Chapter 13:  Industrial Societies:  Population, the Family, and Leisure


Growth in Size of Societies

The populations of industrial societies have grown substantially over the past 2 centuries, though not nearly as much as their technological advances and gains in productivity would lead one to expect (344).

To better understand the reasons for this pattern of growth in population, we must consider the 3 factors together determine the rate of population change:  mortality, fertility, and migration (344).

Trends in Health and Longevity

Throughout the agrarian era, sickness and disease were a pervasive feature of human life.  During the industrial era, however, there has been an explosive growth in the store of information concerning the prevention and cure of disease–especially communicable diseases, such as influenza, diphtheria, and small pox, that once killed large numbers of people and afflicted many more.  As a result, the death rate from communicable diseases has dropped tremendously and life expectancy at birth has tripled in industrial societies (345).

Moreover, whereas half or more of the babies born in hunting and gathering and horticultural societies, and a quarter or more of those born into relatively prosperous villages died before they reached their 15th birthday, in industrial societies, 99 percent survive (345-346).

Declining Birthrates and Increasing Immigration

As health conditions improved and death rates declined, industrial societies experienced a period of rapid population growth.  Within a few decades, however, birthrates also began to decline.  During the last 150 years, technological advances on various fronts have made it possible for members of industrial societies to control the number of offspring by safe and effective means.  At the same time, technological advances in other areas, together with various social changes have virtually eliminated the historic economic incentive for having children.  In addition, the increasing employment of women outside the home has made child-rearing more difficult and expensive.

In most industrial societies, birthrates have dropped substantially below the level required to keep populations at their present size.  To maintain stable populations, women in industrial societies today must have about 2.15 children each and the fertility rate in almost every industrial society is below this figure (347).

Declines in the populations of industrialized societies, however, is unlikely because of the great influx of immigrants from the Third world.  The economic opportunities and high standards of living in the industrial democracies, together with the growth of the welfare state are a powerful magnet for people whose own societies are suffering the throes of early industrialization.  Although the overwhelming majority of Third World immigrants remain within the Third World, by some estimates as many as 30 million of them have emigrated to America and Western Europe since 1980 (348-349).

Immigration of this magnitude would create problems in any society but it is especially serious when substantial cultural differences are introduced into populations that have been culturally homogeneous for centuries.  But when high levels of immigration are combined with global economic recession and high rates of unemployment, the situation can become explosive (349).

Population Distribution:  The Growth of Urban Populations

Another revolutionary demographic change has been the massive shift of population from rural to urban areas.  Nowhere are the consequences of the IR more clearly evident than in the major cities of the industrial world.  Vast concentrations of people live and work in organizational systems of extraordinary complexity.  Most of the time these systems function so smoothly that we forget the complex infrastructure of water and sewer systems, power systems, communication systems, and transportation systems on which they depend (350).


The impact of industrialization on kinship has been no less dramatic.  The consequences for kinship, can be seen in its changing functions, smaller size, altered composition, and changing roles of its members (350-351).

In industrial societies, many of the family’s traditional functions have been eliminated or greatly altered.  The family is now an economic unit only in terms of consumption, not of production.  Families no longer control the political system; nepotism may still occur, but it is not accepted as legitimate.  Schools, religious groups, and other organizations have assumed much of the responsibility for the education, socialization, and supervision of children, and a wide variety of organizations, from youth groups to summer camps and universities, have taken over the task of providing young people with the skills they will need in their adult lives (351).

Some of the most critical functions, however, still fall to the nuclear family (351).

Marriage today is taken for more personal reasons and is undertaken primarily to enhance personal happiness (352).

Causes of Change in the Family

Change in the family is essentially the result of technological advance and the organizational and ideological changes that accompanied it.  One of the most important of these has been the enormous increase in specialization.  Specialized organizations of various kinds have steadily removed from home and family much of the responsibility for a wide range of services.

Industrialization has also served to undermine the traditional authority structure of the family.  The father is no longer the head of the family in the way he was in agrarian societies, and parents do not have as much control over their children’s conduct as they had in agrarian or early industrial societies (352).  This is largely due to technological changes that have destroyed the family’s role as a productive unit that had to work together for the mutual benefit, even survival, of its members (353).

Another important cause of the decline of authority within the home has been the new democratic ideology which has permeated industrial societies, and which carries with it an individualistic bias that puts more emphasis on the rights of individuals than on their responsibilities to the groups to which they belong (353).

A final factor contributing to the weakening of family ties is the grater number of options available to individuals who wish to sever those ties (353).

The Nuclear Family in Industrial Societies

One of the most drastic changes in the nuclear family is the number of children.  However, although the nuclear family was larger in agrarian societies, the number of its members who actually lived together at any one time was not as different as the change in birthrates suggests (355).

Perhaps more significant that the shrinking in size of the family is the change that has occurred in its composition due to increases in divorce and in the number of people raising children outside of marriage.  In large measure, this trend is a result of the altered functions of the family, the changed perception of marriage which as accompanied it, the new options available to women, and the newer attitudes of society toward divorce.

Despite the great increase in divorce, its impact on the nuclear family has not been as dramatic as one might suppose.  This is because marriages during the agrarian and early industrial eras were disrupted about as often as they are today, though for a different reason:  the death of one or both parents (355).

The Changing Role of Women

Nowhere are the effects of industrialization on society’s norms, values, and sanctions seen more clearly than in the changing role of women.  Throughout history most women spent their prime years bearing and rearing children.  The first signs of change, however, came in the 19th century when the economic benefits of large families began to be outweighed by their costs.  Efforts to limit fertility were soon aided by innovations in the ear of birth control.

By the 1920s the original goals of the women’s movements in western industrial societies had been largely achieved and these movements declined.  Changes continued to occur in the role of women, but chiefly as a result of technological innovations–not because of organized political efforts (356).

During the 20th century, there has been a rapid increase in women’s participation in the labor force in most industrial societies.  Today nearly 60% of all American women are employed outside the home, including more than 70% of those between the ages of 20 and 54.

The tremendous increase in women’s participation in the labor force in recent decades has been the foundation for the new women’s movement that began in the 1960s.  This newer movement has had a diversity of goals, but one underlying objective:  to break the restrictive molds in which societies have cast women.  This is based on the premise that with a single exception–women’s capacity for childbearing–the differences between the sexes no longer provide a valid basis for the division of labor (358).

The women’s movement also emphasizes that power and prestige in modern societies derive from activities outside the family and that if women are to have equal access to these rewards and share equally in shaping society’s institutions, they must participate fully in both the economy and the polity (358-359).

The Changing Role of Youth

In preindustrial societies, children were typically given chores to do while they were still quite young, and their responsibilities increased with every year.  By their middle teens, sometimes earlier, they were doing much the same work as their parents and other adults (362).

As opportunities for participation in the adult world were curtailed, a new age role gradually emerged.  Whereas most people in as young adults, they came increasingly to be seen as occupying an intermediate role, a role of neither adult nor child (362).

Most individuals in this new age role are students.  Some industrial societies may have expanded their educational institutions beyond what is actually needed to equip for their roles in the economy, or even for their roles as citizens in a democratic society.  In addition, these societies have failed to take account of the fact that some individuals are not disposed to be students for such a long period.  Many young people have little interest in the intellectual aspect of education, or even in its vocational relevance, but would rather move quickly into adult roles (362-363).

As always happens when one segment of a population is cut off for an extended period from full participation in the life of the larger society, young people in industrial societies have developed their own subculture (363).

At a more fundamental level, however, youth culture simply reflects many of the distinctive characteristics of industrial societies themselves:  their high rate of innovation, their affluence, their leisure, their emphasis on individuality, and their tendency to specialize.  The differences between the norms and values of the youth culture and those of the larger society can cause serious problems, however, especially when they involve decisions with long-term implications (364).

Crimes of violence are associated with youth in all industrial societies.  In the US, 68% of those arrested for robbery, the legal definition of which involves the threat or use of violence, are under 25, as are 51% of those arrested for all crimes.  Political violence is also largely the work of younger people, though older adults often guide such activity (364).

Leisure and the ARts

No preindustrial society ever offered such rich and varied opportunities for recreation as modern industrial societies provide,  Industrial societies are also unique in the extent to which they have commercialized recreation.  Entertainment and the manufacture of equipment for leisure activities are important industries.  One of the attractive features of leisure in industrial societies is its relative democracy.  Most members of these societies enjoy substantial amounts of leisure and most can afford a wide variety of recreational activities (365).

But it is television that has most altered modern life and leisure.  According to one expert, “by the time the average American graduated from high school he has spent more hours watching the television screen than spent in school, or in any other activity except sleeping.”  And despite a decline in viewing in recent years, television continues to occupy a major portion of people’s leisure time in industrial societies.  Every week in the US, young children, ages 2 to 5, watch an average of 28 hours, and families watch an average of 49 hours (366).

Problems and progress

The members of contemporary industrial societies are in a paradoxical situation.  They are, on average, far healthier, wealthier, and freer to chose among alternative lifestyles than were the vast majority of their ancestors of the last 5000 years, and they are probably happier as well.  Yet they are far more vocal concerning the shortcomings and problems of their societies.

Like so many other changes, this is basically a consequence of industrialization.  The mass media and multiparty political systems combine to keep social problems before the attention of the general public.  Better education and new ideologies, meanwhile, provide people with an enhanced capacity for envisioning and expecting improvements in their living conditions and in other areas, and if improvements do not occur, they often become critical of both their leaders and the social system.  Finally, affluence gives people the means and leisure to voice their opinions, and democratic polities give them the opportunity.  As a result, social problems receive far more attention and are fare more salient in democratic industrial societies than in any other kind of society (368).

Although there is considerable controversy concerning the amount of progress industrial societies have actually achieved in dealing with humanity’s problems, there is general agreement on several points.  (1) Despite the presence of many continuing problems from the past, the most serious problems facing industrial societies today are either new or old with new dimensions.  (2) These problems are by-products of technological advance.  (3) Although many are complex, most could be alleviated by rational human effort and with little cost.  (4) Finally, a completely problem-free society is not likely ever to be achieved, partly because of our species genetic heritage, partly because of the constraints of the environment, partly because of the extraordinary complexity of modern social systems, and partly because of the very process of problem solving itself so often creates new needs and new problems (369).

Industrial Societies in Theoretical Perspective

First, in industrial societies as in their predecessors, technological innovation continues to be the most basic underlying force responsible for societal change and development (370).

Second, many of the trends of the industrial era are continuations of trends that began in earlier eras.

Third, some of the trends in industrial societies are new and represent a break with trends of the past.

Fourth, industrial societies are the first in human history in which the greatest threats posed by the biophysical environment are products of prior human activity (371).