Discrimination is the act of treating someone differently based on their membership in a particular group. It can be based on race, ethnicity, religion, gender, sexual orientation, or other factors.
Discrimination can be overt, like making derogatory comments about someone based on their race. It can also be more subtle, like only hiring people from a particular group. Regardless of its form, discrimination can lead to feelings of isolation and inferiority, and it is unjust.
1. Age discrimination
Age discrimination is the act of treating someone differently based on their age. This can happen in the workplace, in housing, in education, or in other areas of life.
Age discrimination can be positive or negative – that is, it can involve favoritism towards older people or bias against them.
In some cases, it may be due to people’s preconceived notions about what older people are capable of. For example, an employer may believe that an older worker is not as productive as a younger one, or that they are more likely to get sick or injured.
In other cases, young people may be discriminated against because they’re perceived to be too naive or inexperienced.
2. Gender discrimination
Gender discrimination is the unequal treatment of individuals based on their gender identity or gender stereotypes. This can occur in mundane everyday interactions, hiring committees, and even education.
In the workplace, women may be paid less than men for doing the same job (called the gender pay gap), or they may be denied promotions or opportunities for advancement (called the glass ceiling).
In education, girls may be discouraged from pursuing certain subjects such as STEM, or they may be steered toward lower-level classes.
Gender discrimination can also manifest itself in the form of sexual harassment, which is a form of workplace violence. Sexual harassment includes unwelcome sexual advances, comments or behavior that are sexual in nature, and threats or demands for sexual favors.
3. Racial discrimination
Racial discrimination is the act of treating people differently based on their race or ethnicity.
It can take many different forms, from intentional discrimination such as segregated housing or unequal access to education, to more subtle forms of discrimination such as disparities in hiring or lending practices.
Racial discrimination can have a profound impact on people’s lives, limiting their opportunities and negatively affecting their mental and physical health. In some cases, it can even lead to violence.
The best way to combat racial discrimination is to create inclusive policies and procedures that ensure everyone is treated equitably. One example of this is affirmative action programs, which are designed to level the playing field for historically disadvantaged groups.
4. Religious discrimination
Religious discrimination is unequal treatment of an individual or group based on their beliefs. The most common type of religious discrimination is when an employer favors employees of a certain religion over others.
For example, an employer may only hire people of the same religion, selectively hire people from their church, or may give promotions and raises to employees who share the same religious beliefs.
Religious discrimination can also occur when people are treated differently based on their religious dress or grooming practices. For example, a person may be harassed for wearing a headscarf or refusing to eat certain foods.
Unfortunately, religious prejudice still exists even at an institutional level, such as in Quebec’s secularism bill which bans people who wear religious headwear from government jobs.
5. Disability discrimination
Disability discrimination is the negative treatment of a person with a disability, which includes both physical and mental impairments.
In the USA, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) prohibits discrimination in all areas of public life, including employment, education, transportation, and public accommodations. For example, it would be illegal for an employer to refuse to hire a qualified person with a disability simply because they have a disability.
Likewise, a school could not refuse to enroll a student who has a disability.
And a business open to the public could not discriminate against people with disabilities by refusing to provide them with goods or services. In each of these cases, the person with a disability would be protected under the ADA.
6. Sexual orientation discrimination
Sexual orientation discrimination occurs when an individual is treated unfairly or harassed because of their sexual orientation.
For example, if an employee is not promoted because their employer perceives them to be gay, this would be considered sexual orientation discrimination. Similarly, if a teacher is denied a job because they’re gay, it would be seen as discriminatory.
Sexual orientation discrimination can also take the form of harassment, such as offensive comments or jokes based on someone’s sexual orientation.
Sexual orientation discrimination is illegal in many countries, but unfortunately, it’s also not protected everywhere due to the ongoing normalization of LGBT discrimination.
7. National origin discrimination
Nationality discrimination is the unfair treatment of an individual or group based on their country of origin.
This type of discrimination is often felt by immigrants to a new country. They may be seen as outsiders who are treated with mistrust or are here to take the locals’ jobs. It can start with a mentality of “America first”, for example, which people take to the extreme of discriminating against any non-American.
In the 20th Century, immigration policies in Canada and Australia (known as the White Australia Policy) discriminated against people based on national origin, where they privileged people from majority white European countries.
8. Ethnicity discrimination
Ethnic discrimination involves discrimination against certain ethnic groups. This is particularly prevalent in countries where there are multiple ethnic groups living in the same jurisdiction.
A key example is Myanmar, where the Rohingya Muslim minority has been persecuted by the Buddhist majority for many years. The Rohingya have been denied citizenship, basic rights, and access to education and health care.
9. Socioeconomic status discrimination
Poor people are often discriminated against because the people doing the discriminating think the poor person has no value to them. The idea is that they won’t spend money, so they’re not worth your time.
It may also take the form of unfairly blaming poor people for their poverty. The temptation to call poor people lazy or deserving of their suffering perpetuates a negative stereotype that disadvantages people before you even get to know them.
10. Marital status (and pregnancy) discrimination
Marital status discrimination is the unfair treatment of someone who is not married.
This was very common back when there were less women in the workforce. Employers would not employ married women because there was the belief that they should be at home taking care of their family.
Today, it more commonly takes the form of a potential employer weighing up whether a woman might be starting a family soon, which would lead to disruptions at work or triggering of maternity leave.
11. Discrimination against Indigenous people
In countries with high indigenous populations such as Canada, New Zealand, and Australia, discrimination against these populations has a long history.
This type of discrimination is similar to ethnic discrimination but has the insidious feature of making the first inhabitants of a land feel threatened on their own sacred territory.
According to the United Nations, this occurs due to stigmatization, police targeting, and racial profiling that causes Indigenous people to often be treated more harshly by the justice system.
12. Political belief discrimination
Political discrimination is the unfair treatment of someone because of their political beliefs.
This could be anything from refusing to serve someone in a restaurant because they’re wearing a “Make America Great Again” hat to firing someone for supporting a particular political party.
The difficulty with political discrimination is that society can’t agree upon the line between free speech and consequences for speech. Some people blame cancel culture for being excluded from public forums like Facebook, whereas others say that their political speech is unacceptable due to their fringe beliefs.
13. Trade union membership discrimination
Trade union discrimination is the unfair treatment of someone because of their trade union membership.
In some countries, like the United States, it’s illegal to fire someone for being a member of a trade union. However, in other countries (like Thailand), trade unions are banned and workers who try to organize are often punished.
In WW2 Germany, trade unionists were targeted by the German government due to their active support of labor rights, and many were sent to forced labor camps as punishment.
14. Wage discrimination
Wage discrimination occurs when employees are paid different wages for doing the same job. This can be based on factors such as gender, race, or even political affiliation.
For example, a study by the American Association of University Women found that, on average, women earn 83 cents for every dollar earned by men.
This discrepancy is even greater for women of color. African American women earn only 63 cents and Latinas only 54 cents for every dollar earned by white men.
Wage discrimination can have a significant impact on a person’s ability to support themselves and their family.
15. Accent discrimination
In countries where there is a range of regional accents, a person’s accent can often be a target of discrimination.
This is particularly true in the UK where some accents are often associated with low social class and low culture. People from the Midlands or North-East are often seen as being unintelligent and simple.
This soft discrimination can keep people out of leadership roles and even military positions in the UK.
16. Housing discrimination
Housing discrimination is the unfair treatment of someone because of their race, religion, or disability when it comes to renting or buying a home.
This type of discrimination can involve refusing to rent to someone, evicting them from their home, or even charging them more for a home.
In the US, there is a long history of housing discrimination which has led to segregation which can be seen to this day in cities like Chicago and Detroit.
Credentialism refers to discrimination based on people’s credentials. Usually, it’s discrimination based on academic credentials, such as having (or lacking) a degree from an elite university.
For example, a company might choose to employ someone because they have a degree from a more elite institution than another person, despite the other person having far more practical experience.
Another perhaps more nefarious example is refusing to allow someone to a club or social group because they don’t have a degree from the ‘right’ university. If they’re not elite enough, they don’t get in.
While this is seen as a form of discrimination, it’s often believed to be a positive and acceptable version because degrees represent a level of institutional cultural capital that is recognized by society.
Discrimination is a sadly common occurrence in the world. It can take many different forms, and it can be directed at anyone for any reason.
While society has come a long way in trying to stamp out discriminatory practices, there is still a lot of work to be done. Legal changes can’t be all that happens. Cultural change is also needed on order for society to continue to progress toward equal treatment for all.
Dave Cornell (PhD)
Dr. Cornell has worked in education for more than 20 years. His work has involved designing teacher certification for Trinity College in London and in-service training for state governments in the United States. He has trained kindergarten teachers in 8 countries and helped businessmen and women open baby centers and kindergartens in 3 countries.
Chris Drew (PhD)
This article was peer-reviewed and edited by Chris Drew (PhD). The review process on Helpful Professor involves having a PhD level expert fact check, edit, and contribute to articles. Reviewers ensure all content reflects expert academic consensus and is backed up with reference to academic studies. Dr. Drew has published over 20 academic articles in scholarly journals. He is the former editor of the Journal of Learning Development in Higher Education and holds a PhD in Education from ACU.