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Social discrimination is a particular form of discrimination in which social behavior toward or against a person or group is based on social perceptions of their characteristics. It can be positive behavior directed towards a certain group as in affirmative action, or negative behavior directed against a certain group as in race and ethnic discrimination. The latter is the most common meaning, i.e. negative discrimination.

Social discrimination on grounds such as race or religion is generally illegal in most Western societies, while discriminating between people on the grounds of merit is usually lawful. The latter is more commonly referred to as "differentiating." When prejudicial discrimination takes place, it is usually described as discrimination toward or against a person or group of people, rather than discrimination between people or groups, which is simply the discernment of qualities and recognition of the differences. This article focuses on the prejudicial sense of discrimination. Areas of interest to psychologists include:

Direct vs. subtle

Unlawful discrimination can be characterized as direct or subtle. Direct discrimination involves treating someone less favorably because of their possession of an attribute (e.g., sex, age, race, religion, family status, national origin, military status, sexual orientation, disability, body size/shape), compared with someone without that attribute in the same circumstances. An example of direct discrimination would be not offering a job to a woman because she is likely to take maternity leave whereas a man is not. Indirect or subtle discrimination involves setting a condition or requirement which a smaller proportion of those with the attribute are able to comply with, without reasonable justification. The U.S. case of Griggs v. Duke Power Company[2] provides an example of indirect discrimination, where an aptitude test used in job applications was found "to disqualify Negroes at a substantially higher rate than white applicants".

Race discrimination

Template:Main:Race and ethnic discrimination

Racial discrimination differentiates between individuals on the basis of real and perceived racial differences, and has been official government policy in several countries, such as South Africa in the apartheid era, and the USA.

File:Segregation 1938b.jpg

An African-American child at a segregated drinking fountain on a courthouse lawn, North Carolina, 1938.

In the United States, racial profiling of minorities by law enforcement officials has been called racial discrimination.[1] As early as 1865, the Civil Rights Act provided a remedy for intentional race discrimination in employment by private employers and state and local public employers. The Civil Rights Act of 1871 applies to public employment or employment involving state action prohibiting deprivation of rights secured by the federal constitution or federal laws through action under color of law. Title VII is the principal federal statute with regard to employment discrimination prohibiting unlawful employment discrimination by public and private employers, labor organizations, training programs and employment agencies based on race or color, religion, gender, and national origin. Title VII also prohibits retaliation against any person for opposing any practice forbidden by statute, or for making a charge, testifying, assisting, or participating in a proceeding under the statute. The Civil Rights Act of 1991 expanded the damages available in Title VII cases and granted Title VII plaintiffs the right to a jury trial. Title VII also provides that race and color discrimination against every race and color is prohibited.

Age discrimination

Age discrimination is discrimination against a person or group on the grounds of age. Although theoretically the word can refer to the discrimination against any age group, age discrimination usually comes in one of three forms: discrimination against youth (also called adultism), discrimination against those 40 years old or older [3], and discrimination against elderly people.

In the United States, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act prohibits employment discrimination nationwide based on age with respect to employees 40 years of age or older. The Age Discrimination in Employment Act also addresses the difficulty older workers face in obtaining new employment after being displaced from their jobs, arbitrary age limits.

In many countries, companies more or less openly refuse to hire people above a certain age despite the increasing lifespans and average age of the population. The reasons for this range from vague feelings that younger people are more "dynamic" and create a positive image for the company, to more concrete concerns about regulations granting older employees higher salaries or other benefits without these expenses being fully justified by an older employees' greater experience.

Some people consider that teenagers and youth (around 15-25 years old) are victims of adultism, age discrimination framed as a paternalistic form of protection. In seeking social justice, they feel that it is necessary to remove the use of a false moral agenda in order to achieve agency and empowerment. This perspective is based on the grounds that youth should be treated more respectfully by adults and not as second-class citizens. Some suggest that social stratification in age groups causes outsiders to incorrectly stereotype and generalize the group, for instance that all adolescents are equally immature, violent or rebellious, listen to rock tunes, and do drugs. Some have organized groups against age discrimination.

Ageism is the causal effect of a continuum of fears related to age.[How to reference and link to summary or text] This continuum includes:

  • Pediaphobia: the fear of infants or small children.
  • Ephebiphobia: the fear of youth.
  • Gerontophobia: the fear of elderly people.

Related terms include:

  • Adultism: Also called adultarchy, adult privilege, and adultcentrism/adultocentrism, this is the wielding of authority over young people and the preference of adults before children and youth.
  • Jeunism: Also called "youthism" is the holding of beliefs or actions taken that preference 'younger' people before adults.

Gender discrimination

Main article: Sexism

Though gender discrimination and sexism refers to beliefs and attitudes in relation to the gender of a person, such beliefs and attitudes are of a social nature and do not, normally, carry any legal consequences. Sex discrimination, on the other hand, may have legal consequences. Though what constitutes sex discrimination varies between countries, the essence is that it is an adverse action taken by one person against another person that would not have occurred had the person been of another sex. Discrimination of that nature in certain enumerated circumstances is illegal in many countries.

Currently, discrimination based on sex is defined as adverse action against another person, that would not have occurred had the person been of another sex. This is considered a form of prejudice and is illegal in certain enumerated circumstances in most countries.

Sexual discrimination can arise in different contexts. For instance an employee may be discriminated against by being asked discriminatory questions during a job interview, or because an employer did not hire, promote or wrongfully terminated an employee based on his or her gender, or employers pay unequally based on gender. In an educational setting there could be claims that a student was excluded from an educational institution, program, opportunity, loan, student group, or scholarship due to his or her gender. In the housing setting there could be claims that a person was refused negotiations on seeking a house, contracting/leasing a house or getting a loan based on his or her gender. Another setting where there have been claims of gender discrimination is banking; for example if one is refused credit or is offered unequal loan terms based on one’s gender.[How to reference and link to summary or text]

Another setting where there is usually gender discrimination is when one is refused to extend his or her credit, refused approval of credit/loan process, and if there is a burden of unequal loan terms based on one’s gender.

Socially, sexual differences have been used to justify different roles for men and women, in some cases giving rise to claims of primary and secondary roles.[How to reference and link to summary or text] While there are non-physical differences between men and women, there is little agreement as to what those differences are.[How to reference and link to summary or text]

Unfair discrimination usually follows the gender stereotyping held by a society.

The United Nations had concluded that women often experience a "glass ceiling" and that there are no societies in which women enjoy the same opportunities as men. The term "glass ceiling" is used to describe a perceived barrier to advancement in employment based on discrimination, especially sex discrimination. In the United States, the Glass Ceiling Commission, a government-funded group, stated: "Over half of all Master’s degrees are now awarded to women, yet 95% of senior-level managers, of the top Fortune 1000 industrial and 500 service companies are men. Of them, 97% are white." In its report, it recommended affirmative action, which is the consideration of an employee's gender and race in hiring and promotion decisions, as a means to end this form of discrimination.[2]

Transgendered individuals, both male to female and female to male, often experience problems which often lead to dismissals, underachievement, difficulty in finding a job, social isolation, and, occasionally, violent attacks against them.


Main article: Anti-discrimination law

Caste discrimination

According to UNICEF and Human Rights Watch, caste discrimination affects an estimated 250 million people worldwide.[3][4][5] That is one in every 25 people in the world.

Employment discrimination

Main article: Employment discrimination

The American federal laws that protect against:

Most other western nations have similar laws protecting these groups.

Language discrimination

Diversity of language is protected and respected by most nations who value cultural diversity. However, people are sometimes subjected to different treatment because their preferred language is associated with a particular group, class or category. Commonly, the preferred language is just another attribute of separate ethnic groups. Discrimination exists if there is prejudicial treatment against a person or a group of people who speak a particular language or dialect. Language discrimination is suggested to be labeled Linguacism or logocism.

Reverse discrimination and affirmative action

Main article: Reverse discrimination

Reverse discrimination is an elusive term that is used to describe policies or acts that benefit a historically economically disadvantaged group (e.g. women, blacks, Hispanics, the disabled, people over 40 years of age, etc). Most academic and expert opponents of preferential policies that favor historically-discriminated groups, such as Carl Cohen, would avoid the term "reverse discrimination" on the grounds that "discrimination is discrimination" and that the label "reverse" is a misnomer (a point that experts on both sides of the issue generally agree with). Groups such as the American Civil Rights Institute, run by Ward Connerly, have opted for the more legally precise terms "race preference", "gender preference," or "preferential treatment" generally, since these terms are contained and defined within existing civil rights law, such as the 1964 Civil Rights Act.

In this vein, Ward Connerly has promoted and won a series of ballot initiatives in the states of California (California Proposition 209 (1996)), Washington (1998 - I-200), and Michigan (the Michigan Civil Rights Initiative - MCRI, or Proposal 2, 2006). California's initiative was co-authored by academics Tom Wood and Glynn Custred in the mid-1990s and was taken up by Connerly after he was appointed in 1994 by Governor Pete Wilson to the University of California Board of Regents. Each of the ballot initiatives have won, and Connerly plans what he calls a "Super-Tuesday" of five additional states in 2008. The language of these ballot initiatives all use the terms "preferential treatment" as their operative clauses.

Academics such as Cohen, who was a supporter of Michigan's Proposal 2, have argued that the term "affirmative action" should be defined differently than "race preference," and that while socio-economically based or anti-discrimination types of affirmative action should be permissible, those that give preference to individuals solely based on their race or gender should not be permitted. Cohen also helped find evidence in 1996 through the Freedom of Information Act that lead to the cases filed by Jennifer Gratz and Barbara Grutter against the University of Michigan for its undergraduate and law admissions policy - cases which were decided by the U.S. Supreme Court on June 23, 2003.

Bloggers and internet resources against preferential types of affirmative action include John Rosenberg's Discriminations, Tim Fay's, and Chetly Zarko's Power, Politics, & Money. and

Disability discrimination

Main article: Ableism

People with disabilities face discrimination in all levels of society. The attitude that disabled individuals are inferior to non-disabled individuals is called "ableism".

Disabled people may also face discrimination by employers. They may find problems with securing employment as their handicap can be seen as a risk to the company, and once in employment they may find they are overlooked for promotion opportunities. Similarly, if an employee becomes disabled while employed they may also find themselves being managed out the company by HR departments. Unsympathetic employers can make life very difficult for such employees and can often make their health problems worse. Disability discrimination laws mean that in theory the employee has a method of redress in such instances.



Social theories such as Egalitarianism claim that social equality should prevail. In some societies, including most developed countries, each individual's civil rights include the right to be free from government sponsored social discrimination.[6] Due to a belief in the capacity to perceive pain and/or suffering shared by all animals, 'abolitionist' or 'vegan' egalitarianism maintains that the interests of every individual (regardless its species), warrant equal consideration with the interests of humans, and that not doing so is "speciesist."[7]

Conservative and Anarcho-Capitalist

In contrast, conservative writer and law professor Matthias Storme has claimed that the freedom of discrimination in human societies is a fundamental human right, or more precisely, the basis of all fundamental freedoms and therefore the most fundamental freedom. Author Hans-Hermann Hoppe, in an essay[8] about his book Democracy: The God That Failed, asserts that a natural social order is characterized by increased discrimination.

Labeling theory

Discrimination, in labeling theory, takes form as mental categorisation of minorities and the use of stereotype. This theory describes difference as deviance from the norm, which results in internal devaluation and social stigma[9] that may be seen as discrimination. It is started by describing a 'natural' social order. It is distinguished between the fundamental principle of fascism and social democracy. Both the Nazis in 1930's-era Germany, the pre-1990 Apartheid government of South Africa and other countries in the present day used racial discriminatory agendas for their political means.

Social checks and balances

There are a number of avenues through which social discrimination can be combated:-

See also


  1. includeonly>Callahan, Gene, Anderson, William. "The Roots of Racial Profiling", Reason Online, Reason Foundation, 2001 August-September >?'. Retrieved on 2006-07-27.
  2. A Solid Investment: Making Full Use of the Nation's Human Capital. URL accessed on 2008-05-23.
  3. Discrimination, UNICEF
  4. Global Caste Discrimination
  5. Caste - The Facts
  6. Civil rights. URL accessed on 2006.bbb;
  7. Singer, Peter [1993] (1999). "Equality for Animals?" Practical Ethics, Second, 57–58, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. "If a being suffers, there can be no moral justification for refusing to take that suffering into consideration. … This is why the limit of sentience…is the only defensible boundary of concern for the interests of others. … Similarly those I would call 'speciesists' give greater weight to their own species when there is a clash between their interests and the interests of those of other species."
  8. [1]Hoppe, Hans-Hermann (2001). Democracy: The God That Failed. URL accessed on 2006.
  9. Slattery, M. (2002). Key Ideas in Sociology, Nelson Thornes.

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