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The Industrialization of Europe, occurred between 1750 and 1914, starting in Britain, and was marked by three phases, each associated with a different region and technology. It was accompanied by many changes:

  • A structural change in the economy as the contribution of the agrarian sector to the economy reduced and that of the industrial and commercial sector increased;
  • Use of new sources of power which revolutionized production;
  • Shift to manufacturing on a large scale-in factories;
  • Technological innovations and;
  • New types of investment.

Clive Trebilcock, delineates the three phases of industrialization- the first phase pioneered by Britain (1780s -1820s) the second phase (1840-1870) saw France, some areas of the German States and U.S.A. industrialize, while the third phase (1890s-1914) saw Italy, Japan, Sweden, Austria, Russia and in parts Spain and Hungary industrialize. 

SOCIAL CHANGES- The industrial revolution had far reaching social consequences, which varied across class and regions. Between the late 18th and early 20th centuries, (i)new family and class structures emerged to adjust to the new wage economy and production shifted out of the house to large scale production in factories. (ii)Industrialization also caused population migration from rural areas to urban areas, as factory emerged around towns. Marvin Perry says in 1800, about 10% of the Europeans lived in cities. But by 1850 this increased to -52% of Englishmen living in cities, 25% Frenchmen and 36% Germans. As rural production couldn’t compete with cheaper factory production, rural workers moved to work in factories.

IMPACT ON CLASS STRUCTURE: Industrialization and capitalism greatly impacted class structure. Marvin Perry says industrialization of Europe destroyed forever the old division of society into clergy, nobility and commoners and led to the creation of a new class the working class and the growth of the middle class or bourgeoisie.  

IMPACT ON WORKING CLASS: Industrialization gravely impacted the mass of workers who participated in the new wage economy and as Karl Marx said had nothing to survive on but their labour. Peter N Stearns says that the early decades of industrialization in Britain and France (1780-1840s), most industrial workers lived in great hardship barely meeting their subsistence needs, as wages were kept low and prices rose. Crisis such as illness and old age brought misery for many. However Stearns points out that the most fundamental transformation for workers was in work experience. 

Factory production transformed the traditional rhythm of the labour force which came from agricultural/craft backgrounds. Thus two interlinked aspects of work experience transformed were- (a) the notion of time and (b) work discipline. E.P. Thompson explains this was because changes in manufacture now demanded greater synchronization of labour and greater exactitude in time routines, simply because time was money in the new wage economy. 
  • Thus factory owners developed detailed rules on the organization of the labour. 
  • The lazy pace of rural work life, in which time was based on the seasonal clock, was vigorously attacked by employers. 
  • In most factories workers were meant to arrive on the whistle, if they were late they were either locked out/fined. Within the factory workers couldn’t wander, chat or sing.
  •  Mechanisms of labour supervision were introduced as many workers lacked discipline. Thus a new category of workers-‘foremen’ were hired to supervise work, hire and fire workers. 
  • Workers were prevented from wearing watches and workers reported “The clocks at factories were often put forward in the morning and back at night” thus reflecting the exploitation of workers through time. Employers also restricted holidays and looked down upon revelry. 
  • Certain entrepreneurs also set up schools in collaboration with the church to inculcate values of, “industry, frugality, order and regularity” in new workers.
  • Another important change experienced by workers, was the specialization of work. Growing number of workers had to perform small repetitive tasks as this led to greater efficiency. Yet specialization, led to a limited sense of achievement as repeating one task made workers feel they hadn’t contributed to the final product. This was a change as previously workers were involved in all processes of production and felt a sense of achievement. Specialization of work, the new discipline, rigorous time schedules and low wages all contributed to a feeling of alienation for the worker, from his work and employer.
  • Workers reaction: Workers soon expressed their resentment, first generation workers protested by stealing, spoiling factory material, taking unauthorized days off, (e.g. French workers invented the practice of ‘Holy Monday’ or holiday on Monday). Second and third generation workers accepted changes in return for higher pay/reduction of work hours and later formed committees and unions to articulate their demands as they realized time was money for owners too.  
  • Employers Response: Sonya .O. Rose says employers couldn’t ignore workers dissatisfaction for long. 
  • 1850’s onward employers developed policy of paternalism- in which the employer sought to create a sort of familial relationship with his workers, by assuming the role of the head/father and treating workers as his dependent children. Paternalism also used gender distinctions which existed in the 19th century family to enhance loyalty and diminish worker resistance. E.g. in Britain Cadburys of Birmingham, created a whole community of cottages at Bourneville (Birmingham) with recreational grounds and three bedroom cottages for their workers. A boarding house for single women workers. Edward Cadbury recognized that mingling of the two sexes was a ‘moral danger’ and thus introduced separate work areas for males and females. As a rule he didn’t employ married women as they had familial duties and distractions. The Cadburys also started an education scheme to prepare young males for work and girls for marriage. In France Michael .B. Miller shows how the Boucicaut family opened the first department store in Paris called Le Bon Marche (1838) and employed workers at a relatively good wage, however in the 1870s his workers began to leave, since they suffered from health problem especially tuberculosis as they worked in a closed environment, for long hours, were under close supervision and felt alienated in the bureaucratic Bon Marche structure. The garcons who contributed physical labour were paid less than others causing dissatisfaction. Thus M. Boucicaut resorted to paternalism-that encouraged thrift and tried to make workers aspire to a bourgeoisie lifestyle. He introduced dress codes for his employees (e.g. they were meant to wear top hats to work). All in order to cultivate gentlemanly behaviour in his white collar workers and shore up their allegiance to his business, as workers would find it beneath them to work in smaller less exclusive stores. Industrialization also had profound impacts on working class family organization, women and work.

  • Industrialization led to the growth of an urban middle class/bourgeoisie, comprising (a) entrepreneurs and (b) professional-lawyers, notaries, physicians and teachers., Marvin Perry says this bourgeoisie was not homogeneous  it comprised wealthy bourgeoisie –the bankers, factory & mine owners and merchants, less rich professionals-lawyers, shopkeepers etc. 
  • Jonathan Sperber says in rural areas the old land owning elite still existed, persisting longer in France and Germany than Britain, and even longer in Eastern Europe. In fact in 1840 in France the old land owning elite comprised 65% of the ‘great notables’. 
  • Jackson J. Spielvogel says that the early industrial entrepreneurs didn’t establish empires easily. Industrialization offered great possibility of money but with great risks. The early industrialization environment was intensely competitive, with the fear of bankruptcy facing numerous small businesses. As bankruptcy hit, new entrepreneurs entered the race-e.g.1 in 5 mills in Manchester in 1816 were with the original owner. Entrepreneurs had to perform a variety of tasks- raise capital, determined markets, set company objectives and organize labour. 
  • Entrepreneurs also emerged from diverse backgrounds, most came from the mercantile backgrounds, e.g. Cyfarthfa Ironworks was set up by London merchant Anthony Bacon in 1765 in Whales. Similarly the Renault brothers in France whose family was in the textile industry in 1899 founded Renault an automobile company. Many entrepreneurs also emerged from close knit religious minority groups– e.g. the Barclays and Lloyds in banking and the Darbys in iron works, were all Quakers (a Christian minority, which was discriminated against). In Britain &France old aristocrats also became entrepreneurs for example the Dudleys of Staffordshire. Entrepreneurs later also came from professional middle class. One of the oldest banks in France Society General was founded in 1864 by a group of industrialists from diverse backgrounds. Marvin Perry says as industrialization began and the middle class grew but it didn’t immediately gain power and social respect, since it grew in a society dominated by the old feudal landowning elite. The new elites only assumed socio-political power by the late 18th century as their wealth grew. The industrial revolution also had a profound impact on the family structures of the new bourgeoisie.


From the 1980s, historians focused on changes in families of the industrial revolution, focusing on women and children specially. Lynn Abrams defined the family as follows, “The family is a set of social relationships connected by blood, property, dependency and intimacy.” She says family as known today- as a hierarchical kin community, living under one roof” developed only in 18th/early 19th century in Western Europe. Before that family denoted a relationship of dependency on the head of the household and not necessarily blood ties. 
  • 18th CENTURY FAMILY: Lynn Abrams says pre-industrial 18th century family was indistinguishable from the household and comprised those who lived in the house-including (a) kin members like widows, siblings, step children and (b) non-kin members like servants, tutors etc. All family members engaged in family/ domestic production (family economy). Reproduction and production (food/goods) were taken care of within the house. Such households may have seemed patriarchal yet Julie Hardwick says women also held positions of authority e.g. the male head’s wife oversaw other women and servants. e.g: Males, who didn’t perform their duties, were drunkards/spendthrifts lost their authority. Marriages were keystones of the family economy as brides and grooms both made financial/material contributions. All members of family were valued as producers, especially women. Widows and spinsters were part of the household and contributed to the family economy. 
  • In the 19th century, Louise. A. Tilly and Joan. W. Scott, point out that the ‘family economy’ was replaced by the ‘family wage economy’ as industrialization caused the growth of wage labour and shift in production, outside the household to factories. The family wage economy was now defined by the need for money, to pay for food and rent, towards which individual wage earners contributed. This shift, led to a change in family structures, as family now became synonymous with ‘house’ and now comprised only kin members living under one roof. As production shifted outside the house, families were presented with the dilemma, of who would take care of production needs and who of reproduction/child care, as both didn’t take place within the household anymore. Thus two spheres emerged which became associated with gender roles- (i) the private sphere associated with family and femininity  handled by wives/mothers, and (ii) the public sphere of work, commerce and politics associated with men. 


  • Tilly and Scott, examining this change in the working class family look at the role of children, daughters and married women and their centrality to the family wage economy. 
  • They say, children and specially daughters were an important economic recourse for working class families, as were put to work at a young age between 10- 14years, to contribute to family income. Typically girls from rural England and France shifted to cities, as the growing urban middle class created a demand for domestic servants. For e.g. 2/3rd of all domestic help in England in 1851 were daughters of rural labourers, while French cities had a high proportion of rural domestic servants too- Versailles(1825-3) 3/5th , Marseille (1864-71)57% and Bordeaux 50%.
  • Rural parents preferred sending daughters into domestic service, as it required only domestic skills (child care, laundry etc) which girls possessed and domestic service provided a relatively safe environment, food, clothes and lodging for girls. 
  • A Daughter’s departure also relieved the family of economic burden and ensured an additional economic contribution by them, since many girls saved money to send home. (e.g. France- Marie R. Was an exceptional case-she managed to save money for her marriage, gather a trousseau and sent a part of her earnings to her mother. )
  • Daughters and children also found great employment in the new mechanized textile industry as their nimble fingers were preferred by employers. Tilly and Scott show that often whole families shifted to new textile towns such as Manchester and Preston (England) and Roubaix and Toulouse (France) to take advantage of manufacturer’s appeals for families with “healthy strong girls”. 
  • Manufacturers employed paternalism, to attract single rural girls by offering them board and lodging, and in the case of Monsieur Bonnet even arranging marriages and dowry for girls. 
  • Often families shifted to factory towns, to work together in a factory, since parents could supervise their young children who also worked. In such cases a parent collected the collective wage of all his family members- e.g. the Metigy family together earned 46 Francs a week. The textile industry in which women and children found greater employment than men was more lucrative than other sectors, women were paid well, jobs availability was high which often led to saving. A similar pattern of families working together was seen in mining towns such as Anzin (France), where men worked in mines and women and children sorted coal on the surface.

The shift of work outside the house and the earning of individual wages by daughters and children had important repercussions. 
  • Daughters who shifted to cities became more independent of family control, especially in spheres of marriage and spending money. If they lived at home, since they contributed a wage, they developed a say over family expenditure and decisions. Yet this independence was accompanied by greater vulnerability of economic and sexual exploitation of young girls. In cities wages were often low, employment was seasonal and unstable due to economic fluctuations. Thus the prostitution developed as a new occupation in order to survive. In 1836 Parent Duchatelet found that majority of prostitutes in Paris were recent immigrants.  Yet in good times jobs were plenty, and young women preferred to work in cities. This often led to permanent migration and sometimes a loosening of family ties. However on the whole Tilly and Scott argue that the period saw a continuity of strong family ties as most children felt a sense of obligation to their parents and because family also provided other benefits, as family ties maintained by mothers, helped children find jobs and lodging in new cities.  
  • The impact on younger children especially till 1840s was very low literacy rates e.g. studies from Manchester showed most children, “picked up some schooling between 3 and 12 years at irregular intervals.” The economic needs of families took precedence over education. This situation improved slightly after compulsory primary education laws were passed in Britain(1841), France and Germany post 1840s. Michael Anderson says that children earning a wage often gained some independence too and sometimes entered, “relational bargains with their parents on terms of more or less precise equality.” 


  • Married women in the family wage economy played multiple roles, which varied across working class and middle class households. 
  • In working class women contributed wages to the family fund, managed the house, bore and cared for children. Once women married their domestic duties and child care increasingly conflicted with their capacity to earn a wage as industrial jobs demanded longs hours away from home. This conflict was resolved by married women not working, unless financial necessity demanded. It also led to the concept of a ‘male bread winner’ emerging, as a result of gendering of the newly created public and private spheres discussed above. A gendering of spheres was more blurred among working class homes in which married women were forced to work. 
  • Women’s work reflected a distinct pattern. Women worked full time industrial jobs before and in early years of marriage before childbirth, if necessary. After childbirth women usually took on non-mechanized garment trades(e.g. needlework) or earned wages as caterers, laundresses, charwomen and as keepers of cafe’s and inns, jobs which could be done from the house thus reducing time away from home. Women carrying out these jobs usually didn’t consider themselves as employed, to avoid paying taxes. Women’s jobs were often low paying, exploiting and temporary. 
  • It was usually when what Michael Anderson refers to as “critical life situations” hit (death, illness or unemployment of a husband) which were common in the 19th century, that married women were again forced to work. E.g. in textile towns’ wives of men in low paying jobs, worked in the mills. In such situations, the gendering of private and public spheres blurred as males often fulfilled domestic duties. 
  • Another impact of married women being forced to work was a rise in infant mortality rates as children were sent to wet nurses and their nourishment suffered. Yet the survival of the family was more important than that of an infant. As children grew up to age 10 and could be put to work, mother’s were spared working, as children now took on this role, contributing to the family fund. Married women were then forced back into the workforce, in their old age, when children got married, moved away and husbands grew old and ill. In such cases married women took up any work they found.
  • In the domestic sphere married women played vital roles, they cooked, cleaned and nursed the wage earning family members. Majority of the working class budget was spent on food Michael Martineau’s study of wage spent on grain in five types of French families between 1823 and 1835 shows an average of 55%. A mother’s managerial role was well recognised in the household, as she managed the family fun to put food on the table. As children spent more time at home only leaving when married, bonds of affection also increased between mother and children as she organized the family and fed it. Mothers also fulfilled an important social role, of maintaining larger family ties, by visiting relatives with gifts and preparing food for festivals. This was important as the larger kin network helped children get employment and shelter when they moved to cities.


  • In middle class or bourgeoisie Lynn Abrams says that children and wives usually didn’t work and especially not out of financial necessity, as males earned well enough. Thus the gendering of the private and public spheres was greater in the middle class household, as the married woman’s ideal role was that of a mother/wife, who maintained a good house and provided an emotional haven for husband and children to escape the hardships of the industrial world. Abrams says the middle class mother’s role as chief organizer of the house was valued. The increasing association of the home with women led to women being seen as dependents and incapable of productive roles like-politics and work. It also led to the development of patriarchy. Yet women’s withdrawal from the work space didn’t entail a total withdrawal. Women in England and France contributed financial recourses to family businesses and often controlled husband’s business activity. E.g. in France, Deborah Simonton, shows family businesses often combined the names of husband and wife e.g. The Mequillet-Noblet Cotton Company. 
  • The division of private and public spheres also emerged within the house, as private bedrooms became distanced/distinct from common spaces like the kitchen and parlour. Thus Abrams says that in the 19th century the home was increasingly on display, and the family became self conscious, drawing rooms were filled with ornaments, furniture and wallpaper often made by the women of the house since the women were now primarily judged for their domestic roles. Women also became the representatives of the family as they stayed at home and met with relatives, salesmen and officials. 
  • With regards to children, the mother child relationship was central to the new family as children now came to fulfill an emotional role as opposed to a financial one. One saw the development of a concept of childhood and adolescence as Peter .N. Sterns points out because children began to stay home longer usually till marriage, even within working class families. This was because middle class children didn’t work but were educated for longer now and in the working class labour laws (1830s) and compulsory education laws (1840s) in Britain and France, led to literacy increasing and children staying at home longer. 
  • The middle class family also offered escape for working husbands from the hardship of work life, thus family activities such as playing the piano after dinner and family holidays developed.  
  • With regards to single mothers and widows who didn’t fit the domestic family ideal the space for them to be integrated into a household reduced, as families became smaller.
  • Peter . N. Sterns also says industrialization led to decreasing birth rates first in middle class and by 1870s in working class due to emphasis on birth control. In the middle class this ‘demographic transition’ occurred due to greater emphasis on the concept of childhood, education and familial bonds. While in working class households it occurred due to economic pressure, to conserve recourses. By 1900 most families had 2-4 children instead of 6 to 8. 

However Tilly and Scott also point out that the transformation of the family was widespread yet all families didn’t shift to the family wage economy, in France especially compared to Britain small farms with family production died out only in the early 20th century.

20th CENTURY: In the early 20th century the family structure changed further as industrialization matured. The nuclear family with the conjugal relationship at its core emerged in the late 19th century becoming the norm in the 20th century. The early 20th century, saw changes in working class married women’s work life. The number of married working women declined. This was due to five main reasons- 
  • The sectors of the economy which employed the largest number of married women shrank. (e.g. garment and shoe trades in England and France). 
  • Married women who worked from the house also lost out as number of boarders decreased as rural to urban migrants reduced. 
  • Increase in the real wages of men between 1880 and 1914 led to improved the standard of living of working class and married women preferred to stay home.
  • The increase in wages, led to a reduction in illness and disease, thus men and children were healthier and fewer married women were widowed and forced to work.
  • The trend of decreasing family size matured in this period, which led to fewer children and hence lesser economic demand for married women to work.
  • Prolonged residence of wage earning children in the house, allowed married mothers to stay at home in working class families now. Thus 20th century saw widows and old women rather than married women being forced to work.
 In conclusion the 19th century middle class norm of the mother at the centre of the family as a homemaker or ‘angle in the house’ and the clear cut gendering of spheres, became the widespread in working class households by the late 19th/early 20th century. This was one of the main social legacies of industrialization and capitalism in the 19th and early 20th century, interlinked to the development of a working class and growing bourgeoisie, which changed the social fabric of Western Europe.

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