Population Growth and Movement in the Industrial Revolution

Industrial Revolution
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As Britain experienced massive changes during the first Industrial Revolution - scientific discovery, expanding output, new buildings and structures - so the population changed too, both in number –growing - and location – urbanizing - as people gathered in factories. This growth was certainly a contributory factor in the revolution, allowing the vast industrial expansion a workforce it urgently needed, but the revolution worked to increase population too, allowing better diets and wages, and bringing people together in new urban cultures.

Population Growth

Between 1700 and 1750, the population of England stayed relatively stable, with little growth. Then, between 1750 and 1850, it more than doubled. Precise figures are hard to come by in the days before a nationwide ten yearly census, and work on local records and computer modelling has painstakingly pushed the accuracy of figures forward, and a hat must be tipped to Wrigley and Schofield’s work. Nevertheless, whatever the precise figures, it’s clear that Britain experienced a demographic explosion in this century. Given that this was the same century that England experienced the first industrial revolution, the two are tied closely together. However, studies have ruled out immigration as a factor: the growth didn’t occur from large numbers of foreign workers arriving, it was coming from internal factors, such as changes in marriage age, improvements in health allowing more children to live, and an increase in births.

Growth: More and Younger Marriages

Why did the population grow? The average age of people marrying for the first time fell, as did the numbers of people never marrying, which meant more opportunity for children, and more children. This was partly possible because Britons had previously had a relatively late age of marriage compared to the continent, and a large number of people never did at all.

Why would this happen? Real term wages rose as a result of the growing revolution and economic prosperity, allowing people to comfortably start families, and as the population moved (see below), so more people came into contact with each other, increasing the chances of matches, and they then settled down.

Growth: Rising Births and Falling Deaths

The birth rate in Britain rose in this period, mostly as people married early, although the figures for out of wedlock births rose too. In addition, the rates at which people were dying in Britain began to fall over the period of the industrial revolution, and this meant there were more people alive. This might be surprising given that the newly crowded cities were rife for disease and illness, with an urban death rate higher than the rural areas, but overall health improvements and a better diet (from improved food production and wages to buy it) helped. We don’t now accept earlier explanations, that the plague had been beaten (this happened too many years before), or climate was altering, and the role of hospitals and medicine may be overrated in some quarters because many diseases still weren’t understood, although the vaccine for smallpox played a small role.

However, where less mortality was once the favored explanation for population growth, it is generally held to be the increase in marriage and birth rate which caused the explosion. Birth rate improvements were also helped by diet, allowing healthier families to produce more children, alongside rising wages.


As the population grew, the industrial revolution worked to make the population move. Technological and scientific developments meant industry went to different places and could agglomerate, and so the population of England gathered together in increasingly large urban centres, to work in factories and other mass places of work. The population of London doubled in the fifty years from 1801 to 1851, and towns and cities across the nation were growing too. The conditions in these areas were frequently bad as the expansion happened so quickly and people were crammed together, with tiny living spaces, dirt and disease, but not bad enough to stop the lengthening average lifespan.

More on Public Health. It was the industrial revolution's population movement which began the era of the urban population. No longer would cities be relatively small, and the large ones capitals or other key areas. Now Britain, and soon Europe and the world, was filled with many huge cities, in this era producing industrial products.

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Wilde, Robert. "Population Growth and Movement in the Industrial Revolution." ThoughtCo, Mar. 21, 2017, thoughtco.com/population-growth-and-movement-industrial-revolution-1221640. Wilde, Robert. (2017, March 21). Population Growth and Movement in the Industrial Revolution. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/population-growth-and-movement-industrial-revolution-1221640 Wilde, Robert. "Population Growth and Movement in the Industrial Revolution." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/population-growth-and-movement-industrial-revolution-1221640 (accessed January 23, 2018).