Industrialization is the development of industries in a region or a country on a wide scale. It is also the period of economic and social change that transforms human societies from agrarian tendencies into one that has the purpose of manufacturing. When the incomes of workers rise, then the markets for different consumer goods and services expands. That results in a further stimulus to economic growth and industrial investment.
The first steps toward industrialization took place in the middle of the 18th century. The initial focus was on specific areas of North America and Europe, with Great Britain leading the way into this new economy. Its initial characteristics included shifts from rural work, technological progress, and changes in class consciousness.
These steps led to changes in family structure as industrialization continued to develop. Pre-industrial societies have extended connections because several generations likely remained in the same location. Industrial societies tend to keep the nuclear family together only, with the desire to remain mobile to continue relocating to where job opportunities exist.
Several advantages and disadvantages of industrialization are worth taking into consideration.
List of the Advantages of Industrialization
1. Industrialization brought us the current import-export market.
Businesses use the concepts formed from industrialization to have a more abundant supply available for particular goods and services. When domestic demands were not enough to help optimize production levels, multinational firms began forming. Countries could expand their import and export markets for the goods getting made.
The world started to see that the balance of trade was shifting to the producer, increasing the wealth of businesses, and adding tax revenues to society.
2. It allows us to become more productive.
Industrialization brought us a series of new and useful items, hand tools, and additional ways to be productive. This benefit promptly led to the development of new channels and shipping methods that could carry more products and people from one place to another. That led to the creation of roads that could support higher traffic levels.
Communication processes improved because of industrialization, eventually leading us to the telephone and fiberoptic cables. Even machines like the loom allowed manufacturers to create more items in a shorter time. When electricity became available, then humanity’s standard of living increased even further because of these efforts.
3. Industrialization makes goods and services more affordable.
Labor is the most expensive part of the manufacturing process for most industries. When people were creating items by hand, including books and clothing, then they needed to be compensated for their efforts. With machines helping humans to create products with greater speed, then the cost of labor per unit went down.
This advantage applies to services because industrialization provided equipment that made jobs easier to complete. Imagine the difference between manually cleaning a rug versus using a vacuum cleaner. It is an advantage that eventually led to higher levels of income for everyone in the economy.
4. It improves the quality of life for each person and household.
Before the world experienced industrialization, comfort and convenience were typically reserved for the wealthy, nobles, military leaders, and high-ranking politicians. The introduction of mass production changed how everyone could access goods or services. It was a change that led to mass production of numerous items, lower costs and improved availability to the average family. This event would lead to the first time in history when the “poor” or “middle class” could save money while still meeting their needs.
You could own property without needing to be a farmer or a royal. You didn’t need to grow your own food through homesteading efforts. Some companies were even building towns to give homes to families in exchange for their labor.
5. Industrialization improved our medical care.
The technological advances that led to our modern approach to medicine came about because of industrialization. Diagnostic equipment that we often take for granted today, such as MRI and CAT scans, wouldn’t be possible without this evolution. Factories made it easier to produce everything from scalpels to new laboratory equipment, making it possible for more people to become doctors, nurses, and caregivers.
Instead of having regionally-based care, the improvements to communication networks allowed researchers to share their findings in real-time with their colleagues. This process led to the development of new best practices, eventually leading to improved patient outcomes.
6. It allows a worker to focus on specialization.
Farmers who focused on monoculture and people with individual skills were the only specialists in the pre-industrialization economy. Once societies began to focus on manufacturing, this developed allowed families to begin training for jobs that could pay them better. Instead of going through a long apprenticeship or being born into the “right” family, anyone could change their stars by putting in enough hard work.
7. Industrialization created more jobs for the global economy.
New manufacturing equipment required additional employment opportunities in each community. Factories that had higher quotas to meet needed new workers on the floor working to produce goods. Each new invention or best practice that came about because of industrialization led to more jobs for the global economy. It created structures where the average person could earn a decent living while having more time with their family, even if the conditions were sometimes unsafe or unsanitary.
When the workers with higher wages could invest their savings into new ventures, each economy benefitted because new cash pools help to fund new ventures. It shifted money away from the aristocracy to the average household.
8. It shifted our perspective of wants vs. needs.
When people made products before industrialization, the labor required to create something meant that each item required a specific purpose. We made things because of their usefulness, which limited our innovation. Factories could make clothing faster while helping it to last longer. It allowed people to step outside of the family business to try something new. This advantage would eventually lead to a stronger free-market economy where those with the most innovation could get rewarded for their creativity.
9. Anyone could make a name for themselves because of industrialization.
The story that often gets told when discussing industrialization is the life of Charles Goodyear. He sacrificed almost everything in his pursuit of vulcanization. He went into a lot of debt, lost almost everything in 1837, and then accidentally combined sulfur and rubber on his stove to change the world. Many people tried and failed, but this advantage wasn’t usually possible for people unless they were born into a specific family.
List of the Disadvantages of Industrialization
1. The working conditions declined during industrialization.
Industrialization brought people more money and better access to goods and services, but it also increased the amount of risk that people faced. Employees were expected to put in long shifts, often working 12-hour days with only Sunday off to spend time with their families. If you were sick or got injured, then you’d probably get fired.
The work was also quite dangerous. There weren’t any regulations in place to protect employees, so many people worked with equipment that didn’t have safety features. During the 19th century, it was not unusual to see people working with a finger, a limb, or worse.
2. Child labor was an essential component of industrialization.
We often take for granted the child labor laws that exist today. Those regulations came about because of society’s experience with this issue during the first days of industrialization. Many factories hired kids to work in unsafe conditions, preferring them because they’d work for lower wages than adults.
Children were expected to work the same 12-hour days that adults put in while on the job, reducing their opportunities for schooling. It was not unusual for families to lose multiple children in these early factories.
3. Living conditions around the new factories were not always better.
Factory towns like Hershey had a reputation for providing workers with quality housing and access to needed resources. This outcome didn’t always happen. When the cities became crowded with people moving away from their farms on a chance to earn a better income, then it led to living conditions that weren’t better than the working conditions in the factories. Large slums began forming in many of the communities where entire families were sometimes living in studio apartments.
When that many people lived close together in unsanitary conditions, it was not unusual for diseases to start spreading rapidly. Since there was little medical care available during the early years of industrialization, it was not unusual for most families to lose multiple members in their quest to make a better life.
4. Industrialization created more income inequality for the top 0.1%.
We often look at names like Jeff Bezos, Elon Musk, and Bill Gates and their combined wealth of about $400 billion and wonder how a few people can hold so much. During the initial days of industrialization, people like John Rockefeller and Andrew Carnegie held that much money by themselves. The three richest people in the world at the turn of the 20th century held a combined wealth of over $1 trillion when accounting for inflation.
Rockefeller by himself was responsible for almost 2% of the U.S. GDP each year. No one at any other time in history outside of a monarchy controlled that much of the economy.
5. It created the foundation for global warming and climate change.
The carbon levels before the 19th century were under 300 parts per million. After industrialization, CO2 rates rose to 400 parts per million. Oceans have a more acidic pH level. We have plastics pollution everywhere, with microplastics entering the human food chain because animals consume these small items.
This disadvantage has led to changes in our soil composition, water quality, and the air that we breathe. It’s reducing biodiversity while our economies grow. Unless action gets taken to curb this issue, we will one day reach a tipping point where a recovery might not be possible.
6. Industrialization altered the political landscape of the planet.
We still experience the fallout from industrialization in our global politics. Fewer than 40 countries have gone through a modern economic revolution to fully incorporate these technologies, giving those that have a massive advantage over the “developing” world. There are more opportunities for success in these countries, requiring people who want an advanced education to leave their homes to receive it.
This inequality of development leads to resource issues because factories require raw materials to operate. That means the countries without industrialization hold themselves back because they sell the items needed to evolve their economies for short-term gains instead of long-term results.
7. Agricultural production methods are different because of industrialization.
There are fewer farmers operating today than ever before in our planet’s history because of the ways that industrialization changed our approach to growing food. The agricultural industry relies on automation, longer shelf life, and other interventions that allow for large-scale farming instead of homesteading. The quality and safety of the foods we eat from these processes are questionable at times, especially when GMOs, herbicides, and pesticides enter into the discussion.
8. It causes us to use more fossil fuels.
Whaling became an industry because we needed to harvest the oil from these animals to power our lamps and produce consumer goods. People even made margarine from whale oil in the early days of industrialization. Now we use fossil fuels to produce the goods and services we need through our factories. Although that means we’re not significantly reducing animal populations to meet our fueling needs, it doesn’t shift us away from a finite resource. What will happen to today’s industrialization efforts if we run out of oil or natural gas?
9. Industrialization changed our concept of work.
Industrialization created the surge in automation that we experience today. With artificial intelligence and machine learning taking over many of today’s repetitive processes, this shift in our economy changed the way we think about productivity. We don’t walk to work because we can drive there. Instead of mixing foods by hand, we use small appliances. Instead of a majority of jobs being out in the fields, people are now sitting in front of computers in cubicles.
It has led to a form of sedentary productivity where we focus on convenience more than wellness.
When we review the results from our efforts at industrialization, it is clear to see that our world would be a very different place without this innovation. We have access to almost every product we use today because of the work that previous generations put into new ideas, factories, and goods.
When we consider the top advantages and disadvantages of industrialization, we must also take an honest look at the outcomes. The wealthy built our modern society through the efforts of desperate people who wanted to help their children and grandchildren have a better life. Although this created a Middle Class in many societies, the result also reinforced the power of the aristocracy.
Industrialization changed our world for the better in many ways. It is up to us to clean up the pollution that comes about as a side effect to these efforts. If we’re unwilling to approach our environment in the same way that we look at our economies, then this planet we have may not be around much longer.
Blog Post Author Credentials
Louise Gaille is the author of this post. She received her B.A. in Economics from the University of Washington. In addition to being a seasoned writer, Louise has almost a decade of experience in Banking and Finance. If you have any suggestions on how to make this post better, then go here to contact our team.