Population Growth and Movement in the Industrial Revolution

How Britain Was Changed by the Industrial Revolution

Industrial Revolution

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During the first Industrial Revolution, Britain experienced massive changes including scientific discoveries, expanding gross national product, new technologies, and architectural innovation. At the same time, the population changed—it increased and became more urbanized, healthy, and educated. This nation was forever transformed for the better.

Immigration from Great Britain's rural areas and foreign countries contributed to a steady rise in population as the Industrial Revolution was underway. This growth provided cities with the workforces they desperately needed to keep up with new developments and allowed the revolution to continue for several decades. Job opportunities, higher wages, and better diets brought people together to meld into new urban cultures.

Population Growth

Historical studies indicate that between 1700 and 1750, in the years preceding the Industrial Revolution, the population of England stayed relatively stagnant and grew very little. Precise figures don't exist for the period before the establishment of a nationwide census, but it is clear from existing historic records that Britain experienced a demographic explosion in the latter half of the century. Some estimates suggest that between 1750 and 1850, the population in England more than doubled.

Given that the population growth occurred when England experienced the first Industrial Revolution, the two are likely connected. While large numbers of people relocated from rural regions into large cities to be closer to their new factory workplaces, studies have ruled out immigration as the largest factor. Instead, the population increase could primarily be attributed to internal factors such as changes in marriage age, improvements in health allowing more children to live to adulthood, and increasing birth rates.

Falling Death Rates

Over the course of the Industrial Revolution, mortality rates in Britain fell significantly and people started living longer. This might be surprising given that the newly crowded cities were rife with disease and illness—urban death rates were higher than rural death rates—but overall health improvements and better diets due to improved food production and livable wages offset that.

A rise in live births and a drop in death rates has been attributed to a number of factors such as the end of the plague, changing climate, and advances in hospital and medical technology (including a smallpox vaccine). But today, the swell in marriage and birth rates is held to be the main reason for unprecedented growth in population.

Marriage-Related Changes

In the first half of the 18th century, the marriage age of Britons was relatively high compared to the rest of Europe and a large percentage of people never married at all. But suddenly, the average age of people marrying for the first time fell, as did the number of people choosing never to marry.

These developments ultimately led to more children being born. Increasing numbers of out-of-wedlock births, believed to have been due to the influences of urbanization growing more prominent and traditionalism growing less prominent on the mindset of women, also contributed to this growing birth rate. As young people moved into cities, they had more opportunities to meet others and this increased their chances of finding partners. Their odds were much better in urban areas than they ever were in sparsely populated rural areas.

Not only was marriage more attractive to young adults during the revolution, but so was the notion of raising children. Although estimates of real-term wage increase percentages vary, scholars agree that widespread eagerness to have children arose as a result of growing economic prosperity, which allowed people to feel more comfortable starting families.

Spreading Urbanization

Technological and scientific developments eventually led industries to build factories outside of London. As a result, multiple cities in England grew larger and smaller urban environments where people went to work in factories and other mass places of employment were born.

The population of London doubled in the 50 years from 1801 to 1851, and at the same time, the populations in towns and cities across the nation boomed. These urban areas were frequently in poor condition because the expansion happened so quickly and people were crammed together into tiny living spaces (as were dirt and disease), but not poor enough to slow the steady influx to cities or negatively impact the average lifespan.

Continued growth following initial industrialization in urban environments can be credited to high birth and marriage rates there remaining stable. After this period, once relatively small cities were far from small. Post-revolution, Britain was filled with huge cities producing enormous quantities of industrial goods. Both these innovative products and the lifestyle of those taking part in their production would soon be exported to Europe and the rest of the world.

Additional References

View Article Sources
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  2. Anderson, Michael. "Population Change in North-Western Europe, 1750-1850." Palgrave, 1988. Studies in Economic and Social History. Palgrave, 1988, doi:10.1007/978-1-349-06558-5_3

  3. Manolopoulou, Artemis, editor. “The Industrial Revolution and the Changing Face of Britain.” The Industrial Revolution, 2017.

  4. Harris, Bernard. “Health by Association.” International Journal of Epidemiology, pp. 488–490., 1 Apr. 2005, doi:10.1093/ije/dyh409

  5. Meteyard, Belinda. “Illegitimacy and Marriage in Eighteenth-Century England.” The Journal of Interdisciplinary History, vol. 10, no. 3, 1980, pp. 479–489., doi:10.2307/203189

  6. Feinstein, Charles H. “Pessimism Perpetuated: Real Wages and the Standard of Living in Britain during and after the Industrial Revolution.” Journal of Economic History, vol. 58, no. 3, Sept. 1998, doi:10.1017/S0022050700021100

  7. Wrigley, E. A. “Energy and the English Industrial Revolution.” Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society: Mathematical, Physical and Engineering Sciences, vol. 371, no. 1986, 13 Mar. 2013, doi:10.1098/rsta.2011.0568

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Wilde, Robert. "Population Growth and Movement in the Industrial Revolution." ThoughtCo, Feb. 7, 2021, thoughtco.com/population-growth-and-movement-industrial-revolution-1221640. Wilde, Robert. (2021, February 7). 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 March 30, 2023).