Social Inequality – Concept, types, causes and consequences

We explain what social inequality is and the types that exist. In addition, the main causes and consequences of this social problem.

Social inequality
Social inequality is the source of discrimination.

What is social inequality?

Social inequality is understood to be a situation of disparity or disadvantage of some portion of the citizenship of a country, or between countries in a region, or between regions of the world, with respect to others that are unfairly favored. It is the opposite, logically, of social equality.

Social inequality is a problem in contemporary societies, a product of the uneven development of the various regions of the globe and the imposition of certain ideologies or valuations of some human beings over others. In fact, social inequality is the origin of discrimination, since the latter consists of treating in a different way those who are economically, socially or morally disadvantaged.

Viewed this way, social inequality implies an unequal distribution of opportunities, respect and access to goods and services, which is based on various cultural or social reasons. It is not, as many would have you believe, a natural or obvious feature of human existence, nor is it a form of “justice” or divine punishment.

Social inequality does not occur in the exact same way in all places and areas. In some societies it is an issue linked exclusively to socioeconomic class, while in other places it also involves considerations of race, religion, sexual orientation, etc.

Types of social inequality

Social inequality
Gender inequality can be, for example, discrimination against women.

The most obvious classification of social inequality has to do with the grounds for discrimination. Thus, we can speak of social inequality according to:

  • Economic possition. Probably the most common of the forms of social inequality, it is anchored in the economic capacity of the individual or the class to which he belongs, thus separating the world from the rich, the middle class and the poor, to the obvious detriment of those who belong to it. occupy the lower rungs. Those lower on the scale have less access to goods and services, political representation, symbolic and cultural visibility, as well as study and even adequate food. Depending on how far apart these social strata are, one can speak of caste societies, in which climbing to the upper rungs is practically impossible.
  • Religion. Religious struggles are as old as man, and in many modern societies they still constitute a factor of inequality between human groups, reserving power and opportunities to those who profess a certain faith, and condemning those of others, often referred to as “ infidels ”or“ heretics ”.
  • Gender. It is about discrimination based on biological sex (as in the case of women) or sexual orientation (as in the case of the LGBT community), which reserves the dominant and most favored positions for heterosexual men (especially if they are white ) and marginalizes those who do not register in a certain traditional order of sexual or erotic roles.
  • Ethnicity. Racial discrimination grants the superior position to certain races or ethnic groups, subjugating others to their will because they are considered “inferior” or “different”, and thus denying them access to goods or even fundamental rights, such as life. Some of the great massacres and genocides in history are based on this type of discrimination.
  • Ideology. In this case, it is about political discrimination, that is, the inequality of opportunities and goods between those who adhere to a political doctrine and those who do not, or those who oppose them. This is what happens in totalitarian governments or dictatorships, for example.

Causes of social inequality

Social inequality does not have a single cause, but is a consequence of the way our history as a species has passed. The French thinker Jean-Jacques Rousseau reflected on the origin of inequality among men and claimed that its origin was in the social state, that is, that man is not born in inequality, but acquires it when he begins to compare yourself with your peers and see the way they live.

The study of primitive societies has shown that they were much more egalitarian societies in the distribution of work and benefits, but somewhere in the Neolithic period a process of hierarchy and state-building began that implied the distribution of work and social division, something that would reach its peak with the invention of slavery and the exploitation of man by man.

Consequences of social inequality

Social inequality
Suffering from social inequality can lead to depression.

Social inequality has very concrete consequences and very contrary to the harmonious development of nations or humanity. The perpetuation of poverty, the entrenchment of resentment and the need for revolutions or violent conflicts are just some of them, since the discomfort of being stuck in immovable social strata often leads to depression or anger in oppressed communities.

Secondly, the oppressed never fully realize their potential, since the resources necessary for this are being used by others, which causes an incalculable loss of human potential. And poverty, far from being a simple evil, is the source of numerous extremely arduous difficulties to combat: the risk to health, the increase in crime, class hatred, the deterioration of politics, etc.