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A social issue (also called a social problem or a social ill) is an issue that relates to society's perception of people's personal lives. Different societies have different perceptions and what may be "normal" behaviour in one society may be a significant social issue in another society. Social issues are distinguished from economic issues. Some issues have both social and economic aspects, such as immigration. There are also issues that don't fall into either category, such as wars.
Thomas Paine, in Rights of Man and Common Sense, addresses man's duty to "allow the same rights to others as we allow ourselves". The failure to do so causes the birth of a social issue.
Personal issues are those that individuals deal with themselves and within a small range of their peers and relationships. On the other hand, social issues threaten values cherished by widespread society. For example, the unemployment rate of 7.8 percent in the U.S. as of October 2012 is a social issue.
The line between a personal issue and a public issue may be subjective, however, when a large enough sector of society is affected by an issue, it becomes a social issue. Although one person fired is not a social issue, the repercussions of 13 million people being fired is likely to generate social issues.
Unemployment rates vary by region, gender, educational attainment and ethnic group.
In most countries, including the developed countries many people are poor and depend on welfare. In Germany in 2007 one in six children depended on welfare. That is up from only one in seventy-five in 1965.
So called problem neighbourhoods exist in many countries. Those neighbourhoods tend to have a high drop-out rate from secondary school and children growing up in a neighbourhood like this have a low probability of going to college compared to a person growing up in another neighbourhood. Abuse of alcohol and drugs is common. Often those neighbourhoods were founded out of best intentions.
Age and the life course
Throughout the life course there are social problems associated with different ages. One such social problem is age discrimination. An example of age discrimination is when a particular person is not allowed to do something or is treated differently based on age.
Inequality is "the state or quality of being unequal". Inequality is the root of a number of social problems where things such as gender, race and age may affect the way a person is treated. A past example of inequality as a social problem is slavery in America. Africans brought to America were often enslaved and mistreated, and did not share the same rights as the white population of America (ex. voting).
Education and public schools
Education is arguably the most important skill in being a successful member of society, however there has not been an equal amount of distribution of funding to public schools. The weak organizational policy in place and the lack of communication between public schools and the federal government has begun to have major affects on the future generation. Public schools that do not receive high standardized test scores are not being funded sufficiently to actually reach the maximum level of education their students should be receiving.
Work and occupations
Social Problems in the workplace include theft, sexual harassment, wage inequality, gender inequality, racial inequality, health care disparities, and many more.
Media or outlets that publicize information often socially construct social problems. Depending on who owns the media outlet often determines the types of social problems presented, how long they are air, how dramatic they should be, etc. The media is often based towards one end of the spectrum; i.e media outlets have been accused of either being too conservative or too liberal.
Health and medicine
Medication prescriptions have substantially risen in the past decade in our society. The question is whether these medications actually work or is it mind over matter. Studies have shown that placebos are almost as effective in helping with depression than antidepressants. Antidepressants are many of the pills that are being prescribed and make Americans even more addicted to medication because of the concept of taking the pills.
Advertising junk food to children
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The food industry has been blamed by many for the increase in childhood obesity by targeting the child demographic in marketing. The food products marketed oftentimes are deemed unhealthy because of their high calorie, high fat, and high sugar contents.
Obesity is a prevalent social problem in today's society, with rates steadily increasing. According to the Weight Control Information Network, since the early 1960s, the prevalence of obesity among adults more than doubled, increasing from 13.4 to 35.7 percent in U.S. adults age 20 and older. In addition, today two in three adults are considered overweight or obese, and one in six children aged 6–19 are considered obese.
Alcohol and drugs
Drugs are at times the causes of social problems. Drugs such as cocaine and opiates offer very limited positive effects and are extremely addictive. Many users of such drugs will commit crimes in order to obtain their fix. Occasionally, drugs such as methamphetamine or phencyclidine will cause deviant and violent behavior, which would be classified as a social problem.
Drunk driving is on the rise and is the number two cause of accidental death, it is a cause of around 17,000 deaths each year. All but 9 states have adopted the Administrative License Revocation where if you are caught drinking and driving and found guilty you lose your license for a full year. This is a step that is being taken in order to try and avoid this social problem.
Crime and the justice system
The federal prison system has been unable to keep up with the steady increase of inmates over the past few years, causing major overcrowding. In the year 2012, the overcrowding level was 41 percent above "rated capacity" and was the highest level since 2004.
The federal prison not only has overcrowding, but also has been the center of controversy in the U.S regarding the conditions in which the prisoners are treated.
Environmental racism is when a particular place or town is subject to problematic environmental practices due to the racial and class components of that space. In general, the place or town is representative of lower income and minority groups. Often, there is more pollution, factories, dumping, etc. that produce environmental hazards and health risks not seen in more affluent cities.
Hate crimes are a social problem in the United States because they directly marginalize and target a specific group of people or community based on their identities. Hate crimes can be a result of hate-motivated behavior, prejudice, and intolerance due to sexual orientation, gender expression, biological sex, ethnicity, race, religion, disabilities, or any other identity. Hate crimes are a growing issue especially in school settings because of the young populations that exist. The majority of victims and perpetrators are teenagers and young adults, the population that exists within educational institutes. Hate crimes can take shape in physical or sexual assaults or harassment, verbal harassment, robbery, or even death. The lasting effects of hate crimes can result in mental illness and disorders such as depression, suicidal thoughts and behaviors, etc. The issue is a social problem because it is widespread and affects much of our communities and the individuals who do not fit the norm.
Valence issues versus position issues
A valence issue is typically a social problem that is uniformly agreed upon. These types of issues generally generate a widespread consensus and provoke little resistance from the public. An example of a valence issue would be incest or child abuse. Unlike a valence issue, a position issue typically outlines a social problem in which the popular opinion among society is divided. An example of a position issue is vegetarianism or veganism, due to the lack of widespread consensus from the public.
Abortion is split between pro choice and pro-life. Pro choice people believe abortion is a right that women have that shouldn't be limited by government. Pro life people believe personhood begins at conception so abortion is the wrongful killing of an innocent person.
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Other issues include education, lack of literacy and numeracy, school truancy, violence and bullying in schools, religious intolerance, immigration, political and religious extremism, discrimination of all sorts, the role of women, aging populations, gender issues, unplanned parenthood, and teenage pregnancy.
- Social issues in the United States
- Anti-German sentiment
- Population ageing
- Social inequality
- Social Problems (journal)
- The Society for the Study of Social Problems
- C. Wright Mills: The Sociological Imagination
- DEWAN, SHAILA. 2012. NY Times
- Report des Kinderhilfswerkes: Jedes sechste Kind lebt in Armut
- Wolfgang Uchatius: "Armut in Deutschland - Die neue Unterschicht". Die Zeit. 10th March 2005
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- Bruce J. Biddle and David C. Berliner. "Educational Leadership:Beyond Instructional Leadership:Unequal School Funding in the United States". Ascd.org. Retrieved 2013-03-08.
- Scott, Dylan (2012-08-23). "Biggest Problem for Public Education? Lack of Funding, Poll Says". Governing.com. Retrieved 2013-03-08.
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- Posted: 09/14/2012 6:51 pm Updated: 09/15/2012 10:15 pm. "Overcrowding In Federal Prisons Harms Inmates, Guards: GAO Report". Huffingtonpost.com. Retrieved 2013-03-08.
- National Crime Prevention Council
- Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network (RAINN)
- "valence issue: Definition from". Answers.com. Retrieved 2013-03-08.
- Nelson, Barbara J (1986-04-15). Making an Issue of Child Abuse: Political Agenda Setting for Social Problems. ISBN 9780226572017.
- "Abortion ProCon.org". Abortion ProCon.org. Retrieved 2013-03-08.
- "Berlin blues" relatively long article by The Guardian on the current economical problems and mood in Germany shortly before the general elections (September 15, 2005)