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The Impact of The Early Industrial Revolution Upon The Family, Women, and Living and Working Conditions

The Industrial Revolution sparked an increase in rapid production with the implementation of cheap labor. Industrialists were no longer present in the factories, so the factory was entirely run by families and often young children who succumb to meager working conditions and cheap wages. Ultimately, the family was torn apart, women and children were forced to join their male counterparts in the factories, while enduring horrible working and living conditions.

Image by Neil Carey via Flickr

The Industrial Revolution upset old social patterns of life and family. Previously, the farm, home and the workplace were one and the same, with men and women sharing in many of the same responsibilities. In the industrial age, there was a separation of home and workplace and a greater separation of the roles men and women played.

In middle class families, men went to work while women stayed home with the children. In working class families, men, women, and children all went to work, but usually to separate places. For both middle and working class families, these were added strains that pulled the family apart.

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Women of the working classes would usually be expected to go out to work, often in the mills or mines. Before 1870, women made up more that 50% of the working class in the textile industry, making less than half of what a man would make. The hours were long and conditions were hard, however in 1844 excessive working hours for women were outlawed in the mills and mines. Those who did not work in the factories were fortunate, becoming maids for wealthier families or governesses for rich children. The less fortunate may have been forced to work in shocking conditions during the day and then have to return home to conduct the household’s domestic needs. Women also faced the added burden of societies demand for children.



The standard of living and the working conditions in the early Industrial Revolution were wretched due to industrialists forcing a well disciplined labor force. Work hours were usually twelve to sixteen hours a day, six days a week. Minimum wage did not exist, nor was there any security in case of unemployment.

In the cotton mills, the temperatures in the factories were almost intolerable at around 84 degrees. Not only that, they were filthy and unhealthy. Conditions weren’t any better in the coal mines, where cave ins, gas fumes, and explosions happened almost every day. Several of the laborers suffered from lung problems and deformed limbs.

Although many historians might argue that the standard of living continued to get better after the 19th century, one cannot ignore the fact that in order to start the factories, the industrialists had to reinvest any profits they did make back into machinery. This left a fraction of wages for the workers. Furthermore, due to overproduction in the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, economic hardships led to a short term depression that included social tensions and unemployment.


Many workers felt that for real progress to be made, they would have to work for it themselves. That involved organizing into trade unions, the very existence of which was illegal until 1824. Even then, they could only exist as mutual aid societies to provide their members with insurance against sickness and injury. Not until 1871 could British unions represent their member’s grievances and actively work for reforms. However, by the end of the nineteenth century, trade unions had made substantial progress toward improving the living and working conditions that industrial workers had to endure.

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  1. NickFord

    On March 7, 2010 at 6:19 pm

    You write some good stuff!

  2. Inna Tysoe

    On March 7, 2010 at 6:26 pm

    Good one. But in the UK there were other forces at work–the empire for one. I mean if you wanted to make a living that did not involve the mines and what-not you could go to India. Orwell (to name but one example) did just that.



  3. R J Evans

    On March 7, 2010 at 6:33 pm

    Cool article. I am glad that you mentioned the Trade Unions because until they came along things were pretty miserable. Who knows, if it were not for the tenacity of these workers of the Empire we might still all be working for peanuts….

    Hold on, I write for Triond… :-)

  4. Trakiya

    On March 7, 2010 at 6:37 pm

    Very good post….Thank you.

  5. Joe Dorish

    On March 7, 2010 at 9:41 pm

    Fascinating stuff Lauren. The IR really did change everything for most people. There’s a pretty good museum in Lowell, Massachusetts that shows what conditions were like there as it was once the largest textile site in the world in the 1850’s.

  6. Chris Stonecipher

    On March 8, 2010 at 2:38 am

    Both my Grandma and her mom (my Great Grandma) worked in the salt mines by rail in the very early 1900’s. Your article makes me reflect on some of the stories that were past down to my father of the working women’ perspective in the era of time.
    Thanks for sharing. I find these types of articles quite intriguing.

  7. HatedNation

    On March 8, 2010 at 3:09 am

    Funny how Unions were so good once…

  8. ken bultman

    On March 8, 2010 at 4:02 am

    Very good piece of work. The problem with unions here in the colonies is they don’t know when to quit. The UAW pretty much bankrupted General Motors.

  9. Brenda Nelson

    On March 8, 2010 at 11:07 am

    I do wonder how families existed BEFORE this..
    What I mean is that how bad were things for families to allow them to find working in the factories.. and sending their kids to work in the factories, before this occured… just curious.

  10. kate smedley

    On March 8, 2010 at 1:16 pm

    Victorian times in England were very hard for the working class, the classic example is the workhouses and children being sent up chimneys to clean them … excellent work as always Lauren, it was revolutionary but change doesn’t often happen without hardship.

  11. 8Shei8

    On March 8, 2010 at 11:57 pm

    Intriguing history! Great article.

  12. albert1jemi

    On March 9, 2010 at 11:36 am

    wel written

  13. Jo Oliver

    On March 9, 2010 at 10:49 pm

    intriguing history. excellent choice of pics too. well done my friend. Ive missed you. Did Chris tell you that i had the baby?

  14. Virginia Wolfe

    On March 10, 2010 at 11:40 am

    i have been without a computer for a while so i havent been able to keep up with you or anyone else here at triond. so glad you are still hard at it lauren. i do love reading your articles.

    honestly reading this article made me glad that there are some labor laws now. also made me think that things arent so different now. there is no way for a working class family where i am from to have an at home family life. we are all like headless chickens, trying to make a living and have a nice place to stay. the truth of the matter is both parents have to work to live and it leaves the kids to take care of eachother since the parents have to work opposite shifts so they dont have to pay for child care too. was that way when i was a kid and is that way now that i have a kid to think about. then when the kids are 13 or 14 we go out to get jobs so we can help out with the family bills. at least that is how it happened in my family and is what i hear from all the teen agers who come to my place of work. not saying that it would be better if they started at say age 6 but none the less still kids working to have food on the table instead of getting the education they need to stop the cycle.

    wow didnt mean to jump up on that soap box. hope i didnt offend anyone.

    looking forward to having time to read more of your articles lauren. maybe i can write one of my own again soon too….


  15. Lauren Axelrod

    On March 10, 2010 at 1:44 pm


    Congrats on the baby. No wonder I haven’t seen you around. Chris didn’t tell me.


    It’s so nice to see you and you would be right. Not much has changed as entire families enter the workforce just to make ends meat.

  16. overwings

    On March 13, 2010 at 5:44 am

    Good thing that we are not working in such horrific conditions now. Anyway when both parents work and there is no help to take care of children it is pretty difficult having a proper family life. If in this time of crisis you have not one but two or three jobs, then you wonder what for you want all those trade unions.

  17. RS Wing

    On March 13, 2010 at 11:51 am

    There are a lot of dirty little secrets of the industrial revolution. You have exposed several of the worst one’s. Without the women’s workforce, America wouldn’t be what it is today. Especially the contributions and sacrifice of severe family losses from the industrial revolution. A very bad history of ourselves during that time period. RJ nailed it….without those unions, we would be in an entirely different set of circumstances. Excellent read and always, very well written. Great post!

  18. Uma Shankari

    On March 27, 2010 at 9:09 am

    I loved this article for its in-depth analysis. You know how it feels when you read a good one: just a satisfied sigh….

  19. byonce williams

    On April 3, 2010 at 12:23 pm

    For my history class i have to write a essay on the industrial revolution and i have to figure out what was the good thing about women getting jobs in mills and what good cam out of this i know part of it is that they made money but i need to know what else. can someone help me pls!

  20. Lauren Axelrod

    On April 3, 2010 at 11:25 pm


    Actually, if you actually read the history of the First Industrial Revolution, there really is nothing good to say about the conditions for women. They were dreadful! The Second Industrial revolution is another story.

  21. The Quail 1957

    On April 13, 2010 at 10:02 am

    Very well written and informative article.

  22. Judy Kaelin

    On May 1, 2010 at 11:57 pm

    Excellent article, I have always had an interest in the historical records and stories of this era. Thanks for a great work!

  23. alfabeta

    On May 17, 2010 at 1:48 pm

    Even in some working class families some men tried to keep their wifes at home, to pass as richer than they really were…

  24. Birdie

    On June 14, 2010 at 10:25 am

    Needed to gain information for a sociology unit on families and I must say this is absolutely brilliant and helped me so much. Everything was covered in-depth and it was fascinating to learn so much more behind just the machines and what it enabled.
    Keep up the brilliant work!

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