Stories tagged industrialization

Sep
12
2007

The family farm is home to fewer and fewer families: Photo by chefranden at Flickr.com
The family farm is home to fewer and fewer families: Photo by chefranden at Flickr.com

Almost lost in a lengthy report by the International Labor Organization was this astonishing tidbit: for the first time ever in the history of civilization, agriculture is not the world's dominant industry.

Farming developed about 10,000 years ago, as early hunter-gatherer societies discovered ways to grow crops and ensure a steady food supply. This allowed societies to support larger populations, and before you know it, you've got civilizations popping up all over the place. Surplus food allows civilizations to support new classes of workers not directly involved in food production: rulers, priests, artists, soldiers, chartered accountants, bicycle repairmen, telephone sanitizers.

But they were always in the minority, until now. The explosive growth of the service sector in recent years has catapulted it to first place, ahead of agriculture and manufacturing.

This may seem like old news to Americans. According to various websites I have not read thoroughly, about 75% of Americans were farmers in 1800. That percentage had dropped to 40% by 1900; was down to 15% in 1950; and had sunk to a mere 2% or so by 2000. In much of the rest of the world, however, farming was still by far the #1 occupation.

No more. The rapid growth of cities worldwide in recent decades has tilted the balance. Farmers, while still vitally important, are no longer the majority or even a plurality.