Minority group

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: sex, ethnicity, race, religion, disability, sexual orientation, or gender identity.[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 common 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]

Some sociologists have criticised 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 underrepresentation 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. In addition, minorities may also be minorities they may be migrant, indigenous or landless nomadic communities.[17] This often results in variations in language, culture, beliefs, practices, that set some groups apart from the dominant grop. As these differences are usually perceived negatively by, this results in loss of social and political power for members of minority groups.[18]

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.[19] The right to self-determination is a key issue.

The formal level of protection of national minorities is highest in European countries.[16] The Council of Europe proposes a definition of national minorities in the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages and by the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities; however these definitions are not binding upon member states.[20] Using this framework, a national minority can be theoretically defined as a group of people within a given nation state:

  1. which is numerically smaller than the rest of population of the state or a part of the state,
  2. which is not in a dominant position,
  3. which has culture, language, religion, race etc. distinct from that of the majority of the population,
  4. whose members have a will to preserve their group identity,
  5. whose members are citizens of the state where they have the status of a minority, and
  6. whose members have had long-term presence in the territory.

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 (60.4%) 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

Gender and sexuality minorities

An understanding of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people as a minority group or groups has gained prominence in the Western world since the 19th century. The abbreviation LGBT is currently used to group these identities together. The term queer is sometimes understood as an umbrella term for all non-normative sexuality and gender expressions, but does not always seek to be understood as a minority; rather, as with many gay liberationists of the 1960s and 1970s, it sometimes represents an attempt to uncover and embrace the sexual diversity in everyone.

While in most societies, numbers of men and women are roughly equal, the perceived status of women as a "subordinate" group has led some (i.e., the feminist and pro-women's rights movements) to equate them with minorities.[23] In addition, various gender variant people can be seen as constituting a minority group or groups, such as intersex people, transgender people, and gender nonconformists (i.e. metrosexuals)—especially when such phenomena are understood as intrinsic characteristics of an identifiable group. (see The Yogyakarta Principles)

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. For example, in Egypt, a new system of identity cards[24] requires all citizens to state their religion—and the only choices are Islam, Christianity, or Judaism (See Egyptian identification card controversy).

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.

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.

Involuntary minorities in education

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,[25] and native-born Mexican Americans.[26] 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.[27]

Voluntary minorities in education

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.[25] 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.[27] Major immigrant groups in the United States include Mexicans, Central and South Americans, Cubans, Africans, and Indians.[26]

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".[28]


Some sociologists have criticised the concept of "minority/majority", arguing this language excludes or neglects changing or unstable cultural identities, as well as cultural affiliations across national boundaries.[29]

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[30] 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.[31]

There is debate over recognizing minority groups and their privileges. One view[32] 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.[33]

See also


  1. 1945-, Healey, Joseph F.,. 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,. Essentials of sociology. Los Angeles. ISBN 9781483340173. OCLC 871004576.
  3. 1 2 Laurie, Timothy; Khan, Rimi (2017), "The Concept of Minority for the Study of Culture", Continuum: Journal for Media and Cultural Studies, 31 (1): 3
  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. 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". Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences. 896 (1): 173–188. doi:10.1111/j.1749-6632.1999.tb08114.x. ISSN 0077-8923.
  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.
  8. David., Skrentny, John (2002). The minority rights revolution. Cambridge, Mass.: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press. ISBN 9780674043732. OCLC 431342257.
  9. 1 2 Wirth, L. (1945). "The Problem of Minority Groups". In Linton, Ralph. 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 0-13-750125-0.
  12. Diversity Training University International (2008). Cultural Diversity Glossary of Terms. Diversity Training University International Publications Division. p. 4.
  13. Barzilai, Gad (2010). Communities and Law: Politics and Cultures of Legal Identities. University of Michigan Press.
  14. Laurie, Timothy; Khan, Rimi (2017), "The Concept of Minority for the Study of Culture", Continuum: Journal for Media and Cultural Studies, 31 (1): 1–12
  15. Konrad, Alison M.; Linnehan, Frank (1999), "Affirmative Action: History, Effects, and Attitudes", Handbook of Gender & Work, SAGE Publications, Inc., pp. 429–452, doi:10.4135/9781452231365.n22, retrieved 2018-08-15
  16. 1 2 Daniel Šmihula (2008). "National Minorities in the Law of the EC/EU" (PDF). Romanian Journal of European Affairs. 8 (3): 51–81. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2011-08-23.
  17. Oleh., Protsyk, (2010). The representation of minorities and indigenous peoples in parliament : a global overview. Inter-parliamentary Union. Geneva: Inter-parliamentary Union. ISBN 9789291424627. OCLC 754152959.
  18. Verkuyten, Maykel (2005). "Ethnic Group Identification and Group Evaluation Among Minority and Majority Groups: Testing the Multiculturalism Hypothesis". Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. 88 (1): 121–138. doi:10.1037/0022-3514.88.1.121. ISSN 1939-1315.
  19. 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.
  20. "Factsheet on the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities". National Minorities (FCNM). Retrieved 2018-08-17.
  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.
  22. "U.S. Census Bureau QuickFacts: UNITED STATES". Census Bureau QuickFacts. Retrieved 2018-08-17.
  23. Hacker, Helen Mayer (1951). "Women as a Minority Group". Social Forces. 30 (1): 60–69. doi:10.2307/2571742.
  24. 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, DWB.sacbee.com Archived 2007-10-14 at the Wayback Machine.
  25. 1 2 Ogbu, John U. "Understanding Cultural Diversity and Learning" (PDF).
  26. 1 2 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.
  27. 1 2 Valenzuela, Angela. Subtractive Schooling. pp. 116–118.
  28. http://www.washingtontimes.com, The Washington Times (June 14, 2008). "OPINION: America's other minority?".
  29. Laurie, Timothy; Khan, Rimi (2017), "The Concept of Minority for the Study of Culture", Continuum: Journal for Media and Cultural Studies, 31 (1): 1–12
  30. "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.
  31. 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.
  32. 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)
  33. 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.
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