V. The Modern Period, 1789–1914 > B. The French Revolution and Europe, 1789–1914 > 4. Western and Central Europe, 1815–1848
  The Encyclopedia of World History.  2001.
4. Western and Central Europe, 1815–1848
a. Social, Cultural, and Economic Trends
1. Economic and Social Changes
THE INDUSTRIAL REVOLUTION. This was one of the most important changes in the history of humanity, altering patterns of life and thought. It meant a shift from an agrarian, handicraft, labor-intensive economy to one dominated by machine manufacture, the factory system, division of labor, a freer flow of capital, and the growth of cities. Yet industrialization did not affect all of Europe at the same time. This process began in the mid-18th century in England and gradually spread to the Continent. Significant industrialization could be found in Belgium and France by the 1820s, and in Germany and Catalonia by the 1830s.  1
The long-term origins of industrialization had been building for centuries (See Economic and Social Changes). Chief among newer factors was a population explosion during the 18th century. This was due especially to a decline in mortality, the result of a cyclical decline in epidemic diseases, and, above all, the introduction of new foodstuffs from the Americas—particularly the potato. At the same time, partly due to new foods, sexual activity increased; rapid growth occurred in illegitimate births. From c. 1780 onward, premarital sexual intercourse increased particularly in the growing propertyless classes, both rural and urban, where traditional family and community constraints declined in force. Sexual expression became more important, though probably more for men than for women. In all, the nations of western Europe witnessed a population increase from 50 to 100 percent between 1730 and 1800. English population, for example, rose from approximately 5 million in 1700 to over 9 million at the end of the century. The resulting population pressure forced many people off the land and created a labor force for the new cities and factories. Population growth began to decrease slowly in the early 19th century as birth rates began to decline, especially among the middle classes.  2
The short-term causes of industrialization also included a number of inventions in key industries, accompanied by changes in finance, which spurred further change. The first series of inventions resulted mainly from the tinkerings of craftworkers and inventors and required very little capital. John Kay's flying shuttle (1733), James Hargreave's spinning jenny (1768), Richard Arkwright's water frame spinning machine (1769), and Eli Whitney's cotton gin (1793) all revolutionized the cotton industry by allowing for increased production and profits, while decreasing the costs of production. Finally, with the substitution of water power and later steam power (developed by James Watt in the 1770s) for human energy, these inventions made it more economical to group workers together around large machines than to send out work to individual workers. This spelled the end of the putting-out system and the rise of the factory system. This series of changes, especially the invention of the steam engine, spurred similar developments in the iron industry (the production of quality wrought iron by the 1780s) and in transportation (growth of the railroad) and communication (See Technological Developments, 1800–1914).  3
As industrialization developed, investment became more important. In Britain, wealthy merchants and landlords provided most of the investment capital, but banking remained a risky venture. This changed with the laws of incorporation and limited liability (passed in 1844 in Britain, and in France, Germany, and the United States in the 1860s). Incorporation allowed companies to be treated as individuals before the law, giving them a juridical existence long after the founders had either died or sold their shares. Limited liability protected investors and thereby promoted investment, establishing a system whereby investors were liable for the corporation's debts only in proportion to the number of shares they owned.  4
Because this first phase of industrialization was gradual, the social transformation that accompanied it developed alongside an older social structure. Thus, those who felt the most severe hardships from industrialization, at least psychologically, were the artisans, craftworkers, and rural laborers who saw the value of their work decline. It was these groups that took the fore in the social and political revolutions that swept Europe in 1848 (See Revolutions in Europe, 1848–1852).  5
Industrialization created two new social groups: the middle classes (or bourgeoisie) and the working classes (or proletariat). Similarly, each developed in a new setting: the city. Both groups were diverse. The middle classes ranged from shopkeepers to bankers and factory owners, but they shared common beliefs in the virtue of work, thrift, ambition, and caution. The working classes of the first half of the 19th century can be broken down into three categories: artisans, factory workers, and female domestic servants (the latter grew in proportion as they became a status symbol in middle-class households). Industrial cities, most unplanned, dirty, and unsafe, made conditions difficult for workers, but many devised strategies that made survival possible. For example, in factories, wives and children became economic assets so many factory workers married, or entered conjugal relationships, at a younger age than artisans, and had more children on average. Workers also developed a popular culture that suited their new conditions. At the same time, middle-class leaders began holding their children apart from work and moved their wives from shops to household domesticity. Adult women's economic roles began to decline as their cultural prestige, as mothers and moralizing agents, increased. Overall, however, poor living and working conditions remained the rule, exacerbated in the 1840s (the hungry forties), and they contributed to discontent.  6
Although these developments signified major changes in European life, it is important to remember that up to 1848 Europe remained overwhelmingly rural, and artisans retained an important position in the working classes. Change was more dramatic after 1850, when aspects of the new industrial society that had developed alongside the older agricultural society became more widespread. (See Economic and Social Changes)
Approximate Population, in Thousands, 1700–1846
United Kingdom8,63510,01214,99727,220
France (boundaries of 1819–46)23,60024,60027,80035,400
Italy (boundaries of 1910)11,50013,15016,90021,200
Prussia (boundaries of 1846)5,1006,4208,88015,300
Russia (without Finland)31,000
Population of Europe, in Thousands, 1850–1910
United Kingdom27,20129,92534,62344,915
Germany (boundaries of 1871)35,31039,54545,09364,568
Russia in Europe (without Finland)60,00074,80085,200142,500
The Encyclopedia of World History, Sixth edition. Peter N. Stearns, general editor. Copyright © 2001 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Maps by Mary Reilly, copyright 2001 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company. All rights reserved.