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The Social Effects of the Industrial Revolution

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The Social Effects of the Industrial Revolution
Works Cited Not Included
During the period of 1760-1850, Great Britain experienced a phenomenon
that earned it the title “the workshop of the world” (Ward 22). It
was an incident characterized by the rise of machine-powered
factories, technological advances, an increase in population with a
decline of agricultural population, and the expansion of trade. These
are the characteristics of the Industrial Revolution, defined by
Arnold Toynbee to be the “substitution of competition for the medieval
regulation” (Toynbee 1, 58). Adam Smith envisioned it to be an
economy free of government interference, driven by forces of
competition and the nature of human greed. Smith’s ideas were
published in the book The Wealth of Nations, and these ideas
manifested to produce the characteristics seen by the Industrial
Revolution. Therefore, it is implied, if not apparent, that one of
the causes that led to the rise of the Industrial Revolution of
1760-1850 was the manifestation of the ideas Smith put forth to
achieve wealth and productivity for a nation.

The process of industrialization, however, resulted social effects
that concern the standard of living of the working class. Opponents
to the Industrial Revolution, dubbed “pessimists” (Doty 5), feel that
“the effects of the Industrial Revolution prove that free competition
may produce wealth without producing well-being” (Taylor VII). On the
contrary, proponents supporting the process of industrialization and
the introduction of the factory system, dubbed “optimists” (Doty 5),
claim that the standard of living, or the quality of life, of the
working class actually improved throughout the Industrial Revolution
entire initial period. Did the Industrial Revolution raise or lower
the standard of living of the social working class? These two
different viewpoints clash when attempts are made to answer the
preceding question. However, upon examining statistical evidence, I
contend that living standards of workers did improve throughout the
duration of the Industrial Revolution, or at least there was no
deterioration of their quality of life. The reason for clashing of
viewpoints lies in the different way each group defines the phrase
“standard of living.” Its definition is defined accordingly below.

According to the optimists, standard of living refers to tangible
“material conditions such as wages, purchasing power, food and diet,
housing, health and length of life, population growth, and clothing”
(Doty 5). These are measurements that optimistic historians can
obtain quantitatively. In the proceeding arguments, proponents to the
factory system and industrialization will provide quantitative
evidence to prove that the quality of life of an average working class
person did increase due to the process of industrialization. One such
optimist scholar G.R. Porter argues that the paramount objective to
show progress, or a better quality of life, of a people is to show
that its population increases from an earlier period to a relatively
later period. Thus “between 1780 to 1850 the population of England
and Wales rose from some 7.5 to 18 millions” (Doty 113).
Additionally, there is evidence provided by Porter that mortality
rates were decreasing. Porter successfully shows that mortality rates
decreased substantially in cities undergoing major industrialization,
such as Manchester, Salford, England, and Wales, through statistics
taken from the reports of the Registrar-General. According to the
data then available, “the annual mortality of England and Wales…was 1
in 40 in 1780; in 1801, it was 1 in 48; and in 1830, it had decreased
to 1 in 58” (Doty 61). A decrease in mortality rates, as these
numbers clearly point out, suggests that people were living healthily,
and that sanitary conditions were acceptable to produce a viable
environment in growing manufacturing cities. This argument disproves
the notion that the general quality of life of people diminish by
over-crowding of space, “by their being brought together in masses,”
and by the introduction of the factory system (Doty 60). Therefore,
we can conclude from the quantitative evidence given above that the
standard of living was improved. The increase in population and the
decrease in mortality rates indicate the factory system must have
worked well to provide good living standards that allow long life
spans. If it is not convincing that industrialization improved the
quality of life of the working class, then at least the evidence
defends that the process of industrialization did not deteriorate
their standard of living.

G.R. Porter defends the factory system and the process of
industrialization through the use of evidence of population growth
after 1780, and of a lower death rate. Optimist scholar R.M. Hartwell
agrees with Porter, and asserts that the decrease in death rate was a
direct consequence of environmental and nutritional improvements
(Hartwell 178). Hartwell goes further in showing that there was an
increase in savings during the industrial revolution. He shows that
“deposits increased to 14.3 million pounds by 1829, and to almost 30
million pounds by 1850” (Doty 100). This increase in savings is due
primarily to the introduction of the factory system because another
scholar, H.O. Horne, researched that “the 30 million pounds of
deposits in 1847 were predominantly the savings of wage-earners”
(Horne 116). Furthermore, saving societies were established to cater
to the needs of the working class to save. These saving societies,
such as Building and Land Societies and Co-operative Societies, only
provide additional evidence of workers’ increasing ability to save
(Doty 100). Hartwell essentially argues that an increase in savings
implies an increase in wages. With an increase in wages comes the
ability to consume and purchase more. This is evidence of better
quality of life and an improvement of standard of living.

Another enthusiast for the factory system and the Industrial
Revolution, Andrew Ure, claims that if the process of
industrialization did not improve the standard of living of the
working class, it certainly did not deteriorate their conditions.
Through Ure’s experiences when visiting many factories in Manchester
and in surrounding districts, he observed that all the hard work was
performed by the steam engine, one of the most useful and important
inventions during the Industrial Revolution. With the help of the
steam engine, workers were left with such easy tasks as “joining the
threads that break” and “taking the cops off the spindles” (Taylor
12). On the contrary to machine-powered labor described above, it was
seen by Ure that hand labor was done entirely by muscular effort
(Taylor 13). Clearly we can see an improvement in the degree of labor
in factories exploiting the use of machines. Ure goes an additional
step to describe the working conditions and related health issues
relevant to the factories. An official report, given by an Inspecting
Surgeon of the mills of Preston and its vicinity, informs that “the
average annual sickness of each child is not more than four days,” and
that “disorders of every kind…induced by causes wholly unconnected
with factory labour.” Moreover, the notion that factories are unsafe
due to the dangers inherent with machines is challenged when the
Inspecting Surgeon testifies that he has “met with very few children
who have suffered from injuries occasioned by machinery.” He goes on
by saying that “the protection, especially in new factories, is so
complete, that accidents will…speedily become rare” (Taylor 15).
Lastly, Ure points out the luxuries the working class was capable of
during the industrial revolution. Following Hartwell’s argument that
purchasing power was increased through the wage system, Ure informs
that the workers were able to afford commodious housing. The houses
contained an “improved kitchen-grate, with boiler and oven” (Taylor
15). Some houses were more richly furnished than others, but the
common point of concern is that the working class was living more
comfortably, with better housing, and suffered less work-related
injuries and sicknesses. Thus one cannot deny the fact that the
quality of life was improved. Moreover, one also must not concede
that the industrial revolution deteriorated the standard of living of
the working class, either.

According to pessimist scholars, increasing consumption cannot be a
direct measurement of the well-being of workers. To pessimists,
living standards are incapable of being measured because they include
“home and family life, education, play and leisure, the conditions of
work, the psychological adaptation from handwork to the time clock and
machine discipline of the factory system, and…child and woman labor.”
Pessimists provide evidence for their arguments through testimony of
the Blue Books, and the books, pamphlets, and articles used by
contemporary observers and witnesses (Doty 5). These are qualitative
evidence and analyses and are used to embrace the traditional family
values and those of human values as well. They insist that through
the process of industrialization, the quality of life of the working
class did indeed deteriorate. Let us begin with Frederick Engels, who
defends the role of family life in society, and disputes how the
industrial revolution would lead to the dissolution of the family.

Engels is a socialist who disapproves of the factory system,
capitalism, and many of the ideals of Adam Smith. He befriended with
Karl Marx to collaborate to establish a radical philosophy called
Socialism. In his book The Condition of the Working-Class in England
in 1844, he strongly opposes the factory system by claiming that the
employment of children and women will lead to the dissolution of the
family. The dissolution of the family, argues Engels, “brings the
most demoralizing consequences…” He goes on to explain that the
employment of a woman will leave the woman no time to cater to the
needs of her child. Eventually, the mother will become a stranger to
her own child. Such conditions will bring unknown psychological
effects to the children who will be ruined for later family life. The
same effects happen when children are employed to work in the
factories. They will become accustomed to the isolation of family
love, and will begin to “emancipate” themselves from their parents
(Engels 144). Such dissolution of the family can only be attributed
to the rise of the factory system because Engels insists that this
problem was new to the Industrial Revolution. Since family is part of
the criteria of defining living standards, the disruption of the
family means the degradation of standard of living. Many other
pessimists use different means at disapproving the factory system.

J.L. and Barbara Hammond support the pessimistic view that the factory
system and the process of industrialization as a whole led to the
deterioration of workers’ standards of living. They relate the
Industrial Revolution to the slave trade, claiming that the factory
system binds men to do services for man’s needs, resulting in an
atmosphere reminiscent of the slave trade (Doty 67). They argue that
with new machines being invented comes the need for child labor. This
need of a child labor force is synonymous to the need of slave labor
force exhibited in the United States and many European countries, such
as Portugal, who participated in the slave trade of the 18th and early
19th centuries. According to the Hammonds, the consequence of child
labor indicates the depreciation of the quality of life. Better
quality of life would not allow child labor to exist. Humanitarianism
is central to their arguments, and the degradation of human values to
allow child labor to subsist is the paramount indication that the
quality of life of the working class was worsened.

The assertions pessimists put forth are however convincing and
passionate, I agree with T.S. Ashton when he criticizes qualitative
evidence as “one-sided.” According to Ashton, reports from the Blue
Books “signalized a quickening of social conscience” and “a
sensitiveness to distress” (Doty 78). It is indeed reasonable to
believe that reports from the Blue Books and qualitative evidence used
by pessimists are biased. Ashton asserts that pessimist scholars pick
out certain “sensational evidence of distress,” characteristic in
remote villages and the countryside to dramatize stories of
exploitation of the working class. Ashton does not believe that these
types of distress occur in towns of growing manufactures and in cities
experiencing major industrialization, which exploit the use of steam
power. In their argument the Hammonds attribute child labor to the
invention of machines. With this connection, the Hammonds condemn the
industrial revolution as amoral and cruel. However, child labor was
not as harsh as the Hammonds make it sound like. In cities with the
utility of steam power, optimist scholar Andrew Ure shows that workers
were at ease with their jobs because all hard work was done by the
machines. Additionally, child labor has had existed more than a
century before the period of the Industrial Revolution, and hence
cannot be solely attributed as a consequence of the Industrial
Revolution. Thus the arguments put forth by the Hammonds may have
been personal and biased, creating a picture harsher than one in
reality. Only concrete statistical evidence can distinguish between
the truth and personal values and prejudice. Hence, the quantitative
approach to analyze the social effects of the Industrial Revolution is
preferred and is of paramount concern.

Engels defends the family as the basis of society in the 19th
centure. He asserts that the abolition of the family will bring “the
most demoralizing consequences…” (Engels 144). However, in The
Communist Manifesto Marx calls for the abolition of the family. Marx
believes that the bourgeois family is based on capital and on private
gain. With the dissolution of the family, Marx contends that capital
will vanish as well (Marx and Engels ). Engels believes in
Communism, but Communism believes in the abolition of the family.
Engels is having contracting points of view, and thus Engels’ attack
of the factory system as the cause of the dissolution of the family
does not hold any further relevancy. Compared to the arguments put
forth by enthusiasts for the factory system, Engels’ arguments against
the factory system are weaker, and cannot be used to assert that the
factory system deteriorated workers’ quality of life.

In conclusion, the debate over whether industrialization increased or
deteriorated the standard of living of the working class is
compromised. Proponents to the factory system and the process of
industrialization overwhelm their opponents with statistical data,
proving that living standards improved throughout the duration of the
Industrial Revolution. Data such as population growth, low death
rate, better working conditions with less work-related injuries and
sicknesses, and an increase in saving deposits signify and is
indicative that the working class was under healthy environments, and
that their living standards were improved due to the introduction of
the factory system. Finally, it is important to notice the
significance of this paper. Its significance lies in defending logic,
science, and methodology against personal values and prejudice. Its
significance lies in comparing and contrasting the quantitative method
and the qualitative method. It shows that the qualitative approach to
analyze effects of a historical event holds no importance because this
qualitative evidence is usually one-sided, argued from personal values
and beliefs. On the contrary, quantitative analyses of evidence
provide a more accurate tale of what happened without the bias and
personal values. Concrete numbers do not lie, and from these numbers
we can infer about what exactly happened. Thus statistical evidence
shows us that the Industrial Revolution did improve the standard of
living of the social working class.

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