Industrialization, Globalization and Urbanization in Modern Societies

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This paper will review the ways in which industrialization and globalization have affected the process of urbanization in modern society.  In the paper’s brief sections, industrialization and globalization will first be defined. Then the focus will shift to the effect of industrialization and globalization on urbanization.  The final section will compare and contrast these effects in modern societies.

Industrialization can be defined as a process of social and economic transformation that began in the middle of the 18th century.  This process led to possibly the greatest social and economic shift in human history.  As a result of industrialization, most people moved from a mainly agrarian economy centered around food production to an urban-centered economy centered around the production of goods and services.  According to UN data, during the early industrial era in 1800, only 2% of the world’s population lived in cities. By 2000 this urbanization rate had reached 47% (“Urban Millennium”).  Of course, these numbers disguise a high degree of variance.  Some regions such as North America and Western Europe have urbanization rates that exceed 75%.  Other areas, such as countries in sub-Saharan Africa have urbanization rates below 30%.  

 Although industrialization is associated with rising living standards, one shouldn’t overlook the influence of labor unions and social welfare programs as factors in distributing the vast new wealth amongst larger sections of society.  In fact, just this distribution of wealth appears to be the driving force behind the process to be examined next: globalization.

Globalization can be defined as the growth and spread of foreign investment, trade, and production from a local to a global sphere or context. It can also be used to describe the introduction of new technology and the diffusion of representative democracy around the globe (Schaeffer 2). Globalization can be seen in companies such as Microsoft. A major effect of globalization is the offshoring of jobs to labor markets with low wages and lax regulations.  China and India have been the main beneficiaries of the process of globalization because they have very large pools of low-wage labor. As such many critics argue that globalization lowers living standards for workers everywhere.  It also creates a particular handicap for workers in industrialized countries in that they now have to compete with workers who can be employed for literally pennies per hour.  

Indeed China produces most of the toys sold in the US and according to some reports, child labor was used in Chinese toy factories during the 1990s (Razz 2). This has an impact on China - U.S. relations. Another report found a Burmese clothing factory that made clothes for Disney where workers earned only six cents per hour and worked 60 hours per week.  The Burmese government owned a 45% stake in the factory (Ross 77). 

As noted above industrialization led to an enormous shift in labor from a mainly agrarian economy, with little urbanization, to a mainly urban economy, which is predominantly urban.  A similar transformation is underway in the world’s ‘emerging markets’ led by China and India. As was the case in the early industrial era in England, the rapid shift from a rural to an urban society has placed great stresses on infrastructures not prepared to accept such a transformation.  

In sum, when comparing these two processes one difference is notable.  The early industrial era saw economic shifts that were mainly local in character.  England is thought to be the world’s first industrialized nation and the shift that first occurred there was made possible by technological advances and innovations that were unheard of in other parts of the world. Globalization, which has been underway since the late 20th century, involves a shift in production from established industrialized countries to countries that are still developing or have under-developed economies. Whereas industrialization ultimately led to rising living standards for a far greater proportion of the population than ever before, globalization is leading to a degrading of such living standards.  There appears to be a race to the bottom in economic terms that is unfamiliar to most residents native to industrialized countries.  

Works Cited

Razz, Elizabeth. “Did Child Labor Make That Toy?” Kiplinger’s Personal Finance, vol. 50, no. 12, 1996. Print.

Ross, Andrew. “Introduction.” No Sweat: From War Zone to Free Trade Zone. Ed. Andrew Ross. New York, NY: Verso, 1997. Print.

Schaeffer, Robert K. Understanding Globalization. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2003. Print.

“Urban millennium: Special session of the General Assembly for an overall review and appraisal of the implementation of the habitat agenda.” June 2001. Web. May 2013. <>.