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Social Effects of the Industrial Revolution

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

The industrial revolution led to the migration of workers to cities, as well as automation, and repetitive tasks for workers. Hence, it ended the dominance of agriculture and initiated significant social change. During this era, factory workers tend to lose their individuality, had limited job satisfaction, and felt alienated. However, the Industrial Revolution increased the material wealth of the Western world as the West became an urban civilization and the everyday work environment changed drastically.

Social Effects of the Industrial Revolution
Social effects of the Industrial Revolution

Related: Crony Capitalism (Cronyism)

Industrial revolution explained

The industrial revolution began during the mid-18th century and early 19th century in Great Britain and later spread throughout the world. It was a period of major innovation and mechanization which was a change from a handicraft and agrarian economy to one dominated by industry and machine manufacturing. This era, in America, saw the manufacturing and introduction of new modes of transportation like steamships, automobiles, airplanes, and the mechanization of agriculture.

The Second Industrial Revolution also known as the American Industrial Revolution began in the 1870s and continued through World War II.

Most people lived mainly in small rural communities and earned a living from farming before the industrial revolution. But with the advent of factories, during the 18th century, people began working for the first time in factories that were located in urban areas. Despite the fact that the wages were low, and the working conditions were harsh at these factories, the workers still preferred working there because it still paid a better living than farming.

During this period, production efficiency improved with inventions like the steam engine which dramatically reduced the time it took to manufacture products. As a result, more efficient production subsequently reduced prices for products. In as much as the industrial revolution occurred approximately 200 years ago, it is an era that has left a profound impact on the way people lived and how businesses operated. The industrial revolution definitely had several impacts on society, but in this article, we will be focusing on its social impacts.

See also: Why was the Bracero program created?

Social Effects of the Industrial Revolution

  1. Rapid urbanization
  2. Change in social structure
  3. Capitalism
  4. Pollution
  5. Child labor
  6. Consumerism
  7. A new mode of production and technology
  8. Created a pattern for education
  9. Overpopulation
  10. Increase in crime
  11. Dramatic changes for women
  12. New working conditions

The industrial revolution had positive effects on the economy and society, raising standards of lifestyle and producing new goods. However, it also brought about some positive and negative social impacts on society.

Rapid urbanization

Rapid urbanization is no doubt one of the social effects of the industrial revolution. During this era, there was an increase in employment opportunities as wages at the factories were higher than what the individuals were making as farmers. People were needed for factory operations, and as such, there was an increase in the supply of jobs and overall wages.

During this period, the domestic workers gradually decided that they had to leave the countryside to work in the new factory system around urban areas. This made workers available for the new factories, and at the same time encouraging further innovation and enclosure in the countryside. Hence, forcing more poorer farmers to migrate to the towns. These domestic workers and farmers arrived in the towns, married earlier and the population grew further.

The ever-increasing demand for workers led masses of people to migrate from farms to cities and small towns around coal or iron mines developed rapidly into cities overnight. Due to the increase in population, many more houses were needed, and a majority of people living in towns had to suffer overcrowding in poorly built houses.

New houses were built in a very short time, without any rules on planning or quality. Hence, the rapid urbanization that was brought on by the industrial revolution led to the general deterioration of workers’ quality of life and many other problems for society, like crime, stress, and psychological disorders.

Change in social structure

Another significant social effect of the industrial revolution was the rise in new social classes. During the industrial revolution, the nation’s social structure changed and two new social classes in particular emerged; a new entrepreneurial middle class that Karl Marx called the bourgeoisie and the urban, industrial working class that he called the proletariat.

Before the Industrial Revolution, many people lived in small villages, working in workshops or in agriculture. Their hands were treated as working tools at that time and the predominant occupation was farming. However, during the industrial revolution, there were many people working at the new factories that had to move to the towns and cities to be close to their new jobs. They worked for a long time but got less money from the industrialists.

Hence, new social classes emerged as a result of this, creating a new middle class and the 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. Compared to the industrial working class, they lived in well-furnished, spacious homes on paved streets with their families and had a ready supply of water; wore fancy clothing and ate well.

On the other hand, the industrial working class worked in the factories and struggled to survive in foul-smelling slums. This class of people packed into tiny rooms and had no running water, only community pumps. There was no sewage or sanitation system during this time, and as such waste and garbage were left to rot in the streets. Also, sewage was disposed into rivers, contaminating drinking water and causing an overwhelming stench. This led to the spread of diseases such as cholera among the industrial working class.


The American Industrial Revolution announced the predominance and arrival of capitalism; an economic principle that was theorized by Adam Smith in ‘Wealth of Nations’ which Karl Marx elaborated upon in his magnum opus, ‘Capital’. Capitalism was possibly grown by technological change.

Owing to the new inventions that came with the revolution, the facilities of production were improved. Factories made use of the latest facilities for production and benefited from the technological change. Hence, the system of manufacturing promoted the capitalism built up during the Industrial Revolution.

The industrial revolution advanced together with the capitalist economies. Capitalists (business owners) under capitalism, began to organize labor and introduced a division of labor into factories in order to increase output and profitability. Capitalist production, when compared to the initial craft and guild systems, encouraged innovation and technological change at an exceptional rate.

Therefore, the factories that started off in the Industrial Revolution illustrated the capitalist principle of wage labor; that is workers disown ownership of the means of production in return for an hourly wage. This process directed wealth into the hands of industrialists, whose wealth became tied to the fluctuations of a consumer market. Therefore, capitalist America, during the Industrial Revolution, with its vast natural resources and large population, became an economic juggernaut that took advantage of a vast internal and international consumer market.


One of the social effects of the industrial revolution is pollution. This happens to be one of the lasting negative effects of the industrial revolution. The rapid increase in the number of factories caused an increase in urban pollution because these factories were powered by burning coal.

Coal was the main source of energy in factories at the time and in order to run the machines, workers made the coal burn to heat the water that would power the steam engines. Hence, large amounts of carbon particles were released into the atmosphere and big industrial cities began pumping vast quantities of pollution into the atmosphere.

The burning of fossil fuels pumped carbon into the atmosphere and during this era, air pollution continued to rise in the 1800s, which caused respiratory illness and higher death rates in areas that burned more coal. This shows that human-driven climate change began as early as the 1830s. Water pollution was another social problem during the time of the revolution. Factories during the industrial age dumped toxic industrial refuse (sewage) into the rivers which contaminated water systems.

Also, as people flocked to the cities, the urban resources were overwhelmed and living conditions became deplorable. Sewage flowed in the streets in some cities and the water supplies were not tested and protected as they are today. Hence, regulations, and laws were enacted to protect the public health of the population.

Child labor

Child labor was one of the social effects of the industrial revolution. This was a very significant issue during the industrial revolution. Before the Industrial Revolution, children worked; they were expected to help the family in the traditional economy but were only assigned tasks that were commensurate with their age. However, with the rapid growth of factories that came with the revolution, a high demand for workers was created and children were compelled to do dangerous adult jobs, worked long hours, and were deprived of education. Thus, suffering horrifying fates.

The exploitation of child labor was one of the worst social effects of the industrial revolution on society. Child labor was the cheapest of all as they were paid 1/10 of what the men were paid. Hence, young children were exploited by their bosses. Unjamming the great textile machines that wove cloth was the most dangerous assignment for children in the factories back then.

Since they have small hands and arms, they could reach into small spaces where the fabric tended to jam. The foreman would insist the child reach in to dislodge the jam without even turning the machine off. If the child were not quick enough, his hand or arm would become caught in the machine, causing severe damage to the child.

A new mode of production and technology

The new mode of production and technology was one of the positive social effects of the industrial revolution. The advancement in the mode of production and technology spread all over the world, and old systems and ideas were impacted. There were improved processes in virtually every sector. After the industrial revolution, transportation no longer needed a horse, buildings were made better, clothing was more durable, and food products became cheaper to produce.

Factory owners that controlled the means of production rapidly became rich and the new technologies inspired economic growth. Many countries around the world accepted industrial ideas, and in no time the new mode of production and technology were used gradually in the rest of the world.

Also, the increased innovation in technology that came with the industrial revolution led to higher levels of motivation and education, which resulted in many groundbreaking inventions like the lightbulb, X-ray, the calculator, anesthesia, etc. As a result of Louis Pasteur’s discovery of bacteria and Edward Jenner’s invention of the smallpox vaccine, people began to live longer as health care increased. The effects of some of these innovations changed how people lived, how they worked, and the technologies available to them.


As a result of the industrial revolution, production levels increased which made mass production possible. This era dramatically increased the availability of consumer goods, even though it was still primarily focused on the capital goods sector and industrial infrastructure. The norm initially had been the scarcity of resources, but the industrial era came and created an unprecedented economic situation. For the first time in history, customers had products available in outstanding quantities, at outstandingly low prices, which was available to virtually everyone in the industrialized West.

They could now buy a variety of goods, all in one place, and shopping became a popular leisure activity as better products were made and services were improved. This in turn allowed communities to improve their quality of living over time because there was greater access to goods and services. As a result of this, consumers had many options for commodities which led to the beginning of consumerism.

Consumerism is an economic and social order that encourages the acquisition of goods and services in ever-increasing amounts. With the Industrial Revolution, mass production led to overproduction whereby the supply of goods grew beyond consumer demand. Hence, manufacturers turned to planned obsolescence and advertising to manipulate consumer spending.

Created a pattern for education

In the early 20th century, the industrial revolution set a certain pattern for education. The growth of assembly line manufacturing and standardization needed legions of skilled and more educated workers. Since standardization was the best approach to ignite education, classrooms became standardized in textbooks, content, teaching methods, and classroom designs. This was efficient for mass education which led to a growing country as a literate educated citizenry greatly facilitated the growth of industry and manufacturing.


Overpopulation was one of the social effects of industrial revolution. As a result of the Industrial Revolution, many factories employed laborers to work and people who lived in the countryside wanted to move to the city for jobs. Due to this, the population growth in the eighteenth century probably increased by 75% over the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Hence, the Industrial Revolution accelerated the growth of the urban population.

Increase in crime

One of the most important social effects of the industrial revolution was a rapid increase in crime. This was due to three factors that dominated the urban landscape. The first two factors were poverty and unemployment. Factory workers had no job security or social security. Hence, if they were injured on the job or laid off, they had little or no chance to replace their lost income. The few charitable organizations that were available at the time were so over-taxed that their aid never matched their good intentions. Hence, some of these workers after being laid off turned to crime.

The third factor that instigated crime during the industrial revolution was overcrowding. Following industrialization, thousands of people came to the urban areas in search of employment. Some cities were completely unprepared for the great influx of workers and this overcrowding fueled social dysfunction that caused a rapid increase in crimes against property and people.

Dramatic changes for women

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

One of the negative social effects of the industrial revolution is that it helped establish patterns of gender inequality in workplaces that even lasted in the eras that followed. Female factory workers usually made only one-third as much as men. Factory owners were paying female factory workers only half of what the men got for the same work, based on the false assumption that women didn’t need to support families. They felt women were only working for pin money that a husband might even give them to pay for non-essential personal items.

The stereotyping and discrimination against women workers continued into the second Industrial Revolution. The displacement of men in white-collar jobs such as office work was based on the misconception that women had nimble fingers and could only withstand repetitive, mindless work better than men. This led to the assignment of office work to women after the 1870s when the typewriter was introduced. Despite the fact that 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.

New working conditions

One of the significant social impact of industrial revolution was the new working conditions. 200 years ago, there were no laws governing health and safety in workplaces. Hence, unlike the workers in traditional skilled industries who were protected and represented by guilds, the new industrial working class had no union representation and could easily be replaced because they were unskilled.

During the industrial revolution, the factory owner’s main concern was to make a profit and he was free to do this as he wanted. Very few factory owners were willing to reduce profits by improving the working conditions of their laborers. Many of the new machines that were invented for mass production in the factories were often dangerous for the operators but this was of little concern to the manufacturer.

Workers had a stressful and unsatisfying lifestyle of long hours of work, inadequate remuneration, and minimal breaks. Accidents were commonplace and many workers lost fingers, hands, or limbs with no compensation. ​Some of the factories were rarely heated in winter or ventilated in summer; some were so noisy that the workers even went deaf. There was no protection against dangerous gases or chemicals and the owner was not liable for any injuries.

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What were the social effects of the industrial revolution?

There were so many social effects of the industrial revolution. One significant social impact of industrial revolution is that it brought about rapid urbanization and the movement of people to cities. The ever-increasing demand for workers led masses of people to migrate from farms to cities and the small towns around coal or iron mines rapidly developed into cities overnight.

Another significant social effect of the industrial revolution is that it created a new middle class and the working class. The middle class owned and operated the new factories, mines, and railroads, among other industries while the industrial working class, worked in the factories and struggled to survive in foul-smelling slums.

Other social effects of the industrial revolution include the predominance of capitalism, pollution, child labor, consumerism, improvement in production and technology, increased crime, education, overpopulation in the urban, establishment of gender inequality patterns towards women, etc. Conclusively, regardless of the social problems created by the Industrial Revolution, the Industrial Age did have some positive effects on society.