8 junio, 2024

Social problems: characteristics, causes, examples

The Social problems These are difficulties that various societies suffer and that affect some sectors of the population more than others. They generally refer to disorders suffered by social sectors associated with their inability to access an adequate standard of living that impede or limit the progress of communities.

Examples of social problems are crime, drug addiction, racial or sexual discrimination, or poverty, to name just a few. Insofar as they are difficulties, and insofar as they afflict social sectors, the main person in charge of resolving them is the State.

However, there are also non-governmental organizations, whose purpose is to eradicate the social problems detected and help governments to make their societies more just spaces, where their people can fully develop their capacities.

Throughout history, and since humanity exists, social problems have been part of it. Over time, these problems have changed and evolved, but they have never ceased to exist.

All countries and societies in the world have social problems, but to the extent that these are minor, the progress of such societies is greater, since it constitutes an indicator of development.


Characteristics of social problems

Social problems have certain characteristics:

They affect a large number of people

A situation becomes a problem when the number of people affected is considerably high. This factor differentiates it from individual or group problems.

Detrimental effects

The detrimental effects on these broad social sectors are another characteristic feature. They are felt when governments seem unable to control them effectively. For example, delinquency or juvenile prostitution.

have solution

Although the solution often requires political will and creative solutions on the part of governments and societies themselves, solving social problems can be effective through joint and collective action between the different levels of government and non-governmental social organizations.

They change over time

When there is awareness in a society that any type of discrimination is a problem, a change in the vision of that problem begins there.

In other words, and to give an example, in previous centuries sexual discrimination against women was considered normal, there were rules and laws that forced them to remain in the domestic sphere.

Due to the confrontations that certain women had in history, that situation began to change, allowing them access to education, work and politics: before, sexual discrimination was not a problem; if a current society maintains it, yes it is.

Causes of social problems

The causes can be varied. Economic, political or social inequalities are usually the main causes of such situations in a country.

To the extent that a society is less fair in terms of equal opportunities for its citizens, the problems are greater. If very broad strata of society are prevented from accessing the most basic thing, which is food, for example, it will cause a series of situations that will affect the entire society.

Another of the most common causes is political and social inequality. We have a clear example in the fight for civil rights in the United States during the 50s and 60s, when the black population was discriminated against for reasons of race. They only had access to vote in 1965.

Examples of social problems


It is the most widespread of social problems, and from which practically a good part of the rest derives. There are different levels of poverty, and it is not just about lack of money, but rather about being excluded from the productive apparatus.

Today, almost half of the 7 million eight hundred thousand inhabitants that we are in the world suffer from some type of poverty, and more than 400 million children live in extreme poverty.


Hunger is a consequence of poverty, conflicts and changes in the climate.

Hunger in the world affects more than 800 million souls, and many organizations, governmental and non-governmental, have come together to minimize this social catastrophe.


Work is the main source of income for individuals and families throughout the world. The unemployed worker faces high levels of physical and mental stress, great family tension, and a wide variety of financial consequences.

war displacement

Wars are another big social problem. When conflicts drag on over time, the people affected, generally civilians, are forced to leave their country in search of chances to survive.

We can see an example of this in Colombia, where more than a million people were displaced by guerrilla violence and fights with drug trafficking; in Syria, due to the bloody civil war that has been going on for more than 5 years, or in Venezuela, where the economic situation has forced nearly 5 million Venezuelans to abandon everything.

Little access to education

When the population, or certain sectors of it, have restricted access to education, inequalities are more visible. This means that a large number of children and young people will be left out of the productive system because they will not have adequate training that will allow them to get out of their situation.

With less education, people tend to take less care of themselves because they have less information about health. This, in the long run, deepens social problems.

Crime, drug addiction and alcoholism

Generally, crime is a product of poverty. When you don’t have access to work, the fastest way to get resources is theft.

For their part, drugs and alcohol are escape systems, and when young people fall for them they become easy prey for organized crime. Hence, criminal gangs abound especially in the poorest parts of the cities.

domestic violence

This is a long-standing problem. Domestic violence does not only mean that a spouse or partner mistreats or hits the other, it includes children. Although the woman is the most exposed to suffer it along with the children, in some families it is the man who is abused and mistreated.

Due to sexist parameters, men do not usually report this type of violence and prefer to remain silent. The number of people affected by intrafamily violence is considerably high, and it manifests itself in all social strata.

sex discrimination

Until relatively recently, women had restricted access to education and work for reasons of gender. Tradition dictated that they were the ones who had to stay at home and take care of the children, and that the men received academic training and became the breadwinners of the home.

That has changed, but there are still situations that women suffer more; for example, inequality in wages (although it is a gap that is getting shorter) and employment in temporary and part-time jobs (the latter generally due to having no one to leave the children with).


Racism is hatred or contempt for a race because it is considered inferior. Examples of racism were the persecution of the Jews by the Nazis; the racial problems in the United States against the black and Latino population; or in Europe, against immigrants from North Africa and Asia.


Prostitution is the economic activity that exchanges sexual services for money, favors or any other good. It is exercised by both women and men (although women are traditionally the prostitutes).

Although for many centuries it was «tolerated» as a lesser evil, prostitution is considered a social problem insofar as it serves as a stimulus for human trafficking, in order to obtain money from them.


Intolerance can be religious, social or sexual (for example, against homosexuals and all people in the LGBT community).

It is characteristic of closed societies, which do not allow the integration of different groups. Examples of religious intolerance can be some Muslim countries, such as Saudi Arabia, where it is prohibited by law to belong to another religion.

Or in communist countries, where if you did not belong to the party it was impossible to access housing, health or education.


Technological advances and the proliferation of digital social networks have increased cases of child bullying. Physical bullying and cyberbullying have serious consequences on the psychological well-being of children and adolescents.


When the acts of corruption of the ruling class become widespread and become commonplace, the quality of life of citizens and their access to rights such as housing, health and education are put at risk.

The only way to stop these acts of corruption is to control government management through the mechanisms created for that purpose and citizen participation.

Loneliness in older adults

Loneliness has been defined as a subjective negative feeling associated with a perceived lack of a broader social network or the absence of a specific desired partner. It is a problem associated with modern life in big cities.

Articles of interest

Social problems in Guatemala.

Social problems in Peru.

Social problems in Mexico.

Social problems in Colombia.


Schneider, J. (1985). Social Problems Theory: The Constructionist View. Annual Review of Sociology, No. 11, pp. 209-229. Taken from annualreviews.org.
Suarez, FM (1989). Social problems and problems of massive social programs. Repository of the Economic Commission for Latin America (CEPAL). Taken from repositorio.cepal.org.
Martin-Cried, E. (2005). The construction of youth problems. Bogotá: Nomads Magazine, Central University, No. 23, pp. 86-93. Taken from redalyc.org.
Social problems. (2020). Taken from concept.of.
Causes of social problems (2020). Digital platform for Law, Social Sciences and Humanities. Taken from leyderecho.org.

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