Undoubtedly, the Industrial Revolution was a great landmark in the entire human history. Beginning in the 18th century, industrial revolution completely transformed the handicraft and agrarian economy to a new one dominated by machine and industry manufacturing. The process of Industrial Revolution began in Britain around 1760 and proceeded to 1830 where economic development increased significantly (Ashton 35). Technological advancements such as new energy sources, the invention of new machines like spinning jenny, improved communication and transportation and increased application of science in the industry were realized during this period. There were also agricultural improvements which led to higher productivity. Cultural transformations were also vivid. The industrial revolution spread to other parts of the world and established the base for the modern and highly civilized societies. Nonetheless, this phenomenon that took place almost two centuries ago has continued to capture the minds of an endless number of economists and historians who have exchanged a heated debate on the possible positive and detrimental effects of industrial revolution. Proponents have cited many positive developments such as increased wages, increased life expectancy and technological advancements as major achievements that would not have been realized were it not for the phenomenon. On the other hand, those who oppose the debate have cited various negative effects such as environmental pollution, child labor and the exploitation of women. Whereas Industrial Revolution seems like it was a moment of joy full of conquering tasks and inventions, it was, in fact, one of the darkest turmoil in human history that exploited women and children, created poor working conditions for middle-class workers and resulted in capitalism.
The proponents of the Industrial Revolution debate argue that the process led to conquering inventions that have completely transformed the world for human good. They cite technological inventions in almost every sector of the economy. They also argue that the Industrial Revolution expanded industries and increased productivity which has resulted in more employment opportunities and economic growth. No one would contest that. In fact, were it not for the industrial revolution, computers and the smartphones that have enlightened the modern world perhaps may not have been there.
However, although the inventions that resulted from Industrial Revolution can be celebrated, there is the worst and the darkest part of it. The machine and other conquering inventions of the Industrial Revolution have had a negative impact on the environment. The industries that are claimed to have increased productivity have polluted the environment and have led to the catastrophic effects of the global warming and climate change that are now threatening human existence. The Industrial Revolution industries increased the amount of greenhouse gases which have been the main cause of global warming and eventually climate change (Fleischman 142). That aside, there is also the issue of exploding human populations which is attributed to increased food production as a result of inventions during the Industrial Revolution. The ripple effect was overcrowded cities and poor living conditions that are dangerous to human health. Instead of Industrial Revolution enlightening the world, it created unending problems that would cost human beings for a longer time to resolve failure to which may put their existence in danger.
The Industrial Revolution created room for factory owners to employ large-scale women and children who worked for long hours performing tasks that would destroy their bodies and soul for least possible wages. Humphries analyzed various voices of the individuals that lived during the industrial revolution and gathered strong evidence suggesting that there was an upsurge in child labor in the 18th and the early 19th century in Britain (2). For example, William Arnold who was born in 1860 narrates how he began working in the factory as early as the age of six years and would only rest on Sundays (2). The women and children performed tedious tasks in the factories that had the potential of harming their bodies. Their wages were low that they only covered for their fare back home and to work the following day (Pinchbeck 567). The working conditions in the factories were also sordid. In fact, women were given wooden rods to support their backs during the long working hours and this resulted in deformed chests and ribs (Pinchbeck 577). Combining the above facts one is prompted to reason deeper to establish the possible consequences on the health and well-being of the women and children enslaved in the factories. First, poor working conditions were dangerous to children as they would inhale toxic gases and their bodies came into contact with industrial chemicals. Heavy work was disastrous to non-masculine women. Worst of all was the long working hours without rest which would lead to psychological problems such as depression among young children and women. The Industrial Revolution, therefore, paved a way for the unscrupulous factory owners to recruit children and women in the industries to work for long hours at low wages exposing them to health hazards.
Besides the exploitation of women and children, the Industrial Revolution resulted in poor working conditions for the middle-class citizens. During the industrial revolution, most people were moved out of their villages to work in the textile and mining factories. A working day comprised of 12 to 14 hours and six days a week in 80-degree heat with machines that needed high attention. The factory managers constantly threatened workers with fines and possible loss of jobs is they did not pay close attention to their tasks. The factories were dangerous and dirty characterized by low ceilings, locked doors, and windows with poor lighting (Dickens 231). Furthermore, the workers risked getting lung and throat infections by inhaling hot and polluted factory air for long hours as well as losing their limbs from unguarded machines (Dickens 231). Needless to say, the Industrial Revolution was a dark moment for the middle-class workers who in their attempt to make a living fell on the hands of the cruel managers who subjected them to worst working conditions without consideration for their health and well-being.
Moreover, the Industrial Revolution introduced the idea whereby people focused on a capitalistic approach to wealth creation. The Industrial Revolution was characterized by a laissez-faire approach to business meaning that the government did not interfere with individuals conducting trade. It was from here that capitalism was born, an idea in which the few individual owners of factories massively amassed wealth through profit maximization. During the Industrial Revolution, the capitalistic factory owners were mad at maximizing profits which made them drive into villages where they sourced cheap labor for their factories (Foster 54). Capitalism has far-reaching negative impacts. The workers who were obtained from the villages did not earn much money and they lived in crowded slums. Their connection to their culture and families had been cut. Also, the fact that they lived in low-class houses signified a beginning of social segregation where their rich employers lived in well-off estates with high-quality living standards whereas the poor workers continued to live in polluted environments. The wage gap and income inequalities took a course. The overcrowded slams would soon brood social evils such as crime and other forms of moral decay. In this perspective, capitalism born in the Industrial Revolution can be thought to have been the root cause for worker exploitation in pursuit of higher profits and this eventually resulted in social desegregation among other social problems that have persisted to date.
Although the Industrial Revolution marked a significant progress in human history, it is worth rethinking its negative effects. Undeniably, the Industrial Revolution let to great technological inventions that have changed human life, increased productivity and economic growth over the decades. However, such progress has led to negative effects such as pollution and exploding population growth. Pollution is by far dangerous to human beings because it is the root cause of global warming and climate change which threaten human existence if not addressed. Moreover, the Industrial Revolution created other problems including low women wages, child labor, and capitalism. The Industrial Revolution took place close to two centuries ago, however, the impacts of these negative effects are still felt to date. Women roles have since been undermined and paid lower wages. Child labor has also become a recurring problem in some parts of the world. Capitalism has become the accepted economic system but issues of social segregation have persisted. All these negative effects are attributed to the Industrial Revolution. But because Industrial Revolution cannot be reversed no matter how much one proves its negative effects, it is only reasonable to suggest that public policy is implemented to address the gaps created by the Industrial Revolution to ensure that the negative effects are eliminated. Low wages for women needs to be addressed as well as the elimination of cases of child labor. Similarly, issues of social segregation and income inequalities need proper policies to fix.
Ashton, Thomas Southcliffe. "The industrial revolution 1760-1830." OUP Catalogue (1997).
Dickens, Charles. Hard Times. Lerner Publishing Group, 2016.
Fleischman, Richard K., and Lee D. Parker. "The cost-accounting environment in the British industrial revolution iron industry." Accounting, Business & Financial History 2.2 (1992): 141-160.
Foster, John. Class struggle and the industrial revolution: early industrial capitalism in three English towns. Routledge, 2003.
Humphries, Jane. Childhood and child labour in the British industrial revolution. Cambridge University Press, 2010.
Pinchbeck, Ivy. Women workers in the Industrial Revolution. Routledge, 2013.
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