The Industrial Revolution slowly changed the old social order in the Western world. For centuries, the two main classes were nobles and peasants. While middle-class merchants, artisans, and lawyers played important roles, they still had a secondary position in society. With the spread of industry, a more complex social structure emerged.
Until the late 1800s, the only education available for British students was at either religious schools or “ragged schools,” which were schools for poor children. The Education Act of 1902 established a system of public grammar schools.
By the late 1800s, a new upper class emerged in western Europe. It came to include not only the old nobility but also wealthy families who had acquired their riches from business and industry. Rich entrepreneurs married into aristocratic families, gaining the status of noble titles. Nobles needed the money brought by the industrial rich to support their lands and lifestyle. By tradition, the upper class held the tops jobs in government and the military.
Below this tiny elite, a growing middle class was pushing its way up the social ladder. At its highest rungs were the upper middle class, made up of mid-level business people and professionals such as doctors and scientists. With comfortable incomes, they enjoyed a wide range of material goods. Next came the lower middle class, which included teachers, office workers, shop owners, and clerks. On much smaller incomes, they struggled to keep up with their “betters.”
Industrial workers and rural peasants were at the base of the social ladder. The size of this working class varied across Europe. In highly industrialized Britain, workers made up more than 30 percent of the population in 1900.