The Industrial Revolution brought about dramatic changes in nearly every aspect of British society, including demographics, politics, social structures and institutions, and the economy. With the growth of factories, for example, people were drawn to metropolitan centers. The number of cities with populations of more than 20, 000 in England and Wales rose from 12 in 1800 to nearly 200 at the close of the century. As a specific example of the effects of technological change on demographics, the growth of coke smelting resulted in a shift of population centers in England from the south and east to the north and west.
Technological change also made possible the growth of capitalism. Factory owners and others who controlled the means of production rapidly became very rich. As an indication of the economic growth inspired by new technologies, purchasing power in Great Britain doubled and the total national income increased by a factor of ten in the years between 1800 and 1900.
Such changes also brought about a revolution in the nation's political structure. Industrial capitalists gradually replaced agrarian land owners as leaders of the nation's economy and power structure.
Working conditions were often much less than satisfactory for many of those employed in the new factory systems. Work places were often poorly ventilated, over-crowded, and replete with safety hazards. Men, women, and children alike were employed at survival wages in unhealthy and dangerous environments. Workers were often able to afford no more than the simplest housing, resulting in the rise of urban slums. Stories of the unbelievable work conditions in mines, textile factories, and other industrial plants soon became a staple of Victorian literature.
One consequence of these conditions was that action was eventually taken to protect workers—especially women and children—from the most extreme abuses of the factory system. Laws were passed requiring safety standards in factories, setting minimum age limits for young workers, establishing schools for children whose parents both worked, and creating other standards for the protection of workers. Workers themselves initiated activities to protect their own interests, the most important of which may have been the establishment of the first trade unions.
Overall, the successes of the technological changes here were so profound internationally that Great Britain became the world's leading power, largely because of the Industrial Revolution, for more than a century.