Industrial Revolution: Impact On The Working Class

The Information Revolution and the Industrial Revolution have both had impacts on the working class. With the rise of legislation and workers unions, employees have increasingly played a role in their working conditions and have had a say in their pay. As a result, the workforce in the Information Revolution is wiser, sharper, better, and is already putting effort to gain a competitive advantage. The treatment of the working class and additional findings that would be relevant to this research have been provided below.


Prove/Disprove the Hypothesis

  • The research team has come to the conclusion that the different industrial revolutions negatively impacted the working class, therefore proving this hypothesis. The period between the 1700s and the early 1900s changed the world, nations, cities, and communities. The working class had to endure hardship as women and children were also being exploited. The middle- and upper-class became increasingly wealthy on the backs of the poor.

Overview of the Industrial Revolution

  • The image below represents the main elements of this period. It depicts some factors that have contributed to the living standards/conditions of the working class in that period.

This image depicts the various factors/aspects of the Industrial Revolution.

The Social Shift

  • With the rise of the Industrial Revolution, poor and lower-middle-class families were increasingly unable to provide for their families. For this reason, many of them moved to large cities and began working in these factories. However, because the pay was really low, many fathers would end up going to work with their children from an early age. Fathers that previously worked as tradesmen, seamen, or service workers were now unable to meet their basic needs. Life as they knew it was no longer the same.
  • Children that worked under these extreme conditions suffered physically and mentally. Having started work at a young age, some would experience stunted growth, respiratory-related conditions, among others. As they grew older and became adults, the trauma they experienced impacted them mentally. The abuse of children during the Industrial Revolution was widespread.
  • In sharp contrast, children in the upper- and middle-class had better opportunities in education by either attending an elite school or having an in-home teacher such as a governess or an educated nanny. These opportunities meant that these children would have a brighter future and a chance to be wealthy.
  • During this period, those that thrived were the “middle class, skilled workers, managers, clerks, accountants, and among others.” The 1% owned the factories and industries and were super-wealthy. It was extremely difficult for anyone to move to an upper level of this social divide.

Housing Conditions

  • The great migration into the cities that housed the factories was met with poor living conditions. In most cases, the factories built these homes fast using cheap materials. The British archives that tell the tales of the Victorian Homes reveal that these houses were built tightly, sometimes with only one window. These establishments were referred to as side-to-side courts. These homes would have three or four bedrooms with some families sharing one living unit.
  • A lack of proper sewage systems would result in inappropriate disposal of waste, resulting in disease outbreaks such as cholera, that are easily spread in congested living conditions.

Working Conditions

  • During this era, there was a high unemployment rate. For this reason, people were easily replaceable, which meant that they had little to no bargaining power with their bosses. A typical work-day would be between 12 and 16 hours, for six days. Any injuries in the work environment were not compensated and no wages paid. They were simply replaced. The sharp shift from the slow pace in the country to the fast-paced nature of factories was a harsh adjustment for most people.
  • As industries such as the cotton trade expanded, workers would have to endure long hours for low wages. In such industries, the work environment was very harsh: hot with the additional contribution of steam engines. With the increase in the use of machinery across industries, they were not fenced off, exposing workers to the threat of accidents. Children would be ideal workers as they were small enough to pass through tightly packed machinery. Coupled with long hours and the danger of exhaustion, accidents were not uncommon, raising the mortality rate of children working in these factories. This image depicts the norm of children working in factories.

Children working in a factory in the Industrial Revolution era.

Unions and Reformers

  • Although there were several factories treated people harshly, there were some employers that treated their employees better and with more respect. These employers were referred to as the reformers. However, they were heavily opposed by mill owners that knew that these changes would affect their cost of production, which would, in turn, reduce profit margins. Gradually, these reformers managed to force changes that would protect the rights of the working class and improve their working conditions. These laws also began to address child labor. Below is a list of legislation passed during the Industrial Revolution.
    • Factory Act 1819: “Limited the hours worked by children to a maximum of 12 per day.”
    • Factory Act 1833: “Children under 9 banned from working in the textiles industry and 10-13-year-olds limited to a 48-hour week.”
    • Factory Act 1844: “Maximum of 12 hours work per day for Women.”
    • Factory Act 1847: “Maximum of 10 hours work per day for Women and children.”
    • Factory Act 1850: “Increased hours worked by women and children to 10 and a half hours a day, but not allowed to work before 6 am or after 6 pm.”
    • Factory Act 1874: “No worker allowed to work more than 56.5 hours per week.”
  • Labor Unions also took to the streets to put a stop to the unfair treatment and low wages and ill-treatment at these factories. In the US, these unions were not always as successful as immigrants were a cheaper workforce. The image below is an example of one such riot.

Labor unions strking.


Overview of our Findings

  • As technological advancements lead to automation, the working class is now in a better position to negotiate and demand additional training to remain competitive. Although several individuals in some industries have suffered the hit of automation, new technology has only impacted portions of tasks previously done by people. Since the first computer invention in the 1940s, this revolution has only resulted in improving the efficiency of certain tasks. The real impact of the Industrial Revolution was witnessed about 100 years after it began. In the same light, the Information Revolution is still gradually growing/advancing.

The Machines are Here

  • AI-enabled machines have already begun taking jobs away from the working class. Companies that want to increase their profit margins are making this move because machines can work 24-hour days and can replace 6.5 workers within one given task. One example here is Amazon, which has 45,000 robots. At the moment, the 10 largest employers in the world are already replacing workers with machines.
  • In the near future, the three industries that are most likely to be fully automated include storage, manufacturing, and transportation industries.


  • The internet’s explosive emergence is the primary reason for the extensive expanse of this industry/market today. This platform has become a key distribution hub for goods, services, and even jobs.
  • Drawing parallels with the Industrial Revolution, the impacts/emergence of e-commerce can be likened to the railroad. The railroad created a distinct boom that shifted the social, economic, and political atmosphere of its time. Railroad mastered distance and e-commerce eliminated it.

Automation and Unemployment

  • Unless handled with the utmost care, automation disruption across industries can result in mass unemployment. Such extensive impacts can devastate communities, cities, states, and even nations. One example here is trucks. If self-driving trucks become available, legal, and viable in the US, this disruption will almost immediately render eight million people jobless.
  • According to a 2016 report released by CitiBank in collaboration with the University of Oxford, 47% of US jobs, 35% in the UK, and 77% in China are at risk of being automated. Across the OECD (Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development) countries, this number averages 57%.
  • The following chart reveals this risk across countries and also across states.

The socio-economic impact of automation.

Job Destruction and Job Creation

  • When introducing technology into a production process, two things occur; job destruction and job creation. Across industries, automation has mostly simplified certain tasks, rarely eliminating occupations. A study conducted in 2016 by Bessen revealed that there has been only one occupation that has been fully eliminated in the US since 1950: the elevator operator.
  • The greatest impact witnessed here is the change in how jobs are done and in the number of people required, describing the past half-century as “partial automation.” New technology is primarily implemented on routine tasks as computer processing speed and power increased.
  • Automation reduces the labor required to perform certain tasks and complements others. While some occupations may be eliminated, it creates new industries and products that gradually emerge. While technology alters tasks for a specific occupation, productivity increases, and costs and prices are lowered. New technology promises higher growth and income, boosting demand for these advancements.

The Nine-to-Five Ideal

Workforce Upskilling

  • Surveys reveal that more than half of today’s employees are willing to train their minds and bodies to improve their professional skills. As they witness the increase in automation, 70% of employees in the US would do anything to gain a competitive edge.
  • Further advancements will require workers to gain new skills, some may need six-month-long courses, year-long training, and further education: 55%, 35%, 10%, and 10%, respectively.
Glenn is the Lead Operations Research Analyst at The Digital Momentum with experience in research, statistical data analysis and interview techniques. A holder of degree in Economics. A true specialist in quantitative and qualitative research.

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