Langer – The Social Question

To eat or not to eat, that is the social question…


During the decades preceding 1848, a rising concern came to be known as pauperization (dependence on relief). Thanks to the growth of the European population, after 1760 overpopulation began to sit in. Too many people led to too little jobs. Previously, the alarming increase in pauperization was mistakenly attributed to the progress of industrialization. Modern scholars recognized that non-industrialized areas were just as much to blame as manufacturing centers.

Undoubtedly, a rise in real wages can be concluded but only for the skilled, well-paid workers. Everywhere in Europe workers like skilled handicrafts and trades, foundrymen (factory workers), and mechanics earned wages that enabled them to live comfortably. The condition of the poorest class depended on the availability of work as aggregate prices declined and food prices increased. Professions like handloom weaving felt the struggle the most because they were not ready to compete with the machine until 1830s.

Evidence concluded that the average worker could only earn enough to support a small family of three children while being fully employed. Due to these conditions, there was a widespread employment of women and children. They could do the work as well as men while being offered only half or one-quarter the wages of a man. Employers could also subject both women and children to the grueling hours of the factories. A normal workday consisted of 12 to 15 hours with only a maximum of an hour break.

Karl Marx estimated that in 1845 one in ten of the European population was a pauper. With food consumption minimal and horrible work conditions if there was any work to find, pauperism became a huge problem during the times before 1848. It is no wonder that this period is left with a question in the name.

For more information on the working conditions preceding 1848 read this article:  Economic Crises and the European Revolutions of 1848 – jstor


By Kristan Wilkins

Word Count: 325

2 Replies to “Langer – The Social Question”

  1. It is sad that so many women and children had to work but for so much less money. The skilled people all were able to live comfortably, but they unskilled workers really struggled. This is something that we could see in the next 10-20 years as more automation takes over in our modern world. Currently more and more unskilled jobs are being replaced by automation like robots. I wonder what will happen the second time around if there is a job shortage and people rely on welfare.

  2. Nice article. I am quite confused over the relationship between jobs and having children and women to work for excessive hours.
    You mentioned that overpopulation led to too few jobs for too many people. Then how does it lead to people working for such long hours and for such low wages. This is because as quantity supply decreases, the price equilibrium should translate vertically. Based on this logic, it would eliminate the need for children to work. Moreover, it would result in pauperization which you have mentioned along with Karl Marx’s comment on it at the end.
    I may be missing something, so kindly correct me and explain if I’m wrong.

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