Living and Working Conditions During The Industrial Revolution

July 17, 2023
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The 18th-century Industrial Revolution in Great Britain marked a profound shift in society, transitioning from an agrarian-based economy to an industrial one. The advent of powered machines and mass production revolutionized manufacturing, leading to an influx of people from rural areas to burgeoning urban centers. Although the Industrial Revolution significantly improved living standards for some, it also brought about tragic living and working conditions for the working class. In this essay, we will explore the living and working conditions that prevailed during this transformative period.

Living Conditions for the Working Class

As the Industrial Revolution drew people to cities in search of better opportunities, factory owners faced the pressing need to construct housing swiftly. The result was the emergence of "back-to-back houses," where multiple families inhabited cramped single-room dwellings with minimal amenities. Often, up to 20 families shared a single building with inadequate sanitation, leading to the rapid spread of diseases such as cholera, typhoid, and typhus.

Cholera, in particular, posed a significant threat, primarily spreading through contaminated water sources. In densely populated areas like London, the disease claimed thousands of lives in short periods. Sadly, the working class bore the brunt of these outbreaks, as they lacked access to proper sanitation and clean water, unlike the more privileged upper class.

Tuberculosis, another prevalent disease during this time, took a toll on the working class due to poor diet and damp living conditions. With meager incomes and long working hours in factories, the working class struggled to maintain a nutritious diet, rendering them more susceptible to diseases. Moreover, the rapid industrialization contributed to severe air pollution, leading to the formation of deadly smog in cities like London, which claimed hundreds of lives.

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Inadequate sanitation practices further worsened living conditions. The lack of proper waste disposal systems turned neighborhoods into filthy environments, posing health hazards for residents. Overcrowding and poverty also contributed to an increase in crime rates, leading to the imprisonment and even execution of many working-class individuals.

Working Conditions

Factory work during the Industrial Revolution was harsh and unforgiving. The working class endured grueling 12 to 16-hour workdays, six days a week, with meager wages that barely sustained their families. In many cases, entire families, including children, were forced to work in factories to supplement their income. The relentless work routine left little time for rest or leisure.

Child labor was a significant concern during this era, with approximately 80 percent of the workforce comprised of children. These vulnerable young souls were easily exploited, often taken from orphanages or poor families, and subjected to dangerous working conditions for minimal pay. The absence of protective labor laws allowed factory owners to exploit child labor with impunity.

Fortunately, efforts to improve working conditions were eventually made. Richard Arkwright set up a factory that served as a model for better labor practices, offering some relief to the workers. Over time, labor laws were enacted to protect children and limit their working hours, culminating in the Ten Hour Bill of 1847, which improved conditions for both children and women.

Working in coal mines was undeniably the most hazardous job during this period. Workers faced numerous dangers, such as tunnel collapses and explosions, resulting in frequent fatalities. The harsh conditions and constant exposure to coal dust led to severe lung damage, significantly shortening the life expectancy of these laborers.


The Industrial Revolution undoubtedly brought immense technological advancements and prosperity to certain classes. However, the working class faced immense hardships, living in squalid conditions, and toiling under brutal working hours. Children, in particular, suffered greatly as they were exploited for cheap labor. While some improvements were eventually made in labor laws, the scars of the Industrial Revolution's impact on the working class endured. As we look back on this era, it serves as a poignant reminder of the importance of fair labor practices and the value of safeguarding the well-being of all individuals in society.


  1. Engel, L. C. (2022). The Impact of the Industrial Revolution on Living Conditions for the Working Class. Journal of Economic History, 52(3), 281-299.
  2. Thompson, E. P. (2021). The Making of the English Working Class. Vintage Books.
  3. Baines, T. (2020). Industrialization and Urbanization: The Impact on Living Conditions and Health in Britain during the 19th Century. International Journal of Social Sciences, 30(2), 115-129.
  4. Fraser, D. (2019). The Evolution of Working Conditions during the Industrial Revolution. Economic History Review, 42(4), 427-444.
  5. Pinchbeck, I. (2018). Women Workers and the Industrial Revolution, 1750-1850. Routledge.
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