Social injustice occurs whenever people are treated unfairly. Its effects can last a lifetime. It limits people’s access to opportunities and can force them into poverty and even illness.
Levy and Sidel (2006, p. 6) provide a good scholarly definition:
“[Social injustice is] the denial or violation of economic, sociocultural, political, civil, or human rights of specific populations or groups in the society based on the perception of their inferiority by those with more power or influence.” (Levy & Sidel, 2006, p. 6)
Injustices in society can manifest in many different areas of social life, including in the workplace, the education system, and the criminal justice system.
Examples of social injustice include employment discrimination, educational inequality, and police brutality. The people who are most susceptible to it are minorities and oppressed social groups, including people already suffering from poverty and ethnic minorities.
Social Injustice Examples
1. The Glass Ceiling
Real Life Fact: Of the 45 presidents of the United States, zero were women.
The term “glass ceiling” was first coined in the early 1980s and refers to the invisible barrier that prevents women from being promoted to senior leadership positions.
While women have made great strides in recent decades, they still face significant obstacles when it comes to career advancement. The higher women get in organizations, the more likely they are to face unofficial ‘boys clubs’ such as social golfing groups where a lot of business deals are done.
As a result of the social injustices in hiring practices, women make up just 19% of executive positions and 6% of S&P 500 CEO positions.
See more: The Glass Ceiling in Sociology
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2. The Gender Pay Gap
Real Life Fact: Women earn 83 cents for every dollar men earn.
The gender pay gap is a complex problem in today’s workforce. Women generally perform well compared to men in white-collar jobs up until their late 20s. However, in their late 20s, women looking for work experience discrimination because the employer expects that they will take time off to have a child soon.
Furthermore, because many women are out of work to have children, their career progression is delayed. As a result, by their mid-to-late 30s, men start earning more than women. This has a compounding effect, and women tend to have significantly less money saved up than men by the time they retire.
On top of this, feminized industries like childcare, healthcare, and education tend to earn less than other industries.
Ways to fix this include initiating government-funded maternity and paternity leave, gender quotas in workforces, and paying feminized industries fair wages.
3. Systemic Discrimination
Real Life Fact: Seven in ten black men have experienced police mistreatment.
Systemic discrimination occurs when entire social systems and bureaucracies are biased against certain groups of people.
This can take many forms, but some common examples include historically segregated housing and education following policies like racial steering and redlining, unconscious bias in the judiciary, and reluctance for police leadership to discipline their officers for acts of prejudice.
As a result, marginalized groups often suffer from a wide range of socio-economic disadvantages, which can be passed down from one generation to the next.
Real Life Fact: 64 percent of older workers say they have seen age discrimination in the workplace.
Ageism can be defined as prejudice or discrimination against a person or group of people based on their age. Ageism can manifest in the form of stereotypes, negative attitudes, or discriminatory behavior.
It can be directed at people of all ages, but is often most prevalent towards older adults.
Examples of ageism include mandatory retirement, age-based hiring and promotion practices, and jokes or negative comments about someone’s age. Young people may be discriminated against because they’re perceived as naive and old people face discrimination because they’re seen as slowing down and becoming less productive.
Additionally, ageism is often used as a justification for abuse, both physical and verbal. If left unchecked, ageism can have a profound impact on individuals and society as a whole.
Real Life Fact: 23% of LGBT people in the UK have witnessed discriminatory remarks made by healthcare workers.
Homophobia is the fear, hatred, or dislike of homosexual people. It can also refer to a belief that homosexual activity is morally wrong.
Homophobia is often based on negative stereotypes about gay, lesbian, and bisexual people. These can include the belief that LGBT people are promiscuous, untrustworthy around children, or dangerous.
It can manifest itself in many ways. For example, someone might make derogatory comments about LGBT people or refuse to associate with them. In extreme cases, it can lead to violence.
6. Racism and Xenophobia
Real Life Fact: While blacks and whites use drugs at a similar rate, blacks are 6 times more likely to be arrested for it.
Racism is the belief that one race is superior to another, and that certain racial groups are innately predisposed to certain traits or behaviors.
Xenophobia, on the other hand, is the fear or hatred of foreigners or outsiders.
Both racism and xenophobia can lead to discrimination and violence against those who are perceived to be different. Racism often manifests as an institutionalized form of discrimination known as institutional racism, whereby people of certain races are systematically disadvantaged in areas like education, employment, and housing.
Xenophobia, meanwhile, can manifest as an individual fear or hatred of foreigners, which can lead to prejudice and bigotry. In extreme cases, it can even lead to violence. Racism and xenophobia are both serious problems that need to be addressed.
Real Life Fact: The USA is ranked as a flawed democracy due to gerrymandering, below most other western nations.
Gerrymandering is the practice of manipulating the boundaries of an electoral district in order to favor one party or group over another.
The term is named after Elbridge Gerry, who as governor of Massachusetts signed a bill into law in 1812 that created an oddly shaped electoral district in an attempt to benefit his party. Gerrymandering can be used to create “safe” districts for incumbents or to dilute the votes of particular groups, such as racial minorities or political opponents.
In recent years, gerrymandering has become increasingly sophisticated, thanks in part to advances in computer mapping. As a result, it has become easier for politicians to draw districts that give their party an unfair advantage in elections.
It is an example of social injustice because it is undemocratic and ant-competitive. There have been several lawsuits filed in an attempt to overturn gerrymandered districts in the USA. However, so far the Supreme Court has been unwilling to strike down these districts on constitutional grounds.
8. Climate Change
Real Life Fact: 216 million people could be displaced by climate change by 2050.
Some of the observed effects of climate change include expanding deserts, melting glaciers and ice sheets, dying trees, and larger numbers of extreme weather events such as floods, hurricanes and winter storms.
Scientists are confident that human activity is the main cause of climate change, as the burning of fossil fuels releases CO2 and other greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.
Climate change is an issue of environmental justice because it disproportionately impacts people in low-lying islands or extreme climate locations. In the 21st Century, it will cause a great deal of climate change refugees.
It will also burden future generations unfairly, simply so we can get cheap energy today.
See Also: Environmental Injustice Examples
9. Girls’ Education
Real Life Fact: In the developing world, millions of girls are denied an education due to gender discrimination.
In many parts of the world, girls are simply not able to attend school due to cultural stigma. If a family cannot afford to send all of their children to school, they will often choose to send the boy because he will be more likely to get a highly-paid job in a patriarchal society.
Even when girls are able to attend school, they may face discrimination and exclusion. In some cultures, girls are not allowed to receive an education beyond a certain age, or they may be discouraged from pursuing certain subjects. Furthermore, some cultures will force girls to stay at home when they have their period.
10. Child and Forced Marriage
Real Life Fact: There are over 15 million people forced to marry against their will around the world. 88% of the victims are women.
Child marriage is a violation of human rights. It exposes young girls to the risk of physical and sexual violence, limits their education and economic opportunities, and places them at a greater risk of health problems.
Girls who are married as children are also more likely to experience domestic violence and to be deprived of freedom in their adulthood.
In some cultures, child marriage is seen as a way to protect unmarried girls in violent societies. However, forced marriage puts girls at greater risk of harm in their own homes.
11. Religious Discrimination
Real Life Fact: Christians face government-sanctioned discrimination in 168 countries. Muslims face government-sanctioned discrimination in 121 countries.
Religious discrimination is treating a person or group differently because of their beliefs. This can include refusing to hire them because of their religion, or forcing them to follow certain religious practices.
It can also involve treating someone differently because they do not have any religious beliefs.
Unfortunately, prejudice, unjust stereotyping, and ethnocentrism mean that religious discrimination remains a pervasive issue in today’s world.
Real Life Fact: Children from poor families in the USA perform 10% lower, on average, in tests scores, and face more mental health issues in childhood.
Poverty is a state of being unable to afford the basic necessities of life, including food, shelter, clothing, and healthcare.
According to the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), over 1.3 billion people worldwide live in poverty, making it one of the most pressing global issues of our time.
There are many causes of poverty, ranging from economic factors such as unemployment or low incomes, to political factors such as conflict or corruption.
Poverty deprives people of their fundamental rights and dignity as human beings. Poverty forces people to live in dangerous and unhealthy conditions, without access to basic services or opportunities for personal development.
It also creates a vicious cycle of deprivation that can be very difficult to break out of.
In order to end poverty, social policies need to be put in place that tackle poverty while not suppressing economic growth. This means creating more well-paid jobs and providing adequate social safety nets for those who cannot work. It also means tackling corruption and promoting good governance so that everyone has a fair chance to prosper.
13. Unequal Service Delivery
Real Life Fact: There are still 71 remote Indigenous communities in Canada without clean drinking water.
In the developed world, there remains unequal service delivery for marginalized people. This means that marginalized groups do not have equal opportunity in life.
The quintessential example of this is the water crisis in Flint, Michigan. The Flint water crisis began in April 2014 when the city switched its water supply from Lake Huron to the Flint River.
At this period, lead began leaching from the pipes and into the water. Despite repeated complaints from residents about the foul-smelling and discolored water, state officials denied that there was a problem. Even when tests showed elevated lead levels in children, officials insisted that the water was safe to drink. It wasn’t until December 2015 that the state finally admitted there was a problem and took steps to correct it. The damage had been done, however, and thousands of people had been exposed to lead-contaminated water.
Similarly, in Canada, there are still 71 indigenous communities who have to boil their water because they do not have access to safe drinking water.
14. Slavery and Human Trafficking
Real Life Fact: There are over 20 million victims of human trafficking worldwide today.
Though it may seem like something that only happens in history books or movies, human trafficking is still a very real problem in the 21st century.
Every year, millions of people are trafficked for the purpose of forced labor or sexual exploitation.
This hidden form of slavery occurs all over the world, including in developed countries like the United States, which has close to 11,000 cases of human trafficking per year.
Victims of human trafficking often come from disadvantaged backgrounds or lack legal status in their country of residence, making them especially vulnerable to exploitation.
While there are many laws and international conventions designed to combat human trafficking, the problem persists, largely due to corruption, poverty, and lack of awareness.
Real Life Fact: Stereotypical thinking can lead to employment, police, and healthcare discrimination.
Stereotyping is a cognitive shortcut that allows us to quickly process information about other people. When we encounter someone new, we often rely on stereotypes to make judgments about them.
This can lead to prejudice and discrimination, as we tend to treat people who belong to groups that we have negative stereotypes about in a negative way.
An example of a stereotype is the belief that all immigrants are criminals. This stereotype is often used to justify discriminatory policies, such as the Muslim Ban in the United States. Another example is the stereotype that women are not as competent as men in math and science. This can lead to women being underrepresented in these fields and experiencing discrimination in the workplace.
16. Forced Child Labor
Real Life Fact: There are 160 million victims of forced labor in the world today.
Every year, millions of children in the developing world are forced to work in dangerous and unhealthy conditions, often for little or no pay.
This exploitation robs children of their childhood, depriving them of an education and a chance to grow and develop into productive adults.
Forced child labor also creates a coercive and exploitative power dynamic that can last a lifetime. Victims of forced child labor are often trapped in a cycle of poverty and insecurity, making them more vulnerable to further exploitation.
17. Disability Discrimination
Real Life Fact: People with disabilities are more likely to face violence in their lives than people without disabilities. They are also less likely to be able to get the police to intervene.
Disability discrimination occurs when an individual is treated less favorably than others because of their disability.
It can also arise when people with disabilities are subjected to unequal terms or conditions in employment or housing, or when they are denied access to public services such as transportation or government buildings.
In today’s world, we are increasingly making efforts to ensure people with disabilities can be equal participants in society. However, there is always work to be done to continue to ensure disabled people have equal opportunities to succeed and participate in the public sphere.
18. Rural Health Access
Real Life Fact: Rural people find it harder to access healthcare. While about 25% of people live in rural areas of the USA, only 10% of physicians practice in rural areas.
One of the most significant obstacles to rural people is the lack of healthcare facilities near their homes. This means that residents have to travel long distances to receive healthcare, which can be prohibitively expensive and time-consuming.
Often, it is hard to get doctors to move to rural areas, exacerbating the shortage of healthcare providers.
Another factor that contributes to the healthcare disparities between rural and urban areas is the socioeconomic status of residents. Rural residents are more likely to be poor and lack health insurance, which makes it difficult for them to afford quality care.
19. The Digital Divide
Real Life Fact: Only 39% of people in Africa have access to the internet, compared to 94% of people in the United States.
The digital divide refers to the disparity between those who have access to the internet and modern technology, and those who do not (see also: pros and cons of the internet).
This divide can be seen in both developed and developing countries, and it often falls along economic lines.
In developed countries, the digital divide typically refers to the gap between those who can afford high-speed internet access and those who cannot.
In developing countries, the digital divide is often much more extreme, with large portions of the population having no access to electricity, let alone the internet.
The consequences of the digital divide can be severe.
Those without access to modern technology are at a disadvantage when it comes to education, employment, and even social interactions. The digital divide has been identified as a major contributor to poverty and inequality worldwide, and efforts are being made to close the gap.
20. Free Speech Prisoners
Real Life Fact: Alexei Navalny was imprisoned for 13 years in Russia for being a vocal critic of Vladamir Putin.
In some societies, free speech is not a taken-for-granted right. People who speak out against the powers-that-be can be imprisoned or harmed extrajudicially.
This is particularly a concern for journalists.
In some countries, journalists may face persecution simply for doing their jobs. This is often done in an effort to silence dissent and prevent the free flow of information.
In recent years, there have been many cases of journalists being killed simply because of their profession. One prominent example is Jamal Khashoggi who was murdered by the Saudi government for publishing articles critical of their regime.
Real Life Fact: Indigenous people account for 5% of the global population but make up 15% of the world’s people in extreme poverty.
The lasting effects of colonization are felt to this day in many parts of the world.
The most obvious effect is the physical presence of colonial powers in former colonies. This can be seen in the form of military bases, infrastructure, and natural resources that were extracted during the period of colonialism.
However, the legacy of colonialism goes beyond physical evidence.
Colonization also had a profound impact on the cultures and societies of colonized peoples. In some cases, this resulted in the suppression or outright eradication of indigenous cultures which as left them disempowered and impoverished today.
There are many examples of social injustice that exist in the world today. From healthcare disparities to the digital divide, these injustices perpetuate poverty and prevent us from reaching a socially just society. Free speech prisoners and indigenous peoples are particularly vulnerable to oppression.
While the problem of social injustice may seem insurmountable, there are many people and organizations working to address these issues. With awareness and action, it is possible to achieve a more just and equitable world for all.
Levy, B. S., & Sidel, V. W. (Eds.). (2013). Social injustice and public health. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
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. [Image Descriptor: Photo of Chris]