How Does Industrialization Lead to Urbanization?

Industrialization is the process that takes an agricultural economy and transforms it into a manufacturing one. Mass production and assembly lines replace manual and specialized laborers. The process has historically led to urbanization by creating economic growth and job opportunities that draw people to cities.

Urbanization typically begins when a factory or multiple factories are established within a region, which creates a high demand for factory labor. Other businesses such as building manufacturers, retailers, and service providers then follow the factories to meet the product demands of the workers. This creates even more jobs and demands for housing, thus establishing an urban area.

In the modern era, manufacturing facilities like factories are often replaced by technology-industry hubs. These technological hubs draw workers from other areas in the same way factories used to, contributing to urbanization.

Key Takeaways

  • Industrialization transforms an agricultural economy into a manufacturing one while urbanization is characterized by the growth of cities.
  • Human civilizations went from being hunter-gatherers to cultivators of crops, which led to an increased dependence on water.
  • Industrialization ushered in a shift from farming to agribusiness.
  • People began moving into urban centers as mechanization and production increased.
  • Urbanization continues as areas go through cycles of economic and social reform.

Urbanization Occurs Near Bodies of Water

Urbanization patterns have been the strongest near large bodies of water throughout the history of human civilization. Initially, this was just to meet the food and water needs of large populations. In fact, the need for water became increasingly important. as humans moved from hunter-gatherers to cultivators. People began to rely on cultivated crops rather than going out to look for their own food.

This led to the use of land as a resource so people could produce food through the cultivation of crops. As such, the need for water became even more pronounced. Humans began using water systems, such as wells and runoff systems, to meet their needs.

A rise in demand for cultivated crops ushered in newer technologies in water usage—notably, the irrigation system. People developed canals, dams, and storage facilities to help transfer and store water when needed. This new system also increased the available supply of water, especially for those who weren't near a large body of natural water. Easier access to (more) water meant people were able to grow more crops and irrigation allowed for more consistent and reliable supplies of food to be produced.

The trend of urbanization along waterways (natural or man-made) has continued since the Industrial Revolution. This is due to the fact that large bodies of water are needed to sustain the industry. Not only do many businesses require large quantities of water to manufacture products, but they also depend on oceans and rivers for the transportation of goods. This is partially why 75% of the world’s largest urban areas are in coastal regions.

The beginning of the Industrial Revolution in the United States is generally attributed to the establishment of a textile mill in Rhode Island in 1793.

A Brief History of Industrialization

As noted earlier, industrialization refers to the transition from a primarily agricultural economy to one that mainly produces manufactured goods. The process is most commonly associated with the Industrial Revolution that took place during the 18th and 19th centuries in Europe. But it occurred in the United States during the late 1800s and the Great Depression. Many parts of the world also experienced a great deal of industrialization after World War II.

What propelled the large shift from agriculture to industrialization? There were a number of catalysts that led to this grand scale of industrial growth. The shift was fuelled by changes to and the availability of transportation and communication systems as well as increases in mechanization. Another key driver was the fact that farmers weren't just looking at cultivation as a means of sustenance. Rather, agriculture became a business where crops could now be taken to market for a profit. Many farmers began specializing in certain crops, turning them into commodities.

Prior to industrialization, farms were family-run and individuals worked the land to sustain themselves. But as machines took on many of the roles of human labor on farms, production became faster and much more streamlined. This led to a decline in rural populations and a shift to industrial farming thanks to two major developments.

The first was the construction of railroads, which led to a tremendous degree of social and economic growth across the United States, not to mention accessibility. The expansion of railroads made traveling and the transport of goods easy and quick. The second was the development of factories that began to shape urban areas.

Not only did industrialization help lead to shifts in rural populations (families didn't need as many hands since farming equipment replaced the need for human labor), but it also led to a movement of people. The industrialization of farms ushered in an increase in the unemployment of farm labor. These individuals, now jobless, moved to urban centers where large factories were growing and in need of manual, skilled labor to work the machines. Families often moved together as workers needed to be closer to their jobs.

Industrialization to Urbanization

Many historians agree that the United States was primarily a rural society until about 1920 despite the Industrial Revolution that took place in the United States in the late 1800s. And it wasn't until that year that over half of the country's population was living in urban centers.

But what caused the change in these dynamics? Urbanization. This is the process attributed to the growth of cities, including the large swaths of human populations that move into and settle these areas.

Winds of Change

Changes in the economic landscape were evident in the United States between 1880 and the Great Depression. Industrialization meant more machines while urbanization led to a massive increase in the number of factories and manufacturing facilities.

This change saw a rise in skilled laborers who were needed to work specialized machines and keep up with production demands. As a result, major cities expanded in response to the growing surge of people moving in to find work. For example:

  • Chicago was among the fastest-growing urban centers in the latter part of the 19th century thanks to natural resources processing plants during its early growth periods
  • Philadelphia's population jumped from 100,000 to over 1.2 million between 1850 and 1900

Factors Leading to Urbanization

Industrialization is one of the main catalysts to urbanization. When the wheels of the former are put into place, the latter is sure to follow. Having said that, there are a few key factors that come into play that are part of the process of urbanization. Here are a few of them:

  • Manufacturing: Urbanization generally begins with the establishment of at least one factory in a certain region. In most cases, though, there are multiple plants that cater to specific needs, such as the manufacturing, production, and processing of textiles, food, and natural resources.
  • Employment: The growth of an urban center is normally characterized by the development of one or more production facilities. As such, it creates a demand for labor. Although machines are able to ease the production process and make the output much faster, companies still need humans to operate, manage, and maintain those machines. This comes through skilled labor.
  • Natural Population Growth: Once workers settle into their new locations and get to work, they begin to plant roots and have families. Cities must respond by expanding to meet the needs of this natural population growth.
  • Commercialization: With the onset of factory production comes the opportunity for retailers and other service providers to sell goods directly to the public.
  • Development of Infrastructure: This is a key part of the urbanization process. As populations expand, the infrastructure of a city needs to grow. This means laying down roads and highways, building schools and housing, installing systems (sewage, water, electrical), and communication networks to name a few.

Problems Associated With Urbanization

The idea of urbanization may seem good. After all, it does pave the way for economic growth and opportunity for businesses and individuals. But does come with its fair share of drawbacks.

One of the main problems associated with urbanization lies in the fact that cities just can't keep up with rising populations, including the influx of new people looking for work may far outweigh the available employment opportunities in these areas and the natural growth of families. Both of these can put a major strain on existing resources.

Then there's the lack of resources, such as housing and other services. Many areas saw this during the rise in urbanization following the Industrial Revolution. People in major cities like Chicago and New York were forced to live in crowded tenements in the period following the Industrial Revolution because of a lack of available housing. These structures were constructed quickly to meet the growing demand for housing and were, thus, cheaply made.

Urbanization also leads to a socio-economic divide, which means that inequality is more pronounced in urban centers than in rural areas. People who hold the most power often have the most wealth. Opportunities and space aren't evenly distributed. This means that people living in certain areas don't get access to viable education, employment, health care, and housing.

Asia and Africa are expected to go through the highest degree of urbanization.

Urbanization After Industrialization

As industrialization creates economic growth, the demand for improved education and public works agencies that are characteristic of urban areas increases. This demand occurs because businesses looking for new technology to increase productivity require an educated workforce, and pleasant living conditions attract skilled workers to the area.

Once an area is industrialized, the process of urbanization continues for a much longer period of time as the area goes through several phases of economic and social reform. This concept is best illustrated by comparing a city such as Bangkok, located in a lesser-developed country, with an American city such as Los Angeles and a European city such as Berlin. Each city has a progressively higher level of social, environmental, and economic prosperity achieved through increased education, government intervention, and social reform.

How Do Advances in Industrialization Cause Population Increases?

People tend to move where the opportunities are, so as factories began to pop up in urban centers, people shifted from rural areas to major cities. But with that comes the natural growth in population. And don't forget that more opportunities mean greater economic possibilities. Therefore, people are able to afford to have larger families because they are able to earn more.

How Have Industrialization and Urbanization Changed China?

The industrialization and urbanization of China have had both positive and negative implications. While the massive increase in Chinese industries has had a detrimental impact on the environment (pollution and the overuse of land and water), the modernization and urbanization of major areas have led to a better standard of living for many of those who live in and around urban centers.

How Did Industrialization and Urbanization Affect Family Size?

Industrialization and urbanization changed family dynamics, especially in the United States. Family sizes began to shrink partly because individual family members went from being factors of production to factors of consumption. Where family members contributed to producing their food supplies, they became more expensive to maintain. Family sizes began to shrink in order for them to be economically viable.

The Bottom Line

According to the most recent U.S. Census Bureau statistics, about 81% of the U.S. population lives in urban centers. A big portion of the population today is concentrated in New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Miami, and Philadelphia. That's a big jump from the turn of the 20th century when less than half of the country called these areas home. The growth of many of these areas was the result of urbanization, which was ushered in after the Industrial Revolution.

Article Sources
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  1. The World Bank. "World Development Report 2010: Development and Climate Change," Dowload PDF, Page 91.

  2. History. "Industrial Revolution."

  3. United States Census. "Urban and Rural Areas."

  4. Oxford Research Encyclopedias. "Industrialization and Urbanization in the United States, 1880–1929."

  5. History. "How the Industrial Revolution Fueled the Growth of Cities."

  6. United Nations. "Urbanization: expanding opportunities, but deeper divides."

  7. United Nations. "Some facts on urbanization."

  8. United States Census. "Urban Areas Facts."

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