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Minimum wages for the poor class of the industrial revolution

Updated April 17, 2017

Joseph A. Montagna, who penned an essay entitled "The Industrial Revolution" for the Yale-New Haven Teachers Institute, asserted that England's Industrial Revolution occurred between the years 1760 and 1850. During this time, entire families could be found working in factories just to make ends meet.

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Wage for Children

In the early years of the Industrial Revolution, prior to the creation of the steam engine, orphans made up a huge chunk of the workforce, according to Carolyn Tuttle, Professor of Economics at Lake Forest College. This was because the old mills relied on water to create energy, and orphans could easily be relocated to remote or isolated areas where there was a lot of water. The mill owner would provide food and shelter in lieu of money. When the steam engine entered the picture, factories began to pop up in major cities and orphans no longer had to be relocated. Instead, poor families struggling to survive in these urban areas seized the opportunity to send their children to work in the factories. Though the children worked long hours, they earned very little. Jason Long, Associate Professor of Economics at Colby College, said that children working in factories in the 1850s earned between two and four shillings per week.

Wage for Women

Joyce Burnett, Professor of Economics at Wabash College, claimed that while male and female children earned about the same amount, a wage gap based on gender began to appear at age 16. The average wage for women working in factories in 1833 was about seven shillings per week. Ultimately, women working in factories during the Industrial Revolution made only a third of what their male counterparts earned. In a column written in April of 2008, Jane Humphries, Professor of Economic History at Oxford University, said that it was common for teenage boys working in factories to earn more money than their mothers.

Wage for Men

During the Industrial Revolution, Long wrote that skilled labourers averaged between 20 and 30 shillings per week. Though this seems high when compared to the average wages of children and women, it was not nearly enough to make a family rich. In fact, author G.T. Griffith claims that one-fifth of the families living in Liverpool in the middle of the nineteenth century rented cellar units instead of upstairs living quarters. Even with everyone in the family working, keeping up with the cost of rent, food and clothing in a metropolitan area often proved to be a huge challenge.

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About the Author

Samantha Herman earned an undergraduate degree in journalism from Northern Arizona University in 2005. Her professional writing career started in 2008, when she accepted an internship at "Willamette Week," a local alternative publication. Upon completing her internship, she became employed as a copywriter for an internet media company. In addition to copywriting, she has written articles for PDX Pipeline and eHow.

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