By Cathryn Lynch


By the 1870’s the industrial revolution is in full swing, and America’s cities are bustling with activity (click here for picture’s source).

Prior to the Industrial Revolution, most families were tight-knight and relied heavily upon each other for social and economic support. Most children and men worked in the fields while women took care of the home (Smith, 2011). As the American society shifted from agrarian to industrial, the social concepts of family, work, and gender changed quite dramatically.

The advent of the Industrial Revolution brought the division between work and family along with it. Metropolitan areas became centers for the creation of factories and jobs. They enticed a multitude of farming families to relocate into urban cities with promises of new jobs and opportunities. Families not only experienced changes in the locations of their homes, but also in the ways that parents interacted with their children. Americans in the nineteenth century saw the emergence of the traditional nuclear non-farm families where the father was viewed as the breadwinner, and the mother was seen as the homemaker (Scott, Treas, & Richards, 2008). The result of fathers leaving to work in factories was seen in increased popularity of a mother-centered approach to child rearing. Thus, the Industrial Revolution – and subsequent rise in the urban job market – clearly impacted people’s conception of parental roles.

Before the Industrial Revolution, the concept of having a career simply did not exist. Many people worked the fields or worked various jobs requiring little skill or training, and there was no space that allowed for the training and harnessing of more detailed skills and crafts. However, as the Industrial Revolution progressed, new skills were needed in order to maintain the new, complex, and innovative technologies. Employers needed to train their new hires in order to work. The specificity, training, and skills that were required by the new jobs made it much easier for workers to view themselves and their futures in terms of their labor. As a result, the concept of the “career” emerged (Smith, 2011).

The Industrial Revolution also provided a space for young, unmarried women to challenge the social and gender structures of their period. Many young women found work in factories, although they were paid significantly less than their male counterparts. The need for workers during the Industrial revolution parallels with the need for soldiers during the Civil War. Just as the high demand for soldiers gave slaves an opportunity to break free from their social constraints, the increased need for workers provided women with the opportunity to place themselves within a part of society that was previously inaccessible to them (Smith, 2011). While many women were forced to endure less pay and a lack of job choice, it must be noted that Industrial Revolution expanded women’s roles within society.

The cultural shifts and norms created by the Industrial Revolution have influenced the way that people view the family, the workplace, and the value of women within both the family and the workplace. The creation of new jobs created spaces in which people could challenge old customs and beliefs, and formulate new conceptions of the family and workplace.

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