the logistical effort in procuring and distributing raw materials and picking up finished goods.

The industrial revolution in Europe, however, rose with the development of the factory system. In 1792, some early spinning and weaving machinery, such as a 40-spindle jenny was affordable for cottagers. However, machinery such as spinning frames, spinning mules, and power looms were later expensive which gave rise to capitalist ownership of factories and the development of the factory system.

How the industrial revolution changed labor in Europe

How did the industrial revolution change labor in Europe? A new organization of business and labor was intimately linked to the new technologies that developed during the industrial age. Hence, the industrial revolution changed labor in Europe as workers in the industrialized sectors labored in factories rather than in scattered shops or homes.

European industrial revolution inventions such as steam and water power required a concentration of labor close to the power source. This concentration of labor gave room for new discipline and specialization, which increased productivity.

Furthermore, the majority of textile factory workers during Europe’s Industrial Revolution were unmarried women and children, including many orphans. They usually worked for 12 to 14 hours per day with only Sundays off. Also, many workers who had nothing but their labor to sell, such as displaced farmers and agricultural workers, became factory workers out of necessity.

Change in food supply and agricultural practices

The industrial revolution changed European society in terms of food supply and agricultural practices. Agriculture was, therefore, one area that saw significant changes as a result of this era. First, the industrial revolution in Europe led to a decline in agricultural productivity as people left farms to work in factories. Until the late 19th century, chronic hunger and malnutrition were the norms for the majority of the population of the world including Britain and France.

Life expectancy in France was about 35 years and about 40 years in Britain due to malnutrition until about 1750. In Great Britain, during the industrial revolution, the food supply was adversely affected by the Corn Laws (1815–1846). The Corn Laws imposed tariffs on imported grain and were enacted to keep prices high in order to benefit domestic producers. However, the Corn Laws were revoked in the early years of the Great Irish Famine.

Second, the European industrial revolution led to the development of new technologies and machines that improved the way food was produced. Efficiency and food production increased as machines were developed to help with the planting, harvesting, and processing of crops. Hence, farmers could produce more food with less manpower. Also, the use of pesticides and fertilizers became widespread during this era which helped to further increase crop yields.

Inadequate housing and poor sanitation

The industrial revolution changed European society by causing some social problems like poor sanitation and inadequate housing in urban areas. As a result of the European industrial revolution, people moved into cities so rapidly that there was not enough capital to build adequate housing for everyone.

Due to this, low-income newcomers (industrial working class) were squeezed into increasingly overcrowded slums. Sanitation, clean water, and public health facilities were inadequate, thus, the death rate was high, especially infant mortality, and there was widespread tuberculosis among young adults. Also, cholera from polluted water and typhoid were endemic.

During this era, there were no sanitary facilities put in place despite the extremely high population density. Untreated sewage emitted awful odors and turned the rivers in industrial cities green. Nonetheless, not everyone lived in such poor conditions. The middle class of businessmen, clerks, foremen, and engineers that was created as a result of the industrial revolution lived in much better conditions compared to the industrial working class.

Furthermore, due to new public health acts regulating things such as sewage, hygiene, and home construction, conditions improved in Europe and other parts of the world over the course of the 19th century. For instance, the Public Health Act of 1875 led to more sanitary byelaw terraced houses.

Improvement in water supply

How did the industrial revolution change European society? One of the changes that came with Europe’s industrial revolution was the improvement in the water supply. Prior to this era, water supply was dependent on gravity systems and the pumping of water was done by water wheels. The pipes were usually made of wood. However, with the invention of steam-powered pumps and iron pipes, there was widespread piping of water to horse watering troughs and households.

Mass production

The increase in production levels was one effect of the European industrial revolution. Before the industrial age, many products were built or made by hand and required a specific time investment by the creator. As a result, mass production was virtually impossible. The industrial revolution, however, changed that, as factories enabled groups of people to be more productive. It made it possible for better products to be made and improved the services to be given.

The mass production of goods eventually allowed communities to improve their quality of living over time as there was greater access to goods and services. Also, as multiple products could be made in any industry or sector, a competition was created and free market economies began to develop.

As a result of the industrial revolution, consumers could choose from a variety of products rather than being reliant on a particular business or provider to give them what they needed. Therefore, the European industrial revolution shifted power away from businesses into the hands of consumers.

The Industrial Revolution in Europe also generated an enormous and unprecedented economic division in the world, as measured by the share of manufacturing output. The table below shows the share of the total world manufacturing output in percentage during the industrial revolution, according to Kennedy Paul’s The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers. New York: Random House. p. 149 (1987):

1750 1800 1860 1880 1900
Europe23.228.1 53.2 61.3 62.0
United States 0.1 0.8 7.2 14.7 23.6
Japan 3.8 3.5 2.6 2.4 2.4
Rest of the world 73.0 67.7 36.6 20.9 11.0
Share of total world manufacturing output (percentage)

Improvement in clothing

One of the major impacts of the European industrial revolution was the improvement in clothing. This era definitely had an impact on clothing in Europe. The European industrial revolution came with technological advancement and new machines that wove and produced cotton threads at greater speeds. The factory workers organized the fabrics, operated the machines, and facilitated clothing production.

The machines used in the factories could produce knitted and woven cloth that was a finer gauge than what most people could make with home methods. New technologies like the sewing machine came with the industrial revolution which made clothing manufacturing faster, easier, and cheaper. This invention enabled the rapid, high-volume manufacturing of fabrics and clothing.

Hence, the improvement in clothing was one significant aspect of how the industrial revolution changed European society. Also, with the improvement of transportation during this era, clothing could be shipped easily and cheaply. Hence, clothing became desirable and widely available at affordable prices.

Increase in consumer goods

How did the industrial revolution change European society? Consumer goods increased as a result of the mass production that occurred during the European industrial revolution. Consumers benefited from falling prices for clothing and other goods. Products such as coffee, sugar, tea, tobacco, and chocolate became affordable to many in Europe. Due to the improvements in transportation and manufacturing technology, the opportunities for buying and selling goods became faster and more efficient than in the pre-industrial age.

The rising prosperity and social mobility in the 18th century increased the number of people with disposable income for the marketing and consumption of goods. Prosperity and expansion in manufacturing industries increased consumer choice dramatically. Hence, consumers came to demand an array of new household goods and furnishings and the age of mass consumption arrived as shopping became an important part of everyday life. The purchase of goods and window shopping became a cultural activity. Therefore, many exclusive shops were opened in elegant urban districts.

Increase in population

One of the notable ways in which the industrial revolution changed European society is the simultaneous increase in both populations and per capita income that it caused. According to Robert Hughes in The Fatal Shore, the population of England and Wales rose dramatically after 1740. The population of England had more than doubled from 8.3 million in 1801 to 16.8 million in 1850 and, by 1901, it had nearly doubled again to 30.5 million.

It is said that the increase in population in Britain was a result of the improved conditions that resulted from the European industrial revolution. The population of Britain increased from 10 million to 40 million in the 1800s. Therefore, Europe’s population increased from about 100 million in 1700 to 400 million by 1900.


A major result of the industrial revolution in Europe was the migration of people from the countryside to the cities. The new opportunities that emerged from Europe’s industrial revolution brought huge numbers of migrants from rural communities into urban areas. Hence, the growth of modern industry since the late 18th century led to massive urbanization and the rise of new great cities, first in Europe and then in other regions.

In 1800, only 3% of the world’s population lived in cities, compared to today (21st century). For instance, Manchester in 1717 had a population of 10,000, but by 1911 it had grown rapidly to 2.3 million. Hence, the European industrial revolution led to rapid urbanization. As wages at the factories were higher than what people were making as farmers, they gradually migrated from the countryside to work in the new factory system around urban areas.

The ever-increasing demand for workers in factories during the industrial revolution led masses of people to migrate from farms to cities. The small towns around coal or iron mines also developed rapidly into cities overnight. However, due to the increase in population in urban areas, housing facilities weren’t enough, and as a result, majority of people living in towns had to suffer overcrowding in poorly built houses. Between 1815 and 1939, 20% of Europe’s population left home, as a result of poverty, the displacement of peasant farming and artisan manufacturing, and a rapidly growing population.

Dramatic changes for women

The dramatic change that came for women was one of the social effects of the European industrial revolution. This era marked a dramatic change for women because many of them entered the workforce for the first time, thus, giving them the opportunity to compete with men for jobs. Nonetheless, the labor and responsibilities of women doubled in many ways as they were responsible for their jobs in the industry and were also expected to continue their traditional roles at home.

Alice Clark argued that the status of women lowered when capitalism and the industrial revolution arrived in the 17th century in England, as women lost much of their economic importance. She argues that in 16th-century England, women were engaged in many aspects of agriculture and industry. The home was a central unit of production and women played a crucial role in some trades, running farms, and landed estates. Hence, the useful economic roles of women gave them a sort of equality with their husbands.

Clark was of the opinion that, as capitalism expanded in the 17th century, there was more and more division of labor with the husband taking paid labor jobs outside the home, and the wife being reduced to unpaid household work. Middle- and upper-class women were confined to an idle domestic existence, supervising servants while the lower-class women were forced to take poorly paid jobs. Therefore, one of the negative effects of the European industrial revolution was that it established patterns of gender inequality.

Female factory workers were usually paid only one-third as much as men based on the false assumption that women didn’t need to support families. The factory owners felt women were only working for pin money that their husbands might even give them to pay for non-essential personal items. The stereotyping and discrimination against women workers even continued into the second industrial revolution.

Change in social structure

How did the industrial revolution change European society? In terms of social structure, the European Industrial Revolution witnessed the emergence of a middle class of industrialists and businessmen as well as the industrial working class. The middle class owned and operated the new factories, mines, and railroads, among other industries and their lifestyle was much more comfortable than that of the industrial working class.

The industrial working class, on the other hand, was not as comfortable as the middle class. They struggled to survive in foul-smelling slums and overcrowded tiny rooms. Only community pumps were available and there was no sewage or sanitation system. Hence, waste and garbage were left to rot in the streets. Also, sewage from industries was dumped into rivers, which caused an overwhelming stench and contaminated drinking water. This resulted in the spread of diseases such as cholera among the industrial working class.

Poor working conditions

During the European industrial revolution, people found increased opportunities for employment in the new mills and factories, though they were usually under strict working conditions with long hours of labor dominated by a pace set by machines. As the cities grew, there wasn’t enough housing for all the new inhabitants that migrated to the city which led to poor living conditions for workers in factories.

A survey that was done in the 1830s reported that as many as 16 people were living in a single room and sharing a single toilet. The factory workers lived in cellars of houses, which had earthen floors and no ventilation or sanitation. Hence, the workers and their families were vulnerable to infectious diseases like cholera due to the lack of clean water and the gutters overflowing with sewage from basement cesspits.

The factory workers had a stressful and unsatisfying lifestyle as working conditions in factories deteriorated. They came from the countryside to the cities and had to adjust to a very different lifestyle, with little personal autonomy. This was one of the negative effects of the industrial revolution in Europe. The workers had long hours of work, inadequate remuneration, and minimal breaks.

The industrial revolution came with strict working conditions as the workers were expected to arrive when the factory whistle blew, or else face losing their pay or even being forced to pay fines. Once they were on the job, they couldn’t freely move around or take a break if they needed one because that might require shutting down a machine. They also constantly faced the risk of losing a hand while operating the machinery as the factories of the industrial revolution could be horrifyingly hazardous.

Child labor

The Industrial Revolution in Europe led to a population increase but the chances of surviving childhood did not improve throughout this era, even though infant mortality rates were reduced markedly. During this period, there was still limited opportunity for education, and children were expected to work. Employers exploited children and paid them less than an adult even though their productivity was comparable. This made child labor the labor of choice for manufacturing in the early phases of the European Industrial Revolution between the 18th and 19th centuries.

In Scotland and England in 1788, two-thirds of the workers in 143 water-powered cotton mills were described as children. Many children were forced to work in relatively bad conditions for much lower pay than their elders; they were paid about 10–20% of an adult male’s wage. This was definitely one of the negative effects of the European industrial revolution.

The government and politicians tried to limit child labor by law but factory owners resisted. Some of the factory owners felt that they were aiding the poor by giving their children money to buy food to avoid starvation, while others simply welcomed the cheap labor that they got from exploiting children.

However, there were reports with details of some of the abuses that the children were facing, particularly in the coal mines and textile factories, which helped to popularise the children’s plight. The public outcry, especially among the middle and upper classes, helped stir change in the young workers’ welfare. Hence, in 1833 and 1844, the first general laws against child labor (the Factory Acts) were passed in Britain.

According to the laws passed, children were not permitted to work at night, and children that were younger than nine were not allowed to work. Also, the workday of youth under the age of 18 was limited to twelve hours. The execution of the law was supervised by factory inspectors, though their scarcity made enforcement difficult.

About ten years later, the employment of women and children in mining was forbidden. Even though laws like these helped to decrease the number of child laborers, child labor still remained significantly present in Europe and the United States until the 20th century.


A long-term result of the industrial revolution in Europe was pollution. During the European Industrial Revolution, the levels of air pollution rose, sparking the first modern environmental laws to be passed in the mid-19th century. The emergence of great factories and the associated immense growth in coal consumption gave rise to an unprecedented level of air pollution in industrial centers.

The first large-scale, modern environmental laws that were passed came in the form of Britain’s Alkali Acts in 1863, in order to regulate the deleterious air pollution (gaseous hydrochloric acid) given off by the Leblanc process, that is used to produce soda ash. An Alkali inspector and four sub-inspectors were therefore appointed to curb this pollution.

Air pollution wasn’t the only environmental effect of the industrial revolution in Europe; water pollution was also a major challenge. In some areas, sewage flowed in the streets and industries dumped waste from factories into rivers, causing water pollution. Hence, access to safe and clean water was a major challenge.

The manufactured gas industry began in British cities in 1812–1820 and the technique that was used produced highly toxic effluent that was dumped into sewers and rivers. Hence, the gas companies were sued repeatedly in nuisance lawsuits. They normally lost and modified the worst practices.