Is Social Inclusion Affected by Levels of Inequality?

“What makes a strong community? What makes an inclusive society? Are these things affected by income inequality and does it alter our perception of what sort of place we live in? I discovered this welcoming sign on the side of an Irish club in Birmingham. It offered a friendly welcome while the bright red fence screamed ‘keep out!’” The quality of social relations is better in more equal societies – they have lower levels of violence, higher levels of trust, and community life is stronger. These are reflections of the divisive effects of inequality. Because it is a powerful marker of status differentiation, inequality tells people that they are in a society with divergent interests where people compete with each other and have to fend for themselves.

In contrast, greater equality suggests a degree of common interests and mutual interdependence. The stresses of relative poverty and low social status also affect the nature of family life. This in turn affects children’s emotional and cognitive development, preparing them either for lives involving more conflict and self-reliance, or, at the other end of the scale, making them more empathetic and better at cooperation, sharing and reciprocity.