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.
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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.