Monday, July 28, 2014

Social Impacts of Industrial Revolution

The Industrial Revolution immensely affected the society of Europe, particularly that of Britain. Three new sections, based on economic status and interests, appeared in the society.

The industrial elite, better called ‘the grande bourgeoisie’, consisting of big industrialists, capitalists and bankers, appeared as the most wealthy section of the society. With wealth came power and influence. This elite included the big business houses who obtained an honoured status in the society. Two of the outstanding prime ministers in British History – Robert Peel and William Gladstone – hailed from such big business families.
The educated middle class elite, better known as the ‘professional bourgeoisie’ consisting of engineers, highly skilled technicians, doctors and lawyers, also became a powerful section in the society. This section of the middle class proved to be the most potential source of man power needed by the growing industrial and commercial activities.

The third section of population that emerged as a result of the Industrial Revolution was the working class – the vast multitude of labourers who thronged to towns and cities to work in factories, mines and docks. Their number was growing fast since the beginning of the 19th century. They lived in slums in the most unhealthy conditions. The working conditions in the factories were worse still. They had to perform long hours of work at low wages. Not only men, but women and children too were employed in large number. The famous Report of Mayhew as well as Marx’s Das Capital draw a pitiable picture of the working class people in London in the mid-19th century.

The urban slums which formed dwellings of the workers created a lot of social problems. They turned into dens for all sorts of criminal activities, like sale of liquor, theft and prostitution. But the number of workers was growing fast, and gradually they became a force to reckon with.

Another important social impact was the increase of social mobility. This means that the rigidity of class distinction was loosening. New values and role models were appearing in the urban industrial society. The pride and sense of honour of the aristocracy was slowly but surely making way for the wealth and enterprise of the fast rising industrial-business elite. In a society where wealth became the index of success and status, matrimonial alliance between classes began to take place. An aristocrat family marrying its offspring into a rich business family was not uncommon now. Similarly, matrimonial alliance between an ordinary middle class family and that of a well-to-do working class was also not unusual now. Thus class barriers began to break slowly but surely.

A very significant impact which recent studies point out is that the low middle class, called the ‘petty bourgeoisie’, began to gain confidence and courage by the growing trend of industrialism. The enterprising members of this class were ready to take risk for a great gain. It was this class which lacked capital but by sheer hard work, some contact and good economic sense many individuals from it reached the pinnacle of success in business and industry. It produced many entrepreneurs.

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