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Why were British towns so much more unhealthy than the countryside c.1850 but not so in 1914?

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Introduction

Why were British towns so much more unhealthy than the countryside c.1850 but not so in 1914? Between the mid 18th century and 1914 Britain experienced a massive change in its demographic structure. The Industrial revolution had one consequence more important than any other, which was urbanisation. By 1881, Britain's population was 70% urban, and 80% by 1911. Alongside this urbanisation came concerns of sanitisation and its importance within a community. Until 1850, the towns were considerably less healthy than the countryside. Yet as the century progressed, the towns and cities experienced a revolution in living standards and health care. It is difficult to ascertain what determined this reversal of standards. There are two main theories, either social factors determined the change: i.e. there was a sufficient change of culture within the towns and cities to form a group with a large enough voice to call for change; or economic factors: i.e. a change from urbanisation to industrialisation caused by economic migration meant that it was increasingly seen as good business sense to encourage a healthier, and consequently more productive, workforce. In reality, it was a combination of these factors that provoked the transformation of towns into comparatively healthy places. ...read more.

Middle

But a system was needed, and something needed to bring the philanthropists. The answer lies in economics. Before economic factors are addressed, and important issue made up of purely socio-economic factors should be discussed. Migration is an important topic that deserves to stand-alone. Trends for migration in early to mid 19th century explain much about the initial state of affairs in the rural communities. Migration had the important consequence of taking away people from the country communities and relocating them as urban workers. The economic decline of the agricultural sector was due in no small part to the loss of a new generation of fit male labourers to the towns, which wouldn't have been recognised particularly between 1850 and c.1870. Moreover, the immigration of workers into urban areas meant that not only was demand for jobs absorbed, but the sheer volume meant that demand for jobs in a different sense was created, from a demand for employees to a demand for employers. This has an important consequence when discussing health because it is this that fills the need for philanthropists to provide a system of health-care. Where there is a demand for jobs, there is a possibility of business. ...read more.

Conclusion

The increased prominence of working class sports such as soccer overcame the previous anxieties felt by rural people in an anonymous urban setting, a community was beginning to be formed. This had the consequence of changing many urban areas into various communities often centred round the local place of work (workplace sports teams are representative of this). At the same time concerns about self-education, were also rising to the fore. Yet along with this came the actual political change in sanitation regulations. This was precipitated by economic factors that brought industrialists and aristocrats into city culture. In this sense, migration improved the country as a whole, after all, by 1914, only 20% of the country was rural (population). Many factors such as the Corn Law repeal of 1849 showed their effects much later. In effect, much of the change from an unsanitary urban demographic to a sanitary one is not due to changes of that point in time, but to earlier changes which precipitated both migratory action and delayed economic consequences. In summary one must conclude that the reasons for the towns and cities becoming so much more sanitary than the countryside are primarily economic, but inextricably linked with a social trend. Migration brought the need, philanthropy provided the solution, and industry reconciled the two. ...read more.

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