V. The Modern Period, 1789–1914 > B. The French Revolution and Europe, 1789–1914 > 7. Western and Central Europe, 1848–1914
  The Encyclopedia of World History.  2001.
(See Economic and Social Changes)
7. Western and Central Europe, 1848–1914
a. Social, Cultural, and Economic Trends
1. Economic and Social Changes
THE CONTINUED IMPACT OF INDUSTRIALIZATION. As the problems of industrialization grew, Europe witnessed a concerted effort at state building. In nations like Germany, state building meant actual unification and the attempt at centralization in order to enhance economic productivity. In Britain, however, state building was geared more toward solving the social problems resulting from industrialization and urbanization. In all cases, governments became more involved in the daily lives of their citizens through obligatory primary education, military conscription, broad taxation, and social legislation. The result was an increase in state power (despite varying forms of government) and the further erosion of traditional ties to locality and region.  1
The mid-19th century also witnessed the rise of consumerism. Besides being emotional centers, families became centers of consumption. Furthermore, as industry began to look for wider markets, advertising developed. Industry no longer simply catered to a demand, it helped create that demand. This was most visible in the development of department stores designed to promote consumption. From the 1870s onward the rise of kleptomania reflected the growing psychological importance of consumerism. Society became more involved in the purchasing of goods than in the actual manufacturing of them.  2
With the increase in state administrations and the development of a service sector, the European social structure grew to include new white collar workers. These workers held an ambiguous position in society; they balked at inclusion with the working classes and had educations that made them similar to the middle classes, yet they could not easily afford the lifestyle of the middle classes. In politics, as part of the lower middle class, they frequently played the role of wild card, opting for socialism in some instances, liberalism in others, and nationalism in still other cases. As such, they increased the ambiguities of class conflict.  3
The latter half of the 19th century also witnessed slower population increases than those of the beginning of the century. In France, where birthrates had begun to fall in the 18th century, depopulation was a major concern, especially after France's defeat in the Franco-Prussian War. By 1870, partly due to the increased availability of birth control devices (condoms, diaphragms), birthrates began to drop more widely in Europe among the working classes, as they had earlier among the middle classes. This, along with fewer restrictions on marriage, also contributed to a drop in the rate of illegitimacy, which had exploded between 1750 and 1850.  4
Emigration continued to reflect population growth, but now it issued more from southern and eastern Europe than from western Europe. The slowing of population growth and the radical decline in birthrates was matched, from 1880 onward, with a rapid decline of infant mortality. This DEMOGRAPHIC TRANSITION produced the modern demographic regime, with low birth and child death rates, larger families among the poor than among the middle classes, and a pronounced growth of the percentage of the elderly in the population as a whole.  5
Victorian attitudes toward sexuality loosened gradually from the 1870s onward. Sexual respectability was still vitally important for middle-class women, but some men became more open in their use of prostitutes and indulgence of the sexual double standard. Quietly, many middle-class married couples increased their use of artificial birth control devices and accepted sexuality as pleasure, not merely the basis for procreation. At the same time definitions of homosexuality became more rigorous from the 1870s onward. Medical and legal writings called new attention to homosexuality as a problem, prompting an unusual belief that people were either homosexual or “normal,” with no intermediate behavior; many homosexuals came to share this belief, which heightened their group identity. Famous trials and imprisonments, like those of the Irish writer Oscar Wilde between 1895 and 1898, reflected and furthered anxieties, particularly about male homosexuality.  6
Finally, by the end of the century, western Europe had become firmly industrial. Only southern and parts of eastern Europe lagged behind. Urbanization proceeded at an amazing pace; Paris's population increased from 2 million to 3 million between 1850 and 1914. For Berlin, the increase was from half a million to 2 million in a similar time period. Also, conditions began slowly to improve in the cities. Various reforms reduced the unsanitary conditions.  7
THE SECOND INDUSTRIAL REVOLUTION. More than the first, this new spurt of industrialization, falling roughly into two periods (1850–70 and 1890–1914), centered on new technology. No longer content to rely on the tinkerings of inventors, industry began hiring engineers and chemists. Scientific research was applied to production, transportation, and communication. Technological advances (See Science and Learning) included new forms of energy (the internal combustion engine, the development of the electrical industry) and the creation of the chemical and petrochemical industries (the invention of synthetic dyes and chemical fertilizers).  8
One of the results of the second industrial revolution was the accelerated decline of artisans and the increase in the number of semiskilled factory workers. The latter became the majority of the working classes. Additionally, as machines made even more inroads into production, women and children lost their places in the factories. This, more than middle-class reforms, explains the increasing disappearance of women and children in industry.  9
With the depressions of 1873 and the 1890s, European industry also sought new ways to survive economic cycles of boom and bust. The depressions differed from previous cycles: they resulted from speculative investment and overproduction rather than harvest failures. The second industrial revolution thus saw the creation of big business (like the Krupps works in Germany). Using the techniques of vertical organization and horizontal integration, European industrialists formed cartels designed to control pricing and production. Industrialists also attempted new methods of scientific management, designed to streamline the production process and maximize profits. Boards of directors and professional managers and financiers replaced factory owners. In many nations this contributed to the development of a new upper class, consisting of industrialists, financiers, and aristocrats.  10
Besides cartels, industrialists tried to protect themselves by turning away from laissez-faire economics. They supported government regulation as a means of protecting industry. Thus, they sought government aid in the forms of tariffs, labor controls, and imperialism (which secured raw materials and new markets).  11
Government regulation did not always work in their favor, however. As suffrage was extended to include workers, governments became more responsive to their concerns. This was especially true with the advent of large industrial unions and the rise of socialist parties. Whereas early unions were organized around crafts and controlled by artisans, the persistent decline of artisans and the rise of big industrial complexes convinced working-class activists that only unions organized to include all the workers in one industry could counter the power of the industrialists. Such unions gradually acquired official recognition and had won important victories by the 1890s.  12
Feeling endangered by working-class radicalism, the middle classes, which had slowly acquired more power as the century wore on, began to address what they labeled the social question in earnest after 1870. Some of this concern was also generated by real fears of national degeneration; many English men and boys were rejected for service in the Boer War, for example, because malnutrition had caused them to be physically unfit for military service. The result was a series of social insurance laws, although not all of Europe embraced this solution.  13
By 1914, then, Europe was an industrial society wherein big businessmen shared power with the aristocracy in a new upper class, while the working classes, having become more militant, were still viewed as a very real threat to the existing social order. The question remained of how to integrate workers in a manner that did not significantly alter middle-class comforts. (See Economic and Social Changes)  14
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.