The family is a largely unexplored aspect of history. It is, however, fair to assume that the rapid rise in Glasgow's population, industrialisation and urbanisation from the 1770s to the 1830s had a major impact on family life. The elite of Glasgow's merchants, enriched by foreign trade, led an aristocratic family life often divided between town and country. They strengthened their economic and social position by inter-marriage. Despite this, one commentator remarked: "...the ladies of these days did not think it beneath them to ply the needle, nurture their own children, to make their own markets or to superintend the cooking of their husbands' dinners."
More typical than the colonial merchants were the smaller merchants, manufacturers and tradesmen. Indeed there were also businesswomen; for example, a number of leading publicans were female. These families lived in tenement-style accommodation near their workplace. Population growth began to change this picture.
Family change was also experienced by those migrating from rural areas. Factories employed large numbers of women and children for long hours. Although initially family units tended to be employed, they inevitably became fragmented. Recent studies have suggested that these families were, in real terms, less well off over this period. This was in part the result of the large pool of available labour and patterns of unemployment. Many families were pushed into poverty. Poverty was exacerbated by the easy availability of alcohol and the custom of paying workers in public houses. The domestic misery can only be imagined as can the psychological effects on the family.
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