Saturday, May 5, 2012

The impact of the washing machine on society and 23 lies

Often we see the Internet as the invention that revolutionized the way we live, work, and play. Of course, we probably haven’t quite yet seen the true impact of the Internet on society. But have there been inventions that we take for granted today that have had the same or greater impact on society,

Ha-Joon Chang’s in his "23 lies" compares the economic consequences of the Internet versus those of the washing machine. He relates that the washing machine, which is taken for granted today, hat a big impact on today's society. It reduced the effort to wash clothes by a factor of 6.

It is often said that the sociological consequences of the washing machine were enormous: instead of spending the day in a washroom, married women were able to go out and work. This meant they were able to educate themselves and improve their chances to get a job and have a career. As a consequence, there were fewer children and more divorces. It changed the traditional family structure.

And according to a new Université de Montréal study the advent of modern appliances such as washing machines and refrigerators had a profound impact on 20th century society.

Professor Cardia of the Université de Montréal based her research on more than 3,000 censuses conducted between 1940 and 1950, from thousands of American households, across urban and rural areas. Cardia explains how by calculating the time it took women to load their stove with coal saved 30 minutes everyday with an electric stove.

The result is that women flooded the workforce. In 1900, five percent of married women had jobs. In 1980, that number jumped to 51 percent. In 1913, the vacuum cleaner became available, in 1916 it was the washing machine, in 1918 it was the refrigerator, in 1947 the freezer, and in 1973 the microwave was on the market. All of these technologies had an impact on home life, but none had a stronger impact than running water.

“We often forget that running water is a century-old innovation in North America, and it is even more recent in Europe. Of all innovations, it’s the one with the most important impact,” says Cardia. In 1890, 25 percent of American households had running water and eight percent had electricity. In 1950, 83 percent had running water and 94% had electricity. According to Cardia, in 1900, a woman spent 58 hours per week on household chores. In 1975, it was 18 hours.


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