Social privilege is a term that refers to the benefits that are extended to certain groups of people based on their social status.
Common examples of social privilege include the ability to obtain a well-paying job, access to quality education, and freedom from discrimination.
While social privilege can confer significant advantages, it can also create systemic inequalities within society. For instance, individuals who come from privileged backgrounds may be more likely to succeed in life, while those who lack social privilege may find it harder to get ahead.
As such, social privilege can perpetuate a cycle of inequality that is passed down from generation to generation.
1. White Privilege
White privilege is a term for the societal privileges that benefit white people beyond those commonly experienced by non-white people under the same social, political, or economic circumstances.
It is typically viewed as an invisible advantage that white people possess over non-white people, resulting in greater opportunities and improved outcomes in life.
An example of white privilege is being able to walk down the street without being seen as suspicious by police. This is a privilege of white people that many other races – especially African Americans – often lack.
Similarly, white people are seen as ‘natural’ in boardrooms of major companies. By contrast, a non-white person in the boardroom would be seen as an outlier and their race comes across as highly conspicuous, which may impact how people interact with them.
Patriarchy is a social system in which men hold primary power and predominate in roles of political leadership, moral authority, and control of property.
In patriarchal societies, men are privileged over women in a number of ways. They may have greater access to resources, educational opportunities, and employment options. They may also enjoy higher social status, more power within the family, and greater freedom to move about within the community.
Patriarchy often results in women being confined to the domestic sphere, while men take on public roles. This can lead to women being economically dependent on men and having less control over their own lives.
Patriarchy also places strict limits on women’s behavior, dictating what they can wear, how they should behave, and who they can interact with. These restrictions work to keep women in a subordinate position within society.
Examples of how patriarchy influences society include the wage gap (where men generally earn more than women), the glass ceiling (where women struggle to get promotions), and mansplaining (where men think they can speak condescendingly to women).
Wealth is often thought of in terms of money, but it can also refer to assets such as property or stocks and shares.
Wealth gives people privilege because it can provide them with a cushion against financial hardship, and it can also give them influence and power.
For example, wealthy individuals may be able to buy political influence, or they may be able to access better education and healthcare. In addition, wealth can give people the freedom to pursue their own interests and ambitions.
They may not have to work long hours in low-paid jobs, for example, or worry about how they will pay their bills.
As a result, wealth can have a significant impact on people’s lives, giving them opportunities and advantages that others do not have.
4. Social Capital
Social capital refers to the networks of relationships that people have with each other.
If you have high social capital, you have a lot of relationships you can call upon. If you have low social capital, you may be a bit of a loner or a recent immigrant.
People who have strong social networks are more likely to have access to resources and opportunities that can help them succeed in life. For example, if you have strong social contacts, then you can get into exclusive job interviews and networking spaces.
You can gain social capital through attending church, sporting clubs, educational institutions, volunteering, and internships.
5. Cultural Capital
Cultural capital refers to the skills, knowledge, and experiences that are valued by a particular culture.
Things like an elite education, art, and a refined accent are often seen as examples of cultural capital.
People who have cultural capital have an advantage in society because they are able to participate in and understand activities that are considered valuable. This gives them a leg up in many areas of life, including education, employment, and social interactions.
Generally, people born and raised in a culture have been immersed in the culture so have embedded cultural capital (they know the cultural taboos, accents, etc.). By contrast, people who are migrants often find it hard to understand a culture and need to develop cultural capital from the bottom.
Nepotism is the practice of favoring relatives or friends, especially by giving them jobs. When people in power practice nepotism it privileges family and friends while excluding outsiders.
For example, if a company owner only hires his friends and family members, rather than the most qualified candidates, this would be an example of nepotism. Nepotism can lead to cronyism, which is when a person gives favors to people they know in return for favors in the future. This often descends into corruption.
Nepotism can create an exclusive circle of people who are chosen based on personal connections rather than merit.
Inheritance is the passing down of property, title, or rank from one generation to the next.
In many societies, inheritance provides a key source of social stability and continuity. But it also gives rise to privilege, as those who inherit wealth or power often have an advantage over those who do not.
For example, a person who inherits money obtains privilege because they can use that money to buy things that most people cannot afford. This includes things like property, education, and healthcare.
Inherited privilege often means that people from wealthy families have an easier time getting ahead in life, while those from less fortunate backgrounds may struggle to catch up.
8. Educational Privilege
Elite education has long been seen as a path to success. Graduates of top schools often go on to have successful careers in business, law, medicine, and other fields.
They also tend to earn higher salaries than their counterparts who did not attend elite schools.
In addition, graduates of elite schools are more likely to have opportunities to network with other successful people. As a result, they are more likely to land good jobs and attain positions of power and influence.
Elite education thus gives its graduates a significant advantage in life.
9. Geographical Privilege
There is no denying that being born in the first world (such as in the United States) comes with a certain amount of privilege.
For starters, citizens of the United States are automatically granted a number of rights and protections that are not afforded to people in other countries. These include the right to a free education, freedom of religion, and freedom of speech.
In addition, wealthy nations have a long history of providing opportunities for people to rise up out of poverty and achieve success.
Consequently, it is important to acknowledge the privilege that comes with where you were born and remember to use our privilege to help those who are not as fortunate.
10. Religious Privilege
Religious minorities around the world face persecution from both state and non-state actors, while religious majorities have access to a range of privileges.
In some countries, religious minorities are targets of violence, either by private individuals or by state-sponsored groups. For example, Muslims in Myanmar have been systematically oppressed for decades.
By contrast, being of a religious majority can give you a range of privileges.
We need only to look at WASPs (white anglo saxon protestants) to see how protestantism in the United States has been a privilege for many. Their religion is not questioned when they run for political office and is even seen favorably by the large numbers of protestant voters.
11. Caste Privilege
A caste system is a way of stratifying a society in which people are born into specific social ranks and remain there for the rest of their lives.
Caste systems help to distribute privilege and disadvantage.
For example, people are generally only allowed to marry within their caste and get jobs that have been reserved for their caste group.
Caste systems are often found in countries with a history of colonialism, as they were used by the ruling class to maintain their power. In India, for example, the caste system was strong in the 19th Century, with people being born into specific castes based on their family’s occupation.
This can lead to discrimination and social disharmony, as people who are seen as being lower in the hierarchy are often treated as second-class citizens.
12. Political Privilege
A person with political privilege is well-connected with policy makers and can leverage these connections to get their way.
For example, wealthy people will often use their wealth (one form of privilege) to buy access to politicians. Here, they’re directly transferring their money privilege into political privilege.
Because bribery is against the law, these people will use legal means such as “donating” money to political parties or paying to have exclusive dinner parties with politicians.
They then use this privilege as leverage to encourage politicians to support certain causes and reject bills that may be harmful to their interests.
13. Technological Privilege (Digital Divide)
The digital divide is the gap between those who have access to technology and those who don’t.
This divide can exist between different socioeconomic groups, different geographic areas, or even different generations.
This can give those with access a significant advantage in terms of education, employment, and even socialization. Those who don’t have access to digital technologies are less able to access information, educate themselves, and stay up to date on current events.
Most countries are working to close the digital divide, but there is still much work to be done. The best way to close the divide is to provide access to everyone, regardless of background or income level.
14. Access to Clean Drinking Water
In Canada, there has been an ongoing problem with the disadvantages faced by Indigenous people living on traditional homelands. One central problem is the lack of access to clean water.
These people are disadvantaged because they must labor to access their water daily, taking up important time that others are spending on other productive tasks.
We can therefore say that people with access to clean drinking water have a certain form of privilege. Indeed, it’s a privilege to be able to simply go up to a tap and turn it on. In fact, over 780 million people in the world don’t have this basic privilege!
15. Privilege of Citizenship
There are many benefits that come with citizenship, such as the right to vote, the right to own property, and the right to work in the country.
Citizenship also allows people to travel freely within the country and to receive certain government benefits. In addition, citizenship gives people a sense of belonging and community.
It can also help people feel more connected to their culture and history.
By contrast, many migrants to a country lack the privileges that come with being a citizen. They may not be able to access government services and may be vulnerable to deportation.
The above examples of privilege are just the tip of the iceberg.
It’s important to be aware of the various types of privilege that exist in society. These privileges can give people an advantage in life, and can lead to discrimination against those who don’t have them.
We should all strive to create a more level playing field by ensuring that everyone has access to the same opportunities and resources. Only then can we create a truly just and equal society.
Dr. Chris Drew is the founder of the Helpful Professor. He holds a PhD in education and has published over 20 articles in scholarly journals. He is the former editor of the Journal of Learning Development in Higher Education.