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Disparity Definition: A Problem in our Society

The problem of Disparity, affects a lot of people. It afflicts women in some societies, children in some countries, LGBTQ+, and minorities in other communities.

Disparity: Differences exist in all people and in all societies.  They are part of humanity’s existence, and differences between humans ranged from biological to historical. Differences also exist among societies and have been around ever since societies evolve from simple communities into complex ones. The more we progressed, the more our societies and communities look different.

Differences, however, need not result in unequal rights among members of the community. It need not result in unequal opportunities that should be made available to all members of society. When rights or opportunities that must be available to everyone, but for various reasons, are not, you have Disparity.

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What is Disparity?

Definition of Disparity

Etymologically speaking, “disparity” is usually synonymous with the word “difference.” Most dictionaries define it as a condition of having a noticeable difference between things or persons that are being compared with each other.  It can be about taste, preference, aesthetics.  Or it can be used when comparing products, models, objects. In this context, Disparity means simply difference.

The word ‘disparity” can also be used to describe the gap between expectation and reality, or the gap between what is expected and what eventually happened. Instead of comparing things, persons, or other animate objects, what are being compared in this context are events and expectations. Nevertheless, it still means simply: difference.

The Concept of Disparity in Social Sciences and Economics

In social sciences and economics, the word “disparity” is also used to denote differences. It is much more than that, however. The term gained currency to describe a situation or condition in which unequal opportunities, rights, benefits, incentives are afforded to some, but not to others. This due to their membership, or non-membership, to a particular class, gender, age group, or race.

To talk about “disparity”, in this context, is to talk about social inequality, a condition prevailing in most modern societies. To talk about Disparity is to talk about a social problem that is prevalent all over the globe. It afflicts all communities, from East to West, from the industrialized countries in North America and Western Europe, to the nations all over Asia, Africa, and Latin America.

It is a problem that needs to be discussed and talked about. A problem that needs to be tackled, for the problem of Disparity, affects a lot of people. It afflicts women in some societies, children in some countries, LGBTQ+, and minorities in other communities. It is a prevailing problem, brought about not only by historical circumstances but by the very progress of humanity itself.

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Why is Disparity a Problem?

The greatest problem about the Disparity in societies is deceptively simple: it gives opportunities, legal, political, economic rights, as well as benefits, to some but not to others. Being all human, all those mentioned that are available to others must be available to everyone. As we shall see, however, this is not the case.


Whether we are talking of advanced industrial societies or those of developing countries, policies that maintain and result in social disparities abound and are prevalent. It puts certain people, gender, minorities, and race at a disadvantage. The lack of opportunities for most of them usually results in poverty and alienation.


That people suffering from social inequality and are displaced because of certain legal, political, economic policies (or lack of it) is already bad. Worse, these things can lead to instability in society. Displaced people, those who are suffering as a result of social inequality and economic Disparity, may become unruly and turn to a life of crime and violence.

That there is a connection between social and economic Disparity on one hand and incidence of crime on the other, is already indicated by many sociological and economic studies. People naturally want to feed their families, send their children to school, provide medical needs for themselves and their families.

Lack of benefits and employment opportunities due to social and economic Disparity may lead people to seek other means of providing those necessities. A life of crime, or doing criminal activities, may attract other individuals, for other avenues for providing financial and material needs for their families may be closed to them.

Social Unrest

Other people or sectors victimized by various forms of Disparity may agitate for reform, equality political, legal, and economic rights, as well as protection from discrimination. In most cases these campaigns are peaceful and within the bounds of the law. Humanity has made great strides in advancing reforms and rights through various peaceful, political, and legal means.

There were some instances, however, where campaigning for reforms against Disparity may result in social unrest that may affect societies and communities at large. Since social and economic Disparity, more often than not, is maintained by the status quo, reforms are not that easily obtained. Failure to obtain reforms through peaceful means may agitate some, and be incited to violence.

These are the common problems usually associated with Disparity, both social and economic. They are by no means exhaustive. Other social and economic problems are experienced by almost all countries in the world due to Disparity, but some are more pronounced than others.

Types of Disparity

Various forms of Disparity are experienced by people worldwide. Some are more prevalent than others. Other forms of Disparity are absent in some communities, while in other communities, they are experienced by a large number of people. Some may overlap with others, for instance, those who suffered gender disparity may at the same time, experience economic Disparity as well.  

Here are the types of Disparity common and prevalent across most societies and communities.

Gender disparity

Gender disparity can be defined as the differences between men and women’s status, condition, and situation due to factors institutional, legal, political, cultural, that usually favors men in general. This is probably the most common of and the most widespread as far as the phenomenon of Disparity is concerned, for women simply make up half of the planet’s entire population.

Gender disparity across continents is varied, ranging from lack of certain rights for some women, such as those found in some Muslim countries. Strict social code is implemented in these societies, preventing women to wear what they wanted, their conduct is regulated by these codes, which usually favors the men more than women.

In the west and other advanced, affluent societies, the lack of opportunities for employment and career advancement, is the more common form of gender disparity. The concept of “glass ceiling” entered the English language as an idiom in the 1980s to describe the invisible barrier preventing women to reach positions of prominence.

Women suffer as a result of gender disparity, and it overlaps and causes other forms of inequality as well, such as wealth disparity and income disparity. An obstacle like the glass ceiling is a barrier to economic opportunities and advancement. It means lesser wages, income, and wealth for those who are experiencing gender disparity.

As a social phenomenon, gender disparity permeates all aspects of society: race and cultural minorities, family, and class. Ultimately, gender disparity does not only affect women but others as well such as members of LGBTQ+. Members of these communities are not only socially and economically dislocated, but also subjected to various forms of discrimination as well.

Wealth & Economic Disparity

Wealth/economic disparity refers to inequality in terms of opportunities, access to resources, as well as the total net worth and assets that individuals or certain groups possess. In simple terms, wealth disparity is the gap between the rich and the poor. It is the difference between the assets, properties, and capabilities of people to provide material benefits for themselves and their families.

You need money to access some vital resources. One who lacks money or wealth, therefore, will find himself barred from accessing specific resources. Wealth/economic disparity thus exacerbates other forms of Disparity prevalent in society. A discriminated member of a cultural or gender minority will have more difficulty accessing vital resources if he/she has no money.

Wealth/economic disparity also exacerbates other forms of Disparity, for those who have wealth usually exerts influence in society. The prevailing Disparity is reproduced in various social forms and pervades the body politic. It is for this reason that initial wealth/economic disparity hardens other forms of disparities, making it a prevailing social and historical condition.

Income & Wage Disparity

Income and wage disparity can be considered as an offshoot of other disparities such as gender disparity and race disparity. Access to employment opportunities was sometimes restricted to certain groups of people. Promotions are usually granted based on membership to a particular race, gender, or class. This results in a great disparity in wages or income.

Income/wage disparity, in turn, could eventually lead to other forms of Disparity and inequality, such as health and healthcare disparities. Low-income earners, in general, do not have access to vital resources and do not meet their daily necessities like food, clothes, and shelter. This can severely affect their health as well as that of their family.

Access to healthcare can also be restricted or severely limited because of income/wage disparity. Lack of money means lack or limited access to medicines, hospitals, and doctors. It must be noted, however, that this problem has been addressed in most advanced and affluent societies.

In the long run, income/wage disparity can widen the gap between higher wage earners and lower wage earners. Income/wage disparity, then, ultimately leads to wealth disparity among members of society. And wealth disparity, as noted above, can exacerbate already existing disparities, such as gender and racial Disparity.

Racial Disparity

Racial Disparity is a problem in some multiracial societies. In contrast to some countries or nations which are usually homogenous or composed of only one race, multiracial societies are societies that are characterized by racial and ethnic diversity. The United States of America is a prime example of a country that is racially diversified and has a pervasive problem of racial Disparity.

The racial Disparity results in various forms of social Disparity, for instance, the Disparity in education, in the justice system. Statistics have shown that members of a particular race, the blacks, accounted for a large number of prisoners across America. This is even though with regards to the general population they are fewer compared to whites.

Though in general, education is afforded to all people of all races, it has been found out by several studies that there are gaps between races as far as school readiness is concerned. In particular, blacks suffer from this phenomenon. This was due to the prevailing attitudes of most teachers, mostly white, regarding race, and regarding blacks in particular.

Social Disparity

Social Disparity refers to disparities in other aspects of society such as the justice system, education, academe, business institutions, as well as politics. More often than not, social disparities in those mentioned above are already the offshoot of other disparities, such as wealth disparity, gender disparity, or racial Disparity.

Examining social Disparity is a good indicator of how other disparities pervade the social system. By looking at the academe, for instance, one can see how society treats its women, or members of a particular racial group. By looking at the educational system, one can see who is being afforded quality education, and who is not.

We can measure and study other forms of Disparity by the way social Disparity is being practiced or institutionalized in a society or community. We can properly gauge and have an idea as to how powerful or weak a particular group, gender, or race in a society, and how those kinds of disparities pervade society.

Health Disparity

Just like social Disparity, health disparity is usually an after-effect of other forms of Disparity. The main factors, however, that widens the health disparity throughout the globe are wealth and income disparities. People who lack money and resources simply cannot avail food and other resources for themselves and their families. The result is a lack of equity in health

Problems of health disparity, resulting from income and wealth disparity are in turn exacerbated by other forms of Disparity, such as racial Disparity. Those who belong to racial groups and minorities that are marginalized are most of the time, never prioritized as far as benefits are concerned.

In developing countries, for instance, malnutrition and diseases are very prevalent among members of racial and cultural minorities. Victims and sufferers already of wealth and income disparities, their plight is made worse by lack of access to necessities such as food and water. This in turn, usually led to the outbreak of diseases among communities with racial minorities.

Healthcare Disparity

Healthcare disparity refers to the inequality experienced by individuals, racial groups, or members of a gender community in having access to insurance, whether public or private. It also refers to the differences in quality health care afforded to those who are suffering from various forms of social inequality and Disparity.

Again, wealth and income disparities played a large role in health care disparity. Low-wage earners usually cannot afford private insurance. In the U.S.A. there is an improvement as far as health care coverage among the poor for a couple of years, as far as health coverage is concerned. This, however, still pales in comparison to those afforded to the rich households, who can pay.

Healthcare disparity, just like social Disparity, is a good indicator of the pervasiveness of forms of Disparity. The same statistics show that most who can afford health insurance are those who belong to the whites. Those who usually cannot afford it are the blacks and others who belong to racial minorities.

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How to Solve the Problem of Disparity?

The problem of Disparity in all of its forms is a pervasive problem throughout the world. Some steps can be taken, however, to bridge the gap, and reduce the pervasiveness of the problem.

One way of reducing the gap and bridging inequality and Disparity is for governments all over the world to take a proactive stance to combat Disparity. The government is the biggest of institutions that can command big resources, they can do some ways and effect reforms to combat inequality, and solve the problem of Disparity.

Educating people also helps in solving the problem of Disparity. Prevailing attitudes towards class, gender, and racial groups and minorities help reinforce programs and policies that promote and institutionalize Disparity. To dispel people of those attitudes and biases is a great step towards reform that will help in combating the problem of Disparity.

Respect for all individuals must be promoted by all institutions; by family, government, schools, churches, and civic organizations. That the others must also be afforded the rights, care, and benefits, that are afforded to the privileged., need not be debated. As Martin Luther King once said, equality of men is a self-evident truth. It can help in solving the problem of Disparity.

Disparity FAQ

What does Parity mean?

The word ‘disparity” can also be used to describe the gap between expectation and reality, or the gap between what is expected and what eventually happened. Instead of comparing things, persons, or other animate objects, what are being compared in this context are events and expectations. Nevertheless, it still means simply: difference. More on Parity Definition

Why is Disparity a Problem?

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About the author

Jess Man

Jessica is the Editor-in-Chief and Senior Diversity Advisor at Diversity Social. Jessica has over 10 years of working with and advising employers to be more diverse and create an inclusive working environment.
Jessica's experience spans private and non-profit sectors in multiple industries.
Jessica's expertise experience is beyond Diversity & Inclusion, she is also a certified professional IT recruiter in Data & Analytics, Database administration, Artificial Intelligence area.