Industrial Revolution: Causes, Impact and Overview

The “Industrial Revolution” refers to the major transition of the world that took place during the period 1760–1830, from a completely agrarian, manual, and handicraft economy to a completely mechanized, modern one dominated by technology. The Industrial Revolution began in Great Britain and then spread to France, Germany, the Netherlands, and other countries across the world in a short time. The Industrial Revolution is noted as a very important event in the history of the world. The Industrial Revolution had impacts on almost every sector of the economy and society. The world saw multiple technological advances after the revolution. Old and traditional methods of agriculture, production, and manufacturing were replaced by modern equipment and technologies that the world hadn’t seen before the revolution. Historians have noted multiple reasons for the rise of the industrial revolution. They include capitalism, the rise of European imperialism, mining, and the Agricultural Revolution.

Before the Industrial Revolution, almost all the nations in the world had completely agrarian economies that depended on farming for income. Transportation facilities were underdeveloped, so exchanges of goods between places were limited. Life expectancy was very low due to poor medical facilities. After the onset of the industrial revolution, there was tremendous development in every aspect of the world. There have been major changes in the technological, economic, and social aspects of the world.


Let’s take in a brief a look at the causes of the industrial revolution and the major technological, socioeconomic and cultural changes the revolution resulted in.


The Industrial Revolution initially took place in Britain. The reason for Britain being the primary site of the revolution is due to different geographical, political, economic, and social factors and peculiarities. As we know, Britain is an island nation and has extensive natural resources like coal and iron. Britain had a monopoly over trades over sea and owned ports in all prime locations. The English citizens also enjoyed a better standard of living than the others around the globe. Political situations also favoured Britain to pave the way to the revolution. It, being a colonial economy, had capitalist visions and could hire better labourers in cheap.

Before the onset of the revolution, the English farmers relied on manual work for production of food grains and on traditional farming methods like subsistence farming and two-crop rotation method. The peasants were poorly paid for their manual work. From the beginning of the 16th century, the ownership of land saw a change. Landowners now wanted to gain total control of land that was earlier divided into different portions for labourers. An increase in land and labour productivity came along. In 1700, Jethro Tull invented the seed drill, which could be used to sow seeds in the farm. This increased the production of food grains by almost five folds. Following this, different types of equipment like the Rotherham plough were invented and new production techniques, like four crop rotation system, were employed. This led to a huge increase in the yield of food grains produced in Britain. With the technological betterment of farming came the possibility of better diets, better health and an increase in population. As the population increased, more demand for food grains was raised. The agricultural sector kept seeing more and more technological advancements that led to a rapid increase in production. It also started agricultural trading with other countries of the continent, thus leading the country into a better financial position. The rise in population also meant an increase in demand for different other goods too. The country now was demanded to produce more output from the textile industry. This led to the need for more advancement in the textile industry of Britain. The advancements that thereby occurred in the textile industry turned out to be the chief reason for the industrial revolution. Through inventions like that of ‘Flying shuttle’ and ‘Spinning Jenny’, the textile industry of Britain became immensely advanced. The increase in population gradually led to the need for more employment. Peasants who earlier worked in rural fields thus started the enclosure movement, migrating to cities in search of jobs. As urban centers could offer better living and employment conditions, the number of people migrating to cities saw an increase, thus leading to urbanization. With a better labor force and mechanization, factories grew. The industrial revolution also extended its reach to the energy sector and the locomotive industry. Gradually, the social life of people saw changes. The Industrial Revolution, which thus began in Britain, gradually spread throughout the world. Although it had varying impacts in each part of the world, the basic principles of mechanization and urbanization remained the same everywhere.

The impacts of the Industrial Revolution


Works that were earlier performed only by manpower was replaced by efficient machines, use of new resources was encouraged, new methods were devised for production and manufacturing purposes, more tools came into use, mechanized factories were established, new machines invented, transport and communication system developed, trade and textile industries saw a big hype and the overall quality of life was elevated.  The Industrial Revolution, in one way or the other, continues even today.  The textile industry and agricultural sector were the first to get mechanized. Inventions like John Kay’s ‘Flying shuttle’ (1733), James Hargreaves’ ‘Spinning Jenny'(1764) and Power loom were among the first invented in the course of the revolution. These machines continue to be in use, although further modernized. Another significant invention was that of the steam engine which was invented by James Watt in 1769 to convert heat energy into electrical energy. Other major inventions include that of the telegraph, steamship,   steam locomotive, airplane and radio. New methods and machines started being used in metallurgy and chemical industries.  In every industry, the factory system also started to get promoted.


As the industrial revolution developed communication and transportation systems within the world, the different economies started getting interdependent. Goods from one place could now be transferred easily to other parts of the world. Import and export came into practice on a large scale. The more mechanized, developed world saw numerous changes in the overall economy as well.

As economic activities increased and the interdependence of economies grew by folds, demand and supply for goods increased rapidly. This led to extensive use of the newly invented machinery and technology, including factory systems. More people started shifting from rural areas into urban centres, where resources could be available more easily and manufacturing units efficiently built.  As the amount of goods demanded grew drastically, more workers started to be employed, more capital investments were made and more profits yielded. The idea of Laissez-Faire Economics, which suggests the working of businesses with little or no interference from the government started to be more welcomed.  Huge investments were made by the richer section of society, and workers were hired extensively. All of these led to a new class structure in the economy after the revolution. The class structure consisted of

(1) Upper class that included rich and industrial families

(2) Middle class which included businessmen and professionals like doctors and lawyers

(3) Lower middle class that consisted of people like teachers and shop owners, and

(4)Lower class that consisted of least earning peasants and factory workers.

The increasing urbanization led to a huge rise in the number of people living in cities. As factory owners started getting more concerned about profits they could make, they started paying lesser wages to workers, employed more child labourers and increased the number of work hours.


The Industrial Revolution had huge social impacts and changed the lives of people everywhere. Major changes happened in the lives of labourers. As the manufacturing units were shifted to huge factories from traditional methods, the workers started experiencing harsh and unsafe working conditions. The increasing use of newly invented machines started posing a threat to the lives of workers. As the profit-seeking owners increased the number of work hours for employees, they, fearful of losing their jobs, continued working with no respect for their health and life needs. More children were started to be employed. Rapid increase in child labour was one of the biggest immediate effect of the industrial revolution. During the 1800s, the workers who were facing such issues started organizing themselves into labour unions and associations, which they thought would be a movement that will help them gain their rights in the workplace. They initiated small movements and strikes, the effects of which were not uniform across places. The industrial revolution also brought a huge change in the lives of women. Many women started entering the workforce. However, as the number of job opportunities was limited and as men were often referred to as women in factory works, women had to compete with men to gain jobs. Women had to work for more than 12-13 hours per day in return for low wages, after which they were also expected to take care of their families. The social effects of the industrial revolution affected the lives of people everywhere. It also later led to many social reforms and the enactment of various laws that were aimed at protecting the lives of labourers and children.


The Industrial Revolution had a lot of impacts, both positive and negative on the Indian society too. The revolution bought a huge advancement in the textile industry of India. Different inventions started to be employed in the agricultural and communication sectors gradually. In the agricultural sector, as a result of the growing demand for cash crops, the farmers of India were asked to switch from the cultivation of their staple grains to the cultivation of cash crops like cotton.  This led to a decline in the number of food grains available for consumption, which further resulted in deadly famines in the country. Urbanization had its impacts on India too. A large number of people started migrating from villages to cities in search of employment. The introduction of modernized technologies and the rising number of factories led to a better production of goods. All the major effects that the industrial revolution had, on the world were very evident in the society of India too, thus making it into a new lifestyle.

The impact of the industrial revolution on the society was so evident, that it even became one of the reasons for the emergence of a new branch of social sciences, called ‘Sociology’.


The Industrial Revolution is considered as one of the factors that led to the development of the domain of sociology. History says that Auguste Comte, father of sociology developed an interest in observing and studying the society during the time of the industrial revolution. As mentioned earlier, the industrial revolution had led to tremendous observable changes in the society. As an impact of the industrial revolution, the life of people changed, in the social front and their workplaces. As a result of urbanization and due to the increase in opportunities in the urban areas, people started a mass migration to cities. Their social conditions got twisted, as a result.  Although he thought that the conditions that existed could be looked at from the perspective of different social sciences like political science and economics, he thought that only the birth of a new science could capture all of the essence of the situation. Thus, the science of ‘Sociology’, a word that stands for the Latin word ‘Socius’ (meaning “being with others”) took birth. He broke the subject into two parts, social statics, and social dynamics. Comte and his immediate followers started studying various aspects of the society through the eyes of this newly born subject. The social changes that resulted from the Industrial revolution started to be closely analyzed and questioned. Early sociologists were interested in studying the struggle the society was going through, in terms of gender disparities, religions, culture and class structure of the society.

These are the various effects the Industrial Revolution had on the world, in brief. Needless to say, the revolution was a source of huge changes that got implemented in society, both positive and negative.

Also Read: French Revolution – Summary

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Student of Economics in Miranda House, University of Delhi. Interested in writing, reading, music, painting, public speaking, and debating.Aspiring Economist. A dreamer who loves the smiles and colours of the world.