Minority group

In sociology, a minority group refers to a category of people who experience relative disadvantage as compared to members of a dominant social group.[1] Minority group membership is typically based on differences in observable characteristics or practices, such as: ethnicity (ethnic minority), race (racial minority), religion (religious minority), sexual orientation (sexual minority), or disability.[2] Utilizing the framework of intersectionality, it is important to recognize that an individual may simultaneously hold membership in multiple minority groups (e.g. both a racial and religious minority).[3] Likewise, individuals may also be part of a minority group in regard to some characteristics, but part of a dominant group in regard to others.[3]

The term "minority group" often occurs within the discourse of civil rights and collective rights, as members of minority groups are prone to differential treatment in the countries and societies in which they live.[4] Minority group members often face discrimination in multiple areas of social life, including housing, employment, healthcare, and education, among others.[5][6] While discrimination may be committed by individuals, it may also occur through structural inequalities, in which rights and opportunities are not equally accessible to all.[7] The language of minority rights is often used to discuss laws designed to protect minority groups from discrimination and afford them equal social status to the dominant group.[8]



Louis Wirth defined a minority group as "a group of people who, because of their physical or cultural characteristics, are singled out from the others in the society in which they live for differential and unequal treatment, and who therefore regard themselves as objects of collective discrimination".[9] The definition includes both objective and subjective criteria: membership of a minority group is objectively ascribed by society, based on an individual's physical or behavioral characteristics; it is also subjectively applied by its members, who may use their status as the basis of group identity or solidarity.[10] Thus, minority group status is categorical in nature: an individual who exhibits the physical or behavioral characteristics of a given minority group is accorded the status of that group and is subject to the same treatment as other members of that group.[9]

Joe Feagin, states that a minority group has five characteristics: (1) suffering discrimination and subordination, (2) physical and/or cultural traits that set them apart, and which are disapproved by the dominant group, (3) a shared sense of collective identity and common burdens, (4) socially shared rules about who belongs and who does not determine minority status, and (5) tendency to marry within the group.[11]


There is a controversy with the use of the word minority, as it has a generic and an academic usage.[12] Common usage of the term indicates a statistical minority; however, academics refer to power differences among groups rather than differences in population size among groups.[13]

The above criticism is based on the idea that a group can be considered minority even if it includes such a large number of people that it is numerically not a minority in society.

Some sociologists have criticized the concept of "minority/majority", arguing this language excludes or neglects changing or unstable cultural identities, as well as cultural affiliations across national boundaries.[14] As such, the term historically excluded groups (HEGs) is often similarly used to highlight the role of historical oppression and domination, and how this results in the under-representation of particular groups in various areas of social life.[15]


The term national minority is often used to discuss minority groups in international and national politics.[16] All countries contain some degree of racial, ethnic, or linguistic diversity.[17] In addition, minorities may also be immigrant, indigenous or landless nomadic communities.[18] This often results in variations in language, culture, beliefs, practices, that set some groups apart from the dominant group. As these differences are usually perceived negatively by, this results in loss of social and political power for members of minority groups.[19]

There is no legal definition of national minorities in international law, though protection of minority groups is outlined by the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Persons Belonging to National or Ethnic, Religious and Linguistic Minorities. International criminal law can protect the rights of racial or ethnic minorities in a number of ways.[20] The right to self-determination is a key issue. The Council of Europe regulates minority rights in the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages and the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities.

In some places, subordinate ethnic groups may constitute a numerical majority, such as Blacks in South Africa under apartheid.[21] In the United States, for example, non-Hispanic Whites constitute the majority (63.4%) and all other racial and ethnic groups (Hispanic or Latino, African Americans, Asian Americans, American Indian, and Native Hawaiians) are classified as "minorities".[22] If the non-Hispanic White population falls below 50% the group will only be the plurality, not the majority.

Examples of minority groups

Age minorities

The elderly, while traditionally influential or even (in a gerontocracy) dominant in the past, are now usually reduced to the minority role of economically 'non-active' groups. Children can also be understood as a minority group in these terms, and the discrimination faced by the young is known as adultism. Discrimination against the elderly is known as ageism.

Various local and international statutes are in place to mitigate the exploitation of children, such as the Convention on the Rights of the Child, as well as a number of organizations that make up the children's rights movement. The youth rights movement campaigns for social empowerment for young people, and against the legal and social restrictions placed on legal minors. Groups that advocate the interests of senior citizens range from the charitable (Help the Aged) to grass-roots activism (Gray Panthers), and often overlap with disability rights issues.

Educational minorities

Involuntary minorities

Also known as "castelike minorities," involuntary minorities are a term for people who were originally brought into any society against their will. In the United States, for instance, it includes but is not limited to Native Americans, Puerto Ricans, African Americans,[23] and native-born Mexican Americans.[24] For reasons of cultural differences, involuntary minorities may experience difficulties in school more than members of other (voluntary) minority groups. Social capital helps children engage with different age groups that share a common goal.[25]

Voluntary minorities

Immigrants take on minority status in their new country, usually in hopes of a better future economically, educationally, and politically than in their homeland. Because of their focus on success, voluntary minorities are more likely to do better in school than other migrating minorities.[23] Adapting to a very different culture and language make difficulties in the early stages of life in the new country. Voluntary immigrants do not experience a sense of divided identity as much as involuntary minorities, and are often rich in social capital because of their educational ambitions.[25] Major immigrant groups in the United States include Mexicans, Central and South Americans, Cubans, Africans, and Indians.[24]

Gender and sexuality minorities

The term sexual minority is frequently used by public health researchers to recognize a wide variety of individuals who engage in same-sex sexual behavior, including those who do not identify under the LGBTQ umbrella. For example, men who have sex with men (MSM), but do not identify as gay. In addition, the term gender minorities can include many types of gender variant people, such as intersex people, transgender people, or gender non-conforming individuals. However, the terms sexual and gender minority are often not preferred by LGBTQ people, as they represent clinical categories rather than individual identity.[26]

Though lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) people have existed throughout human history, LGBT rights movements across many western countries led to the recognition of LGBTQ people as members of a minority group.[26] LGBTQ people represent a numerical and social minority. They experience numerous social inequalities stemming from their group membership as LGBTQ people. These inequalities include social discrimination and isolation, unequal access to healthcare, employment, and housing, and experience negative mental and physical health outcomes due to these experiences.[26]

People with disabilities

The disability rights movement has contributed to an understanding of people with disabilities (including not to be called 'disabled') as a minority or a coalition of minorities who are disadvantaged by society, not just as people who are disadvantaged by their impairments. Advocates of disability rights emphasize difference in physical or psychological functioning, rather than inferiority. For example, some people with autism argue for acceptance of neurodiversity, much as opponents of racism argue for acceptance of ethnic diversity. The deaf community is often regarded as a linguistic and cultural minority rather than a group with disabilities, and some deaf people do not see themselves as having a disability at all. Rather, they are disadvantaged by technologies and social institutions that are designed to cater for the dominant group. (See the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.)

Political minorities

One of the most controversial minorities in the United States and other countries has been communists. Along with the Red Scare and execution of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, the United States ran open campaigns to fight, contain and promote fear of communism in the country. Some were persecuted as communist even when they were not actually so: for example, many activists for civil rights were portrayed as inspired by a communist agenda. Communists in the United States, as in many European countries, are often afraid to proclaim their politics, fearing abuse and discrimination from the political majority.

Religious minorities

People belonging to religious minorities have a faith which is different from that held by the majority. Most countries of the world have religious minorities. It is now widely accepted in the west that people should have the freedom to choose their own religion, including not having any religion (atheism and/or agnosticism), and including the right to convert from one religion to another. However, in many countries this freedom is constricted. In Egypt, a new system of identity cards[27] requires all citizens to state their religion—and the only choices are Islam, Christianity, or Judaism (See Egyptian identification card controversy). Another example is the case of decreasing population of minorities in Pakistan, where they are being forcefully converted or killed.[28][29]

Regional minorities

Authors have pointed out that many coal workers would be unwilling to move for work or were not likely to be able to be retrained as Appalachians are an "ethnic minority".[30]

Women as minorities

In most societies, numbers of men and women are not equal. The status of women as a subordinate group has led to many social scientists to study them as a minority group.[31] Though women's legal rights and status vary widely across countries, women experience social inequalities relative to men in most societies.[32] Women are often denied access to education, subject to violence, and lack access to the same economic opportunities as men.[33]

Law and government

In the politics of some countries, a "minority" is an ethnic group recognized by law, and having specified rights. Speakers of a legally recognized minority language, for instance, might have the right to education or communication with the government in their mother tongue. Countries with special provisions for minorities include Canada, China, Ethiopia, Germany, India, the Netherlands, Poland, Romania, Russia, Croatia, and the United Kingdom.

The various minority groups in a country are often not given equal treatment. Some groups are too small or indistinct to obtain minority protections. For example, a member of a particularly small ethnic group might be forced to check "Other" on a checklist of different backgrounds and so might receive fewer privileges than a member of a more defined group.

Many contemporary governments prefer to assume the people they rule all belong to the same nationality rather than separate ones based on ethnicity. The United States asks for race and ethnicity on its official census forms, which thus breaks up and organizes its population into sub-groups, primarily racial rather than national. Spain does not divide its nationals by ethnic group, although it does maintain an official notion of minority languages.

Some especially significant or powerful minorities receive comprehensive protection and political representation. For example, the former Yugoslav republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina recognizes the three constitutive nations, none of which constitutes a numerical majority (see nations of Bosnia and Herzegovina). However, other minorities such as Romani[34] and Jews, are officially labelled "foreign" and are excluded from many of these protections. For example, they may be excluded from political positions, including the presidency.[35]

There is debate over recognizing minority groups and their privileges. One view[36] is that the application of special rights to minority groups may harm some countries, such as new states in Africa or Latin America not founded on the European nation-state model, since minority recognition may interfere with establishing a national identity. It may hamper the integration of the minority into mainstream society, perhaps leading to separatism or supremacism. In Canada, some feel that the failure of the dominant English-speaking majority to integrate French Canadians has provoked Quebec separatism.

Others assert that minorities require specific protections to ensure that they are not marginalised: for example, bilingual education may be needed to allow linguistic minorities to fully integrate into the school system and compete equally in society. In this view, rights for minorities strengthen the nation-building project, as members of minorities see their interests well served, and willingly accept the legitimacy of the nation and their integration (not assimilation) within it.[37]

See also


  1. 1945-, Healey, Joseph F. (2018-03-02). Race, ethnicity, gender, & class : the sociology of group conflict and change. Stepnick, Andi,, O'Brien, Eileen, 1972- (Eighth ed.). Thousand Oaks, California. ISBN 9781506346946. OCLC 1006532841.
  2. George, Ritzer (2014-01-15). Essentials of sociology. Los Angeles. ISBN 9781483340173. OCLC 871004576.
  3. Laurie, Timothy; Khan, Rimi (2017), "The Concept of Minority for the Study of Culture", Continuum: Journal of Media & Cultural Studies, 31 (1): 3, doi:10.1080/10304312.2016.1264110
  4. Johnson, Kevin. "The Struggle for Civil Rights: The Need for, and Impediments to, Political Coalitions among and within Minority Groups". heinonline.org. Louisiana Law Review. Archived from the original on 2019-02-15. Retrieved 2018-08-14.
  5. 1930-2014., Becker, Gary S. (Gary Stanley) (1971). The economics of discrimination (2nd ed.). Chicago: University of Chicago Press. ISBN 9780226041049. OCLC 658199810.
  6. WILLIAMS, DAVID R. (1999). "Race, Socioeconomic Status, and Health The Added Effects of Racism and Discrimination" (PDF). Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences. 896 (1): 173–188. doi:10.1111/j.1749-6632.1999.tb08114.x. hdl:2027.42/71908. ISSN 0077-8923. PMID 10681897. Archived (PDF) from the original on 2012-01-26. Retrieved 2019-09-23.
  7. Verloo, Mieke (2006). "Multiple Inequalities, Intersectionality and the European Union". European Journal of Women's Studies. 13 (3): 211–228. doi:10.1177/1350506806065753. ISSN 1350-5068. Archived from the original on 2019-02-10. Retrieved 2018-09-14.
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  9. Wirth, L. (1945). "The Problem of Minority Groups". In Linton, Ralph (ed.). The Science of Man in the World Crisis. New York: Columbia University Press. p. 347. The political scientist and law professor, Gad Barzilai, has offered a theoretical definition of non-ruling communities that conceptualizes groups that do not rule and are excluded from resources of political power. Barzilai, G. Communities and Law: Politics and Cultures of Legal Identities. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.
  10. Wagley, Charles; Harris, Marvin (1958). Minorities in the new world : six case studies. New York : Columbia University Press.
  11. Joe R. Feagin (1984). Racial and Ethnic Relations (2nd ed.). Prentice-Hall. p. 10. ISBN 978-0-13-750125-0.
  12. Diversity Training University International (2008). Cultural Diversity Glossary of Terms. Diversity Training University International Publications Division. p. 4.
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  14. Laurie, Timothy; Khan, Rimi (2017), "The Concept of Minority for the Study of Culture", Continuum: Journal of Media & Cultural Studies, 31 (1): 1–12, doi:10.1080/10304312.2016.1264110
  15. Konrad, Alison M.; Linnehan, Frank (1999), "Handbook of Gender & Work Handbook of gender & work", Handbook of Gender & Work, SAGE Publications, Inc., pp. 429–452, doi:10.4135/9781452231365.n22, ISBN 9780761913559
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  20. Lyal S. Sunga (2004). International Criminal Law: Protection of Minority Rights, Beyond a One-Dimensional State: An Emerging Right to Autonomy? ed. Zelim Skurbaty. (2004) 255–275.
  21. du Toit, Pierre; Theron, François (1988). "Ethnic and minority groups, and constitutional change in South Africa". Journal of Contemporary African Studies. 7 (1–2): 133–147. doi:10.1080/02589008808729481. ISSN 0258-9001.
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  24. Ogbu and Simons (1998). "Voluntary and Involuntary Minorities: A Cultural-Ecological Theory of School Performance with Some Implications for Education" (PDF). Anthropology and Education Quarterly. Archived (PDF) from the original on 2016-03-12.
  25. Valenzuela, Angela. Subtractive Schooling. pp. 116–118.
  26. Mayer, Kenneth H.; Bradford, Judith B.; Makadon, Harvey J.; Stall, Ron; Goldhammer, Hilary; Landers, Stewart (2008). "Sexual and Gender Minority Health: What We Know and What Needs to Be Done". American Journal of Public Health. 98 (6): 989–995. doi:10.2105/ajph.2007.127811. ISSN 0090-0036. PMC 2377288. PMID 18445789.
  27. See "The Situation of the Bahá'í Community of Egypt" and "Religion Today: Bahais' struggle for recognition reveals a less tolerant face of Egypt", Bahai.org Archived 2006-10-01 at the Wayback Machine, DWB.sacbee.com Archived 2007-10-14 at the Wayback Machine
  28. "Another Hindu girl abducted, forcibly converted to Islam in Pakistan's Sindh; family stages protest". www.timesnownews.com. Archived from the original on 2019-09-25. Retrieved 2019-09-25.
  29. "Hindu medical student found dead in Pakistan hostel, brother alleges foul play". Hindustan Times. 2019-09-17. Archived from the original on 2019-09-25. Retrieved 2019-09-25.
  30. http://www.washingtontimes.com, The Washington Times (June 14, 2008). "OPINION: America's other minority?". Archived from the original on November 27, 2016. Retrieved November 25, 2016.
  31. Hacker, Helen Mayer (1951). "Women as a Minority Group". Social Forces. 30 (1): 60–69. doi:10.2307/2571742. JSTOR 2571742.
  32. 1966-, Shachar, Ayelet (2001). Multicultural jurisdictions : cultural differences and women's rights. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 978-0511040801. OCLC 56216656.
  33. Women, U. N. (2018). Annual Report 2017–2018.
  34. "Political recognition of Roma People in Spain. [Social Impact]. WORKALÓ. The creation of new occupational patterns for cultural minorities: the Gypsy Case (2001-2004). Framework Programme 5 (FP5)". SIOR, Social Impact Open Repository. Archived from the original on 2017-09-05.
  35. Opinion of the Council of Europe's Advisory Committee on the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities, in particular paragraphs 37–43 Archived 2007-06-16 at the Wayback Machine
  36. For example, J.A. Lindgren-Alves, member of the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, speaking at the Committee's 67th Session (Summary Record of the 1724th Meeting, 23 August 2005, CERD/C/SR.1724)
  37. See Henrard, K. (2000). Devising an Adequate System of Minority Protection: Individual Human Rights, Minority Rights and the Right to Self-Determination. Martinus Nijhoff. pp. 218–224. ISBN 978-9041113597. Archived from the original on 2017-02-28. Retrieved 2017-02-27.
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