Industrialization is the transformation of a society from an agrarian to an industrial one based on factory and mechanized production.
It leads to a major re-organization of the economy and also has several social consequences. Industrialization fundamentally changes manufacturing (production of goods and services) by introducing mechanized means of mass production.
Industrialism has led to many positive advancements in society, increasing job opportunities and improving living standards. However, it has also led to various negative consequences, such as environmental degradation and social exploitation.
We will discuss the effects of industrialization later. First, let us learn about the concept in more detail and look at some examples.
Eric Hobsbawm defined industrialization as
“the process by which an economy is transformed from primarily agrarian and handicraft-based to one based on manufacturing by machines in factories” (1999).
John Scott adds that, although industrialization is often thought to affect the manufacturing of goods, the term should also include modern methods of raising productivity (Scott, 2014). These methods extend to other sectors, too, including agriculture and administration.
Scott also clarifies that industrialism should not be confused with capitalism. Indeed, capitalism was the first agent of industrialization, but it is not the only one. The key features of industrialism include:
- Division of Labor: Work is separated into smaller, specialized tasks, which leads to an increase in productivity.
- Cultural Rationalization: There is a shift towards a more rational and scientific worldview.
- Factory System and Mechanization: Large-scale factories, equipped with modern machinery, help to increase production and efficiency.
- Universal Application of Scientific Methods: Societies increasingly rely on scientific methods and empirical evidence to solve problems.
- Bureaucracy and Administration: Large, bureaucratic organizations are set up to manage the complex and specialized tasks of industrial society.
- First Industrial Revolution: The first transformation from an agricultural to an industrial society (known as the Industrial Revolution) took place between the mid-18th and the early-19th century. It started in Great Britain, then spread to Belgium, Switzerland, and Germany, eventually going to other places in Europe and North America. It saw a shift from rural work to industrial labor, changes in technology, and financial investments in new industries. (Sampath, 2016)
- Second Industrial Revolution: The Second Industrial Revolution took place between the late 19th and the early 20th century. Also called the Technological Revolution, it was characterized by rapid scientific discovery, standardization, and mass production. This period saw the invention of the internal combustion engine, the refinement of the steam engine, and the harnessing of electricity. Canals and railways were also constructed while the introduction of the assembly line boosted all manufacturing.
- Industrialization in East Asia: For East Asian countries, industrialization took place in the 20th century. Hong, Singapore, South Korea, and Taiwan—together known as the Four Asian Tigers—underwent rapid industrialization between the early 1950s and 1990s. They maintained an exceptionally high growth rate of 7% a year, and by the early 21st century, became high-income economies. Hong Kong and Singapore are now leading global financial centers while South Korea and Taiwan specialize in electronics.
- Undergoing Industrialization in BRICS: BRICS is a group of five countries—Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa—that have been undergoing significant transformation in recent years. Their industrialization has been characterized by government intervention and protectionist policies. Most of them have also focused on import substitution, decreasing their dependence on developed countries. Each of the BRICS now leads in different fields: India in IT, Russia in the energy sector, etc.
- Digital Revolution: The digital revolution refers to the widespread and rapid adoption of innovative digital technology. It began with the emergence of the personal computer and the internet in the late 20th century. Later, mobile devices, social media, cloud computing, and most recently, artificial intelligence transformed our society—fundamentally changing the way we communicate, work, and live.
- Manufacturing: Industrialization fundamentally changed manufacturing, improving quality and quantity while cutting costs. It transformed the production process by introducing the factory system, where goods were produced in a single centralized location instead of individual workshops. The factories were characterized by mechanization (use of machines), division of labor (each worker performing a specialized task), and mass production (producing large quantities quickly & efficiently).
- Mining: Mining was significantly transformed by industrialization and many major inventions of the 19th century served this industry. The first working steam engine, for example, was created to remove flood water from coal and tin mines where it was used to stop production (Webwire, 2017). Steam-powered locomotives helped transport ores, and dynamite was first used to blow up rocks during the mining process.
- Transportation: Through industrialization, the 19th century witnessed massive changes in the transportation of goods and people. Until then, transportation was dependent on human and animal power, like horses and oxen. However, the invention of the steam engine changed everything. Steam locomotives became the primary mode of transportation, and steamships also allowed quick transportation across oceans.
- Retail Logistics and Malls: The foundations of retail shopping were laid in the 19th century. The various features of industrialization (mass production, improved transportation, etc.) moved shopping from small-scale, local markets to modern, large-scale systems like departmental stores and chain stores. Advertising allowed producers to promote their products effectively, increasing competition and improving customer satisfaction.
- Renewable Energy: Industrialization focused heavily on non-renewable energy sources such as coal and oil; however, in recent times, there has been a renewed interest in renewable sources due to concerns about the environment. Scientific advances have created more efficient and economical renewable technologies, such as solar panels, wind turbines, and hydroelectric power systems. The development of renewable energy has also created various jobs and stimulated economic growth.
Effects of Industrialization
Industrialization leads to several economic and social consequences, which are both positive and negative.
Arguably, the positive effects include:
- Urbanization: New industries required a large workforce, so many people migrated from villages to cities to take advantage of these new opportunities. In the United Kingdom, for example, North England became a hub of industrialization: the population of Manchester grew from around 25,000 in the early 18th century to over 300,000 by the mid-19th century (Hunt, 1989).
- Higher Standards of Living: By providing new job opportunities and increasing productivity, industrialization has led to higher standards of living. In the United States, for example, the real GDP per capita increased from $1,223 in 1869 to $3,423 in 1900 (Cuff, 2013). Moreover, mass production led to an increase in the number of goods and services while also making them affordable. As such, they became more accessible to the general population, making lives more comfortable (Clark, 2007).
- Technological Advances: Industrialization led to the development of various new technologies. The need to increase productivity and efficiency in the manufacturing process was the driving force behind many inventions. Industrialization also allowed technology to spread more quickly, as innovations could be replicated (Mokyr, 2018). Moreover, these technological advances also transformed the way we live and work.
On the other hand, industrialization also has various negative effects, such as:
- Environmental Degradation: Although industrialization has led to various positive advancements in society, it has also led to significant environmental degradation. Industrial processes rely heavily on fossil fuels and release pollutants into the air, which harm ecosystems and contribute to climate change. Urbanization leads to massive deforestation, and industrial chemicals also cause water pollution.
- Exploitation and Inequality: Industrialization is built upon a system of labor exploitation and perpetuates economic inequality. Many industrial workers, particularly in developing countries with ineffective labor laws, are paid inadequately and treated poorly. Industrialization leads to the concentration of wealth in the hands of a few individuals while also exacerbating gender and racial inequalities.
- Social Dislocation: Industrialization led to the disruptions of traditional social and cultural systems. Many people left their rural homes to work in factories located in urban areas (known as internal migration), leading to a breakdown of traditional family structure and social networks. This rapid urbanization created many problems, such as overcrowding and poor sanitation, which further worsened the lives of workers (who were overworked and underpaid). Industrialization also created inequalities, leading to social tensions.
Table Summary – Effects of Industrialization
|Positive Effects of Industrialization||Negative Effects of Industrialization|
|Urbanization: This led to new job opportunities and economic growth. Large numbers of people migrated from villages to cities to take advantage of these opportunities.||Environmental Degradation: Industrial processes rely heavily on fossil fuels and release pollutants into the air, harm ecosystems, and contribute to climate change.|
|Higher Standards of Living: Industrialization provided new job opportunities, increased productivity, and led to higher standards of living.||Exploitation and Inequality: Industrialization perpetuates economic inequality and is built upon a system of labor exploitation. It can lead to the concentration of wealth in the hands of an elite few.|
|Technological Advances: Industrialization led to the development of new technologies and innovations that increased productivity and efficiency.||Social Dislocation: Industrialization led to the disruptions of traditional social and cultural systems as many people left their rural homes to work in factories located in urban areas.|
Industrialization refers to the transformation of an agrarian society into an industrial one.
It fundamentally changes the manufacturing of goods and services through the introduction of mechanized means of mass production. This increases the quantity and quality of the finished products while also making them more affordable.
Besides the re-organization of the economy, industrialization also transforms society. It leads to urbanization, higher standards of living, and creates technology that impacts our everyday life. However, it also causes environmental degradation and perpetuates social inequality.
Clark, G. (2007). A farewell to alms: A brief economic history of the world. Princeton: Princeton University Press.
Cuff, R. D. (2013). Industrialization and economic growth in the United States. New York: Routledge.
Hobsbawm, E. J. (1999). Industry and empire: The birth of the industrial revolution. Amsterdam: New Press.
Hunt, E. K. (1989). The Economic History of England: 1760–1860. New York: Routledge.
Mokyr, J. (2018). A Culture of Growth: The Origins of the Modern Economy. Princeton University Press.
Sampath, P. (2016). Sustainable Industrialization in Africa: Toward a New Development Agenda. Sustainable Industrialization in Africa. London: Springer. Scott, J. (2014). A Dictionary of Sociology. Oxford: Oxford University Press.