HS-102 Readings

The Family and Class Structure
in
mid-19th Century Europe

WHAT CHANGES WERE TAKING SHAPE IN FAMILIES IN MID 19TH CENTURY
EUROPE?

HOW WAS THE CLASS STRUCTURE CHANGING?

    After a period of approximately a century (1750-1850) of instability in families, due to the transition of industry, a new stable pattern emerged.

    The Middle Class, although still a minority, was beginning to have a profound impact on values, even beyond the members of its own class.

    The new industrial age had separated the home from the workplace. This encouraged a more precise definition of the roles of women and men. While men were supposed to be the breadwinners, the women were supposed to care for the home and the children. It became a matter of self-esteem for a man to be able to support the family without his wife having to work. Women were not supposed to work outside the home or to otherwise be
involved in public.

    The new industrial age had created a variety of new occupations, most of which required more years of education and training then ever before. This placed great emphasis upon family provision for education of their children, especially sons. Full maturity and independence was delayed. Adolescence became a distinctive phase of life. Families were to be the stable bulwark which assured that the next generation followed in the father's footsteps (and beyond).

    The family generally became more stable. Rates of illegitimacy declined. But stresses upon the family increased. Men were more likely to be remote, austere father-figures to the children. Women were more likely to be frustrated by a home-confining value system. Children sometimes were overwhelmed by the high expectations their parents put upon them.

    There was also a double-standard in that men could have affairs and frequent houses of prostitution so long as they were "reasonably" discreet, while women were expected to uphold the "sanctity" of the family.

    The wealth produced by the new industry raised living standards for almost everyone. A secular (long-term) decline in prices benefited workers. There is a balance between goods and money. When goods exceed money you have deflation. The increasing production of goods outpaced the increase in the supply of money.  But the gap between rich and poor remained very wide.

    The new industrial age also created a more complex class structure.  The
"captains of industry" at the top of the middle class merged with the "old" aristocracy. They lived in great luxury, had great estates and armies of servants.

    A middle-middle class consisted of industrial managers, highly-skilled experts in new industrial techniques, and college-educated professional people such as engineers, doctors, and lawyers. They tended to live comfortably and securely in a family setting with a few servants.

    A lower-middle class consisted of white-collar workers, clerks, teachers, governesses who were paid poorly but were motivated by typical middle-class values which, at least in their own minds, drew a distinction between them and the working class.

    The lower class was also clearly distinguishable in three groups. The upper-lower class were foremen/ supervisors in the factory, or highly-skilled workers, or head butlers on wealthy estates. Though members of the working class, they were very self-conscious of their supposed superiority over other members of the working class.
 
    A middle-lower class consisted of semi-skilled workers, most of whom barely earned a living wage needed to support a family.

    A lower-lower class of unskilled workers often lived on the edge of survival. Women had to work to help support a family, and were often employed at home doing piece-work, or in sweatshops of the urban garments-trade industry.