The Emergence of the Middle Class in the 19th and Early 20th Centuries: A Q&A

The Emergence of the Middle Class in the 19th and Early 20th Centuries: A Q&A


This text delves into the emergence of the middle class, especially the lower-middle-class, during the 19th and early 20th centuries. It reviews the changes and innovations that resulted in social, economic, and health advantages for those who rose to this status, as well as the challenges that working-class people faced during this period.

Table of Contents

  • The Morozov Family: An Example of Upward Mobility in the Industrial Sector
  • Les Rougon-Macquart Novels: The Effect of Hereditary Weakness on the Bourgeoisie Family
  • The Certified Teacher System: An Addition to the Lower Middle-Class
  • The Expanding Retail Industry: Generating Competition Among Small Business Owners
  • The Emergence of the Department Store Model
  • The Growth of Small Businesses and Workshops
  • The Establishment of Clubs and Societies by the Petty Bourgeoisie
  • The Working Classes and Income Inequalities
  • Health and Nutrition Disparities in the Working Classes
  • Women’s Employment and Hazardous Work


Q: What was the typical make-up of the lower-middle-class during this period?
A: The lower-middle-class was comprised of traditional artisans, subsistence farmers, and small retailers. The emergence of the “certified teacher” system created a new addition to the lower-middle-class, while the expanding retail industry generated significant competition among small business owners.

Q: What was the significance of the department store model?
A: The department store model was an innovation that led to aggressive marketing, heavy discounting, and the elimination of middlemen. The department store became a “cathedral of consumerism”, where shopping became a leisure activity and specially trained staff acquired secure employment. However, small shops and retailers continued to grow in numbers to meet the increasing demand, comprising 85% of the sector’s turnover.

Q: How did the petty bourgeoisie protect their interests during this period?
A: To protect their interests and create a social life, the petty bourgeoisie established clubs and societies, which acted to defend economic interests.

Q: What were some of the challenges faced by the working classes during this period?
A: The working classes grew to become the largest single social class, with income inequalities and disparities in health and nutrition. Life expectancy was shorter in deprived working-class boroughs, and death rates were higher in industrial towns where working classes lived in poorly ventilated living conditions. Cholera and tuberculosis had higher mortality rates among the poor, and food hygiene standards were minimal. The poor had to do without domestic refrigeration, and food often went bad in the summer months and had been sold as leftovers even for the good meals. The bulk of their diet was derived from starchy foods like bread, potatoes, and polenta.

Q: What was the modern sewing machine and how was it used during this period?
A: The modern sewing machine was invented and developed commercially, but mothers with small children still had to work from home. Women in Spain made up the bulk of workers in the Seville tobacco factory, and tobacco workers were famous for their combativeness.


The emergence of the middle class during the 19th and early 20th centuries brought significant changes to society, generating both advantages and challenges. Those who rose to middle-class status benefited from innovations such as the department store model and secure employment opportunities, while working class people faced health and income disparities, as well as challenges in unstable and hazardous work. Overall, the evolution of society during this period resulted in new opportunities and challenges for individuals across social classes.

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