What effects did the factory system have on the American social structure?

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pohnpei397's profile pic

pohnpei397 | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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As more people in the United States went to work in factories, the social structures that had bound Americans together became weaker.  America had been a more communal society with informal social structures.  With the coming of factories, it became a more rationalized society with more formal structures.

Before the factories, people worked out of their own homes.  They typically produced most of the things they needed and traded for the few things they did not produce.  They lived in places where everyone knew everyone else.  Society as a whole kept order through informal social pressures. 

With the rise of factories, all of this changed.  Work and home became separate places and ideas.  People no longer lived in small communities with a relatively few people who knew them.  Informal social pressures could not keep order among large groups of people who did not know one another well.  Society moved towards the more formalized, rationalized system based on laws and more commercialized (rather than personal) relationships in which we now live.

thetall's profile pic

thetall | (Level 1) Senior Educator

Posted on

The factory system was a shift from the traditional domestic system of manufacturing. In the domestic system, the worker used hand tools and simple equipment to manufacture products from home. The system allowed the individual to manage working hours and determine the output. The factory system, on the other hand, brought workers under one roof to work using advanced equipment to produce goods. Working conditions and output were all determined by the owner of the plant.

Men, women, and children played different roles in the domestic system. Women and children were mostly expected to take care of the family and conduct the household chores as the men worked at production. However, the factory system introduced changes to the social system by bringing men, women, and children together to do the same work under the same roof.

The factory system was focused on output and profits, which forced the factory owners to increase labor at all costs regardless of the social systems in place. The smaller and close-knit rural societies were also disrupted with members traveling to urban centers to seek work in the factories, creating larger and highly individualistic societies. The factory system also led to the widening class gap. The owners of the factories made a lot of money, while the worker majority was extremely underpaid and overworked.

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