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Structural inequality

What is structural inequality?

Structural inequality describes disparities in resources, wealth, education, housing, and/or physical resources or opportunities. They are a direct result of discriminatory practices of institutions. These institutions include legal, business, educational, government, and healthcare systems. Structural inequality is an embedded bias that advantages some groups at the disadvantage or expense of others.  

It can also be described as a system that produces conditions where one group of people have an unequal status in relation to other categories of people. This inequality is maintained by the institutions so that only some groups are at an advantage. 


What causes structural inequalities in society?  

Structural inequalities are formed due to power imbalances where one group has historically created rules and systems that either intentionally or unintentionally exclude others from accessing wealth and other resources. 

Structural inequality is encouraged and maintained in society due to the structure of institutions that continue to advantage those who already benefit from wealth, employment and social standing.  

Without a total restructuring of the current systems that exist in society, it will not be possible to eliminate structural inequality.  Particularly given that those who maintain an advantageous powerful position are unlikely to give up their societal power. 


What are some examples of structural inequality? 

1. Healthcare 

In the United States, a concerning statistic is that Black women are five times more likely to die during childbirth compared to other women of different racial backgrounds. The reason for this can be explained by structural inequality and a long history of slavery. During the period of slavery in the U.S., Black people were treated as less than human and it was believed they could not feel pain. This myth has seeped into the medical and healthcare practice and Black women are not taken as seriously when they express the pain they experience.  


2. Gender

In almost 40% of world economies, women are not allowed to own property and this puts them at a greater risk of extreme poverty compared to men. Women are also 47% more likely to suffer from a severe injury during a car crash because safety features in vehicles were designed for men.  


3. Race

One example of structural inequality related to race and housing is that people in minority communities are often not granted mortgages for homes located in their neighbourhoods. This practice which was made illegal by the 1968 Fair Housing Act, created a society of racial segregation and prevented Black communities from building generational wealth. In terms of employment, a study In the U.K. found that 8.8% of ethnic minorities were employed as managers, directors, and senior officials compared to 10.7% of white people. This was particularly the case for people of African, Caribbean, and Mixed ethnic backgrounds. 



Structural inequality is a system that can be tackled so that people from all underrepresented backgrounds can reach their full potential without any barriers. Every individual offers something valuable and has a unique perspective. A person’s gender identity, sexuality, race, educational background, disability, or religion should never get in the way of them achieving their goals and having full access to opportunities. 

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