The Effects of the Industrial Revolution on the Family, Classes, Occupations, and Nationalities

Different classes of people, the occupations they held, and what nationality they were played a role in how their families were impacted during this time.


Over the course of the Industrial Revolution in Britain, we different aspects of how people were affected during this time. Some examples of how families were affected include occupation changes, living conditions, and the advancements of technology. It is easy to look at the outside perspective and think that everyone must have benefited from the Industrial Revolution because of the new technology and jobs available. After reading this page of how industrialization changed families, we hope to give you a different view on the Industrial Revolution. Families were impacted in a new manner during the Industrial Revolution in England. Different classes of people, the occupations they held, and what nationality they were played a role in how their families were impacted during this time.

How Different Classes of Families Were Impacted

Lower Class

This is an example of a poorhouse during the Industrial Revolution. Large families were forced to live in small quarters because they could not afford anything else. This illustration is from 1863 in Bethnal Green, London.

During the first half of the Industrial Revolution lower class individuals were living in conditions that were less than ideal.  The government set up “poorhouses,” which were designed to hopefully although families to move away from relying on government aid because the conditions of living of these were horrendous. Often times, because of the magnitude of their situations, many only had the option to find a place of shelter.1  Because of the design of these houses, it was often hard for larger families find enough room to sleep, as well as go about their daily activities. 

Families, in the past, used to together as a unit to produce goods during the Agricultural Revolution but with the start of the Industrial Revolution, this changed drastically.  Work and home life used to overlap as the play and work could intertwine.  As families were working on the farms, the children were able to play and the parents were able to spend plenty of time with their family.  During the industrialization, home life and work life became separated.2  Women’s role in the industrial economy took a major hit as they took on more of the “housewife” roles while men worked long hours to make money for their families. 

Living conditions for skilled weavers and their families also changed during and after the  Industrialization Revolution.  Before the Industrial Revolution they could work at their own pace from home, work on gardening, weaving, and raise small farm animals.  Families seemed to have lived very comfortable and content lifestyle and were able to choose their work days and hours.  After industrialization, many could no longer work at their own pace or rely on opportunities such as weaving for their income.  Children were expected to go to work in factories along with their parents and lost the time they formerly had to spend with their families.  The overall quality of life for most families and how they lived their lives negatively changed because of the Industrial Revolution.3  

Factory workers now performed repeated tasks for fourteen or more hours per day.4 The following quote is from a man who worked in the factories in 1833.

“It is very much the case with some sort of men to go idle part of the week and to work extra hours the rest. In such cases I have known men to work from three o’clock in the morning till ten o’clock at night.” 5 

An example of children working in the factories.

As you can see from this quote, the varied hours and inconsistent work days took a toll on families during the Industrial Revolution. It was difficult to spend quality time together because of the long work days so relationships often became strained.6 The mothers struggled to keep their families in good health while also struggling to money.  A lot of times the children would have to go to work for the factories as well because they are a lot smaller and can fit in smaller spaces.  Children only earned 1/10 of what men earned in the factories.  Many young women would work for the factories when they were younger but once they became married they would quit their jobs to take care of the home.  To make ends meet, some women would even have to continue working in the factories or mines while they were pregnant.7

Middle Class

At the end of the 19th century, we see a “Middle Class” emerge due to industrialization.  Before this, there were only the extremely wealthy who inherited their money and possessions or the extremely poor working class, who had to work very hard for every penny they had.  People who were in the middle class tended to work jobs like shop keepers, bank tellers, merchants, insurance agents, accountants, managers, doctors, lawyers, and teachers.8  Most of these jobs were occupied by men while the women tended to continue the housewife role.

This image is an example of a middle class family in their home. You can see that they are dressed nicely and do not have dirty faces or hands, which was common to see in images of poor or working class families.

The middle class men did not have to work as physically or as long of hours as the working class did, which allowed them to spend more time with their wives and children.  Middle class children often did not have to work and were able to attend school during the day.  Some middle class families were well-off enough that they could hire a servant or maid who would cook or clean their houses occasionally.9 Still, home was separate from work but would be a place where the families could gain emotional support and feel safe.  As time passed, women started having less children because families could not afford to send them all to school.  The infant mortality rate also decreased because of better health care options and less pollution in the streets.10  Families were also smaller because they did not need as many kids to work on farms like they had prior to the Industrial Revolution.

How Different Occupations Were Impacted

In the English Industrial Revolution there were many changes to occupations throughout the country as more and more people moved into the big cities. The traditional family dynamic was in constant change in-between the late 18th century throughout the 19th century. Women and children had to work numerous long and dangerous jobs.11 It was quite a different time than before when small seamstress shops, farm fields and cobblers workshops were much more promising workplaces than the now common factory and mine shaft.  

If a woman were to work the same job as a man it was very rare for the woman to make more money let alone the same as her male counterpart.12 A great example of this was in a silk mill in 1825 where 90% of an over a thousand person workforce were women and none of which held a role with any power and they all made less money than over 50% of the men working there.13 One other problem with the Industrial Revolution was the toll it took on an individual’s health. It didn’t help that many of those working at this time were working twelve plus hours a day often with little sleep and it was also not uncommon for people to eat small amounts of food with very low nutritional value.14

Magnolia Cotton Mill Via Wikimedia

Whether it be those working in factories, coal mines, or mills people were getting ill at seemingly faster rates.15 This was because of many of the new businesses opening having very little regulations of the fumes their machines were using or of even the fumes of the items they were producing.16  

Two examples of individuals in the English Industrial Revolution are shown below. One of which is an example of two girls who, considering their age, would not even be working in the societies most industrialized nations there are today. This allows for a greater look at how different expectations for children were at this time period. The other example is a look at a middle aged woman who explains perfectly the way labor and societal norms at this time affected women in particular and how they reacted. Overall during this time period there were many different jobs, but many of them had similar effects on those working both mentally, culturally, and health wise.

Mary and Rachell Enock, ages 11 and 12 years.

“We are door-keepers in the four foot level. We leave the house before six each morning and are in the level until seven o’clock and sometimes later. We get 2p a day and our light costs us 2 1/2 p. a week. Rachel was in a day school and she can read a little. She was run over by a tram a while ago and was home ill a long time, but she has got over it.”17  

Jane Peacock Watson.

“I have wrought in the bowels of the earth 33 years. I have been married 23 years and had nine children, six are alive and three died of typhus a few years since. Have had two dead born. Horse-work ruins the women; it crushes their haunches, bends their ankles and makes them old women at 40. “18 

How Different Nationalities Were Impacted

Many nationalities immigrated to England during the first half of the Industrial Revolution once it began to spread to almost every region. It became popularized that working in a factory or mine was the best way to make money and help provide for families. Some of the more well known nationalities impacted by the Industrial Revolution, other than the native Englanders, were the Scottish, Irish, and Welsh: the countries in the surrounding areas of England. These people were technically a part of the United Kingdom as their own separate countries that held their own religions, customs and traditions.

This is an illustration of a family from Ireland waving goodbye to their loved ones who are leaving the country in search for a new life elsewhere. It is entitled ‘Emigrants Leave Ireland’, engraving by Henry Doyle (1827–1892), from Mary Frances Cusack’s Illustrated History of Ireland, 1868 Via Wikimedia

These different nationalities immigrated to where work was most prominent, where there were more benefits, and where they thought they would be more financially and economically successful, which was a rare thing to find during this time. Many of these migrants were destitute farmers who would get evicted from their land by their landlords so they had no choice but to move inland to find work at a factory, mine, or mill because they needed money to provide for their families. Additionally, factories were often hiring so it was fairly easy to find work for those who didn’t have many skills. This is why many of them immigrated to England and the bigger cities where there were the most factories. For example, in Liverpool and Manchester, roughly 25 to 33 percent of the workers there were Irish.19 

As you can probably tell from this painting on the left, many families were divided and sometimes forced to move apart due to famines, diseases, poverty and poor living conditions. Other times they just could not provide for their families anymore so the promise of labor in bigger cities was very appealing. Some families did not wish to leave simply because they did not want to abandon their homes/ farms and the cost of moving was too expensive. In other instances, they had to take care of someone who was sick or who physically was not able to leave, perhaps a grandparent. Another factor was that many did not want to risk losing their young children and other elderly relatives on the journey over because that was a long and dangerous plight in itself. This sometimes made it difficult for people to leave and make the transition of living in a new country since they were leaving loved ones behind and because they would probably never see them again.

Certain factories or mills in the different regions mentioned before provided medical assistance, food, and education for their workers and their families which is why many of them chose to go there. Cornwall and South Wales are a couple examples where this occurred. Some other companies provided libraries and playgrounds for their workers and their families, along with other amenities such as cooking and washing facilities and heating. Many of these families chose to stay and build a life there. Not before long they started to form little communities surrounding the factories where they worked known as “factory villages”.20

This is a painting of a factory village entitled Oldham from Glodwick (1831) by James Howe Carse Via Wikimedia

People and families who worked in some of these factory/mining communities had to follow certain rules and moral orders to reflect the business that they worked for. Their behavior was constantly being regulated and sometimes when people were caught fighting or causing mischief they would be dismissed and never taken on again, forcing them to starve or emigrate somewhere else. This tended to happen to the Welsh more than other groups because some of the men would drink on occasion, more-so during strikes and riots, and this hindered their abilities to work and do a good job, but drinking was a part of their social life and culture.21

There were many different struggles that families had to go through in the Industrial Revolution. The citizens of the new industrialized cities had to cope with their class at the time, their occupation of “choice”, and their heritage. Each variable impacting their life in sometimes unforeseen ways. All of which made major differences in their quality of life. This time period, although rough at times, allowed for a major change in how human society maintained itself in such a relatively short amount of time.


  1. “Effects of the Industrial Revolution,” Modern World History Interactive Textbook, date accessed February 28, 2016,
  2. Ibid.
  3. Ibid.
  4. Ibid.
  5. Ibid.
  6. Carol Adams, Paula Bartley, Judy Lown, Cathy Loxton,  Under Control: Life in a nineteenth-century Silk Factory (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press), 1-48.
  7. Ibid.
  8. “Effects of the Industrial Revolution,” Modern World History Interactive Textbook,date accessed February 28, 2016,
  9. Ibid.
  10. Ibid.
  11. Ibid.
  12. Ibid.
  13. Carol Adams, Paula Bartley, Judy Lown, Cathy Loxton,  Under Control: Life in a nineteenth-century Silk Factory (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press), 1-48
  14. “The Coal Mines Industrial Revolution,” Women in World History Curriculum, date accessed May 11, 2016,
  15. Marjorie Bloy, “A Web of English History,” Report of the Commissioners on the employment of children in Factories (1833), Last modified 4 March, 2016,
  16. “The Coal Mines Industrial Revolution,” Women in World History Curriculum, date accessed May 11, 2016,
  17. Ibid.
  18. Ibid.
  19. Jack Goldstone,  “Gender, Work, and Culture: Why the Industrial Revolution Came Early to England but Late to China,” Sociological Perspectives 39:1 (1996), 1-12.
  20. Sidney Pollard, “The Factory Village in the Industrial Revolution,” The English Historical Review, 79: 312 (1964) , 513-531.
  21. Ibid.

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