Changes in Womens' roles due to Industrialization in Northern Europe

Suraj N. Kurapati

  1. References

    In Northwest Europe, Industrialization had brought about restrictions in Women’s roles as people moved from traditional farming societies to big industrial cities. Women in wealthy families were more so bound to their homes, while those in poor families worked long hours for minuscule wages in the emerging Victorian society.

    As industrialization emerged, men went to work in factories while women were left behind to perform domestic work. This separation of work and home reduced the economic importance of women at home, as they “no longer learned craft and productive skills from their fathers and husbands” (Bradley, 1996:127). Women in poor families were economically forced to work outside the home. Many of whom worked as Governesses, which was “ill-paid and commanded little social respect” (Bradley, 1996:140), and “ended up as paupers or dependent on charity” (Bradley, 1996:140). For example, “In 1851 there were over a million women servants” (Bradley, 1996:134). In contrast, women from wealthy families were only allowed to perform “unpaid charitable work, visiting the sick, and improving the lives and morals of their working class sisters” (Bradley, 1996:140) under the male-dominated Victorian society.

    Job opportunities for women were shortened by sexual division of labor, as industrial employers would give them “women’s work” that consisted of “repetitive and unskilled” tasks (Bradley, 1996:141). In addition to a narrow choice of work, women faced horrible working conditions and long hours for miniscule wages. In pre-industrial economy, “spinning was a major female occupation while weaving was a traditional male skill” (Bradley, 1996:141). However, the use of machines during the Industrial era took the role of spinning, and women were now assigned the role of weaving (Bradley, 1996:141).

    The imposition of stereotyped gender roles by Victorian society had established strong patriarchy in Northwest Europe. Women were becoming more powerless as they received extremely low pay for their work and became dependent on men (Bradley, 1996:140). Bradley notes “Sex segregation of jobs became a major vehicle for the continuing social dominance of men” (Bradley, 1996:142). Through the use of sexual stereotypes such as women’s “intellect is not for invention or creation, but for a sweet ordering, arrangement and decision” (Bradley, 1996:140), Victorian society had essentially segregated women from economic freedom and bound them into a strongly male-dominated society.

    Prior to industrialization women were more valued as they were an important contributor to family income. With the coming of Industrialization and establishment of Victorian ideology, women were restricted to domestic work by discrimination and poor wages in the workplace.


    1. Bradley, H (1996) Changing Social Structures: Class and Gender, Chapter 4 in Hall, S., et al (1995). Modernity: an introduction to modern societies. Blackwell.