Social Impacts of the Industrial Revolution

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Social Impacts of the Industrial Revolution

Economic History

The most intriguing to me and the most important to the society, as many historians agree was the social impact of Industrial Revolution in the nineteenth century. In fact, some historians like Rondo Cameron and R. M. Hartwell have ended up debating whether Industrial Revolution was an appropriate term for this revolution. Harold Perkin is another historian who shares the same viewpoint about Industrial Revolution as Cameron and Hartwell. Perkin says that “the Industrial Revolution was no mere sequence of changes in industrial techniques and production, but a social revolution with social causes and a social process as well as profound social effects” in the preface of his book, The Origins of Modern English Society. This is one of the two books I’ll be using as reference for the purpose of this essay. The other book is titled, The Industrial Revolution in World History and is written by Peter Stearns. The aspects of social impacts of Industrial Revolution that I will examine in this essay include changes in standards of living and family structure. Both the aforementioned books discuss these topics under a separate chapter. Perkin’s book solely discusses the Britain Industrial Revolution with facts and cited sources in the form of notes at the bottom of almost every page. It discusses a single aspect under a topic and how it progressed over a period of time. On the other hand, Stearns’ book is an account of all the processes that took place during Industrial Revolution internationally. The book is more of a social account of industrialization while Perkin gives us a detailed economic analysis. Stearns cites no sources and doesn’t use any figures to convince the reader but does a very good job in writing an easy to read book.

Harold Perkin jumps straight to the issue of the changing living standards and realizes that it is a controversial issue in the sense that the short run changes in living standards might have had a downward trend. However, the long term trend was undoubtedly an upward one. He starts off by considering changes in income levels of the working class as income is a fairly good predictor of living standard. The two types of incomes mentioned are real incomes of the workers and the combined national income of Britain. According to Perkin, real incomes of most of the people including middle class, upper class and some sections of the working class went up “by a multiple rather than a fraction” (Perkin 2002, 134) which contributed to a huge increase in national income throughout most parts of the nineteenth century. Perkin supports his claim by giving figures on nominal wages (money) and real wages between the period of 1790 and 1850. To further ensure the accuracy of his claim he uses real wage data collected by various economists and statisticians rather than a single source. The data confirms that real wages for workers did decline in several periods but the long term effect stays positive. The likeliest explanation for the decline in real wages is the increase in labor supply due to population growth and urbanization. In the early parts of Industrial Revolution the rich were the biggest beneficiaries. These were the factory owners who had discovered a whole new technology to aid their production or the entrepreneur for these factories. Their real wage increase exceeded the increase in real national product receiving more than their share of the national product. “Arkwright (leading entrepreneur of Industrial Revolution) made half a million pounds in less than two decades” (Perkin 2002, 140). Adding to this, the new price structure of commodities based on the new patterns of production and demand also favored the rich. Food prices were higher as compared to the new manufactured goods. So, the poor who would spend all their income on food were gaining less than the rich who were the first ones to have the luxuries of...
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