Clearly, during the Industrial Revolution in New England and America, the role of women and children began to change significantly. Although this may sound like it offered more equality, the fact that women during the time of the Industrial Revolution in New England worked equally long hours for less pay is hardly equal. Furthermore, some women had little choice but to work in factories, especially as cottage industries (spinning, weaving, brewing, etc) were forced out of existence through mechanization of these one-time family businesses. While women may have been able to make a more significant impact on their family’s financial status, it should also be noted that they still bore many of the same burdens they did during pre-industrialization times, most notably in terms of the bearing and raising of children. By playing this dual role, both as a provider and caregiver, women’s roles were expanded and thus the nature of the American family shifted.

It is important to put the information discussed so far into context. While many positive aspects relating to the arrival of the Industrial Revolution have emerged, particularly in terms of a growing potential for all genders and ages, this is not to say that this was some kind of golden age and that technology and industry drastically improved everyone’s life. In fact, there were many of the same problems that were present during England’s Industrial Revolution—overcrowding of urban areas, unemployment and job insecurities, hunger, poverty for the working classes, and general malaise related to urban living. Furthermore, while children were now less tied to a life of family-related tasks and requirements, this was not true for the entire population of young people in New England. “Despite a shift in the nature of children’s work, working-class family economies in the late nineteenth century remained dependent on children’s earnings; children contributed more in earnings than did women” (Cunningham 2000: 415).

During the Industrial Revolution in New England and America more generally, child labor was a very common practice and although conditions might have improved with growing awareness and eventually, new laws, at the beginning of the Industrial Revolution in America, children were expected to work and contribute. Life was difficult and involved hard works and long hours, no matter one’s age or sex. In addition, other problems associated with the divisions created by wage jobs and family bonds developed. For instance, one researcher examined divorce statistics from New England ranging from the years of 1800-1860. “The findings of this study indicate that divorce rates that emerged in the early 1800s increased sharply in the mid-century decades” (Shultz 1990: 109). As Shultz points out in the same section, divorce was quite uncommon in the colonies at the beginning (i.e. pre-industrialization) but continued to grow.

Although it is difficult to make concrete claims, it seems as though these changes in family structure—from cohesive self-contained family units relying on one another for economic and social support to more fragmented entities—may have something to do with the many changes in the American family that took place as a result of growing industrialization. Women during this time were beginning, at least in some cases, to find possibilities outside of the home and at the same time men were expanding their ideas of what was possible. In addition, it should be noted that men’s possibilities were not just related to the industry and factories themselves. The Industrial Revolution in New England almost immediately created a demand for commercially-based enterprises such as lending and banking institutions, for example. These required new networks to be formed outside of the home and often, the community.