When I was a child in the 1950s, my friends and I had two educations. We had school (which was not the big deal it is today), and we also had what I call a hunter-gather education. We played in mixed-age neighbourhood groups almost every day after school, often until dark. We played all weekend and all summer long. We had time to explore in all sorts of ways, and also time to become bored and figure out how to overcome boredom, time to get into trouble and find our way out of it, time to daydream, time to immerse ourselves in hobbies, and time to read comics and whatever else we wanted to read rather than the books assigned to us. What I learnt in my hunter-gatherer education has been far more valuable to my adult life than what I learnt in school, and I think others in my age group would say the same if they took time to think about it.
For more than 50 years now, we in the United States have been gradually reducing children’s opportunities to play, and the same is true in many other countries. In his book Children at Play: An American History (2007), Howard Chudacoff refers to the first half of the 20th century as the ‘golden age’ of children’s free play. By about 1900, the need for child labour had declined, so children had a good deal of free time. But then, beginning around 1960 or a little before, adults began chipping away at that freedom by increasing the time that children had to spend at schoolwork and, even more significantly, by reducing children’s freedom to play on their own, even when they were out of school and not doing homework. Adult-directed sports for children began to replace ‘pickup’ games; adult-directed classes out of school began to replace hobbies; and parents’ fears led them, ever more, to forbid children from going out to play with other kids, away from home, unsupervised. There are lots of reasons for these changes but the effect, over the decades, has been a continuous and ultimately dramatic decline in children’s opportunities to play and explore in their own chosen ways.
Over the same decades that children’s play has been declining, childhood mental disorders have been increasing. It’s not just that we’re seeing disorders that we overlooked before. Clinical questionnaires aimed at assessing anxiety and depression, for example, have been given in unchanged form to normative groups of schoolchildren in the US ever since the 1950s. Analyses of the results reveal a continuous, essentially linear, increase in anxiety and depression in young people over the decades, such that the rates of what today would be diagnosed as generalised anxiety disorder and major depression are five to eight times what they were in the 1950s. Over the same period, the suicide rate for young people aged 15 to 24 has more than doubled, and that for children under age 15 has quadrupled.
The decline in opportunity to play has also been accompanied by a decline in empathy and a rise in narcissism, both of which have been assessed since the late 1970s with standard questionnaires given to normative samples of college students. Empathy refers to the ability and tendency to see from another person’s point of view and experience what that person experiences. Narcissism refers to inflated self-regard, coupled with a lack of concern for others and an inability to connect emotionally with others. A decline of empathy and a rise in narcissism are exactly what we would expect to see in children who have little opportunity to play socially. Children can’t learn these social skills and values in school, because school is an authoritarian, not a democratic setting. School fosters competition, not co-operation; and children there are not free to quit when others fail to respect their needs and wishes.
In my book, Free to Learn (2013), I document these changes, and argue that the rise in mental disorders among children is largely the result of the decline in children’s freedom. If we love our children and want them to thrive, we must allow them more time and opportunity to play, not less. Yet policymakers and powerful philanthropists are continuing to push us in the opposite direction — toward more schooling, more testing, more adult direction of children, and less opportunity for free play.
I recently took part in a radio debate with a woman representing an organisation called the National Center on Time and Learning, which campaigns for a longer school day and school year for schoolchildren in the US (a recording of the debate can be found here). Her thesis — consistent with her organisation’s purpose and the urgings of President Barack Obama and the Education Secretary Arne Duncan — was that children need more time in school than currently required, to prepare them for today’s and tomorrow’s competitive world. I argued the opposite. The host introduced the debate with the words: ‘Do students need more time to learn, or do students need more time to play?’
Learning versus playing. That dichotomy seems natural to people such as my radio host, my debate opponent, my President, my Education Secretary — and maybe you. Learning, according to that almost automatic view, is what children do in school and, maybe, in other adult-directed activities. Playing is, at best, a refreshing break from learning. From that view, summer vacation is just a long recess, perhaps longer than necessary. But here’s an alternative view, which should be obvious but apparently is not: playing is learning. At play, children learn the most important of life’s lessons, the ones that cannot be taught in school. To learn these lessons well, children need lots of play — lots and lots of it, without interference from adults.
I’m an evolutionary psychologist, which means I’m interested in human nature, its relationship to the nature of other animals, and how that nature was shaped by natural selection. My special interest is play.
The young of all mammals play. Why? Why do they waste energy and risk life and limb playing, when they could just rest, tucked away safely in a burrow somewhere? That’s the kind of question that evolutionary psychologists ask. The first person to address that particular question from a Darwinian, evolutionary perspective was the German philosopher and naturalist Karl Groos. In a book called The Play of Animals (1898), Groos argued that play came about by natural selection as a means to ensure that animals would practise the skills they need in order to survive and reproduce.
This so-called ‘practice theory of play’ is well-accepted today by researchers. It explains why young animals play more than older ones (they have more to learn) and why those animals that depend least on rigid instincts for survival, and most on learning, play the most. To a considerable degree, you can predict how an animal will play by knowing what skills it must develop in order to survive and reproduce. Lion cubs and other young predators play at stalking and pouncing or chasing, while zebra colts and other prey species play at fleeing and dodging.
Do we need more people who are good at memorising answers to questions and feeding them back? Who dutifully do what they are told, no questions asked?
Groos followed The Play of Animals with a second book, The Play of Man (1901), in which he extended his insights about animal play to humans. He pointed out that humans, having much more to learn than other species, are the most playful of all animals. Human children, unlike the young of other species, must learn different skills depending on the culture in which they are developing. Therefore, he argued, natural selection in humans favoured a strong drive for children to observe the activities of their elders and incorporate those activities into their play. He suggested that children in every culture, when allowed to play freely, play not only at the skills that are valuable to people everywhere (such as two-legged walking and running), but also at the skills that are specific to their culture (such as shooting bows and arrows or herding cattle).
My own research and ideas build on Groos’s pioneering work. One branch of that research has been to examine children’s lives in hunter-gatherer cultures. Prior to the development of agriculture, a mere 10,000 years ago or so, we were all hunter-gatherers. Some groups of people managed to survive as hunter-gatherers into recent times and have been studied by anthropologists. I have read all the writings I could find on hunter-gatherer childhoods, and a number of years ago I conducted a small survey of 10 anthropologists who, among them, had lived in seven different hunter-gatherer cultures on three different continents.
Hunter-gatherers have nothing akin to school. Adults believe that children learn by observing, exploring, and playing, and so they afford them unlimited time to do that. In response to my survey question, ‘How much time did children in the culture you observed have for play?’, the anthropologists unanimously said that the children were free to play nearly all of their waking hours, from the age of about four (when they were deemed responsible enough to go off, away from adults, with an age-mixed group of children) into their mid- or even late-teenage years (when they would begin, on their own initiatives, to take on some adult responsibilities). For example, Karen Endicott, who studied the Batek hunter-gatherers of Malaysia, reported: ‘Children were free to play nearly all the time; no one expected children to do serious work until they were in their late teens.’
This is very much in line with Groos’s theory about play as practice. The boys played endlessly at tracking and hunting, and both boys and girls played at finding and digging up edible roots. They played at tree climbing, cooking, building huts, and building other artefacts crucial to their culture, such as dugout canoes. They played at arguing and debating, sometimes mimicking their elders or trying to see if they could reason things out better than the adults had the night before around the fire. They playfully danced the traditional dances of their culture and sang the traditional songs, but they also made up new ones. They made and played musical instruments similar to those that adults in their group made. Even little children played with dangerous things, such as knives and fire, and the adults let them do it, because ‘How else will they learn to use these things?’ They did all this, and more, not because any adult required or even encouraged them to, but because they wanted to. They did it because it was fun and because something deep inside them, the result of aeons of natural selection, urged them to play at culturally appropriate activities so they would become skilled and knowledgeable adults.
In another branch of my research I’ve studied how children learn at a radically alternative school, the Sudbury Valley School, not far from my home in Massachusetts. It’s called a school, but is as different from what we normally think of as ‘school’ as you can imagine. The students — who range in age from four to about 19 — are free all day to do whatever they want, as long as they don’t break any of the school rules. The rules have nothing to do with learning; they have to do with keeping peace and order.
To most people, this sounds crazy. How can they learn anything? Yet, the school has been in existence for 45 years now and has many hundreds of graduates, who are doing just fine in the real world, not because their school taught them anything, but because it allowed them to learn whatever they wanted. And, in line with Groos’s theory, what children in our culture want to learn when they are free turns out to be skills that are valued in our culture and that lead to good jobs and satisfying lives. When they play, these students learn to read, calculate, and use computers with the same playful passion with which hunter-gatherer kids learn to hunt and gather. They don’t necessarily think of themselves as learning. They think of themselves as just playing, or ‘doing things’, but in the process they are learning.
Even more important than specific skills are the attitudes that they learn. They learn to take responsibility for themselves and their community, and they learn that life is fun, even (maybe especially) when it involves doing things that are difficult. I should add that this is not an expensive school; it operates on less than half as much, per student, as the local state schools and far less than most private schools.
The Sudbury Valley School and a hunter-gatherer band are very different from one another in many ways, but they are similar in providing what I see as the essential conditions for optimising children’s natural abilities to educate themselves. They share the social expectation (and reality) that education is children’s responsibility, not something that adults do to them, and they provide unlimited freedom for children to play, explore, and pursue their own interests. They also provide ample opportunities to play with the tools of the culture; access to a variety of caring and knowledgeable adults, who are helpers, not judges; and free age-mixing among children and adolescents (age-mixed play is more conducive to learning than play among those who are all at the same level). Finally, in both settings, children are immersed in a stable, moral community, so they acquire the values of the community and a sense of responsibility for others, not just for themselves.
I don’t expect to convince most people, any time soon, that we should abolish schools as we know them today and replace them with centres for self-directed play and exploration. But I do think there is a chance of convincing most people that play outside of school is important. We have already taken too much of that away; we must not take away any more.
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President Obama and his Education Secretary, Arne Duncan, along with other campaigners for more conventional schooling and more tests, want children to be better prepared for today’s and tomorrow’s world. But what preparation is needed? Do we need more people who are good at memorising answers to questions and feeding them back? Who dutifully do what they are told, no questions asked? Schools were designed to teach people to do those things, and they are pretty good at it. Or do we need more people who ask new questions and find new answers, think critically and creatively, innovate and take initiative, and know how to learn on the job, under their own steam? I bet Obama and Duncan would agree that all children need these skills today more than in the past. But schools are terrible at teaching these skills.
For more than two decades now, education leaders in the US, the UK and Australia have been urging us to emulate Asian schools — especially those of Japan, China, and South Korea. Children there spend more time at their studies than US children, and they score higher on standardised international tests. What US Education Secretary Duncan apparently doesn’t realise, or acknowledge, is that educational leaders in those countries are now increasingly judging their educational system to be a failure. While their schools have been great at getting students to score well on tests, they have been terrible at producing graduates who are creative or have a real zest for learning.
In an article entitled ‘The Test Chinese Schools Still Fail’ in The Wall Street Journal in December 2010, Jiang Xueqin, a prominent Chinese educator, wrote: ‘The failings of a rote-memorisation system are well known: lack of social and practical skills, absence of self-discipline and imagination, loss of curiosity and passion for learning…. One way we’ll know we’re succeeding in changing China’s schools is when those scores [on standardised tests] come down.’ Meanwhile, Yong Zhao, an American education professor who grew up in China and specialises in comparing the Chinese educational system with the system in the US, notes that a common term used in China to refer to graduates is gaofen dineng, meaning ‘high scores but low ability’. Because students spend nearly all their time studying, they have little opportunity to be creative, take initiative, or develop physical and social skills: in short, they have little opportunity to play.
Unfortunately, as we move increasingly toward standardised curricula, and as we occupy ever more of our children’s time with schoolwork, our educational results indeed are becoming more like those of the Asian countries. One line of evidence comes from the results of a battery of measures of creativity — called the Torrance Tests of Creative Thinking (TTCT) — collected from normative samples of US schoolchildren in kindergarten through to 12th grade (age 17-18) over several decades. Kyung-Hee Kim, an educational psychologist at the College of William and Mary in Virginia, has analysed those scores and reported that they began to decline in 1984 or shortly after, and have continued to decline ever since. As Kim puts it in her article ‘The Creativity Crisis’, published in 2011 in the Creativity Research Journal, the data indicate that ‘children have become less emotionally expressive, less energetic, less talkative and verbally expressive, less humorous, less imaginative, less unconventional, less lively and passionate, less perceptive, less apt to connect seemingly irrelevant things, less synthesising, and less likely to see things from a different angle’.
You can’t teach creativity; all you can do is let it blossom, and it blossoms in play
According to Kim’s research, all aspects of creativity have declined, but the biggest decline is in the measure called ‘creative elaboration’, which assesses the ability to take a particular idea and expand on it in an interesting and novel way. Between 1984 and 2008, the average elaboration score on the TTCT, for every grade from kindergarten onwards, fell by more than one standard deviation. Stated differently, this means that more than 85 per cent of children in 2008 scored lower on this measure than did the average child in 1984. If education ‘reformers’ get their way, it will decline further still as children are deprived even more of play. Other research, by the psychologist Mark Runco and colleagues at the Torrance Creativity Center at the University of Georgia, shows that scores on the TTCT are the best childhood predictors we have of future real-world achievements. They are better predictors than IQ, high-school grades, or peer judgments of who will achieve the most.
You can’t teach creativity; all you can do is let it blossom. Little children, before they start school, are naturally creative. Our greatest innovators, the ones we call geniuses, are those who somehow retain that childhood capacity, and build on it, right through adulthood. Albert Einstein, who apparently hated school, referred to his achievements in theoretical physics and mathematics as ‘combinatorial play’. A great deal of research has shown that people are most creative when infused by the spirit of play, when they see themselves as engaged in a task just for fun. As the psychologist Teresa Amabile, professor at Harvard Business School, has shown in her book Creativity in Context (1996) and in many experiments, the attempt to increase creativity by rewarding people for it or by putting them into contests to see who is most creative has the opposite effect. It’s hard to be creative when you are worried about other people’s judgments. In school, children’s activities are constantly being judged. School is a good place for learning to do just what someone else wants you to do; it’s a terrible place for practising creativity.
When Chanoff and I studied Sudbury Valley graduates for our paper ‘Democratic Schooling: What Happens to Young People Who Have Charge of Their Own Education?’, we asked about the activities they had played as students and about the careers they were pursuing since graduation. In many cases, there was a direct relationship between the two. Graduates were continuing to play the activities they had loved as students, with the same joy, passion, and creativity, but now they were making a living at it. There were professional musicians who had played intensively with music when they were students, and computer programmers who had spent most of their time as students playing with computers. One woman, who was the captain of a cruise ship, had spent much of her time as a student playing on the water, first with toy boats and then with real ones. A man who was a sought-after machinist and inventor had spent his childhood playfully building things and taking things apart to see how they worked.
None of these people would have discovered their passions in a standard school, where extensive, free play does not occur. In a standard school, everyone has to do the same things as everyone else. Even those who do develop an interest in something taught in school learn to tame it because, when the bell rings, they have to move on to something else. The curriculum and timetable constrain them from pursuing any interest in a creative and personally meaningful way. Years ago, children had time outside of school to pursue interests, but today they are so busy with schoolwork and other adult-directed activities that they rarely have time and opportunity to discover and immerse themselves deeply in activities they truly enjoy.
To have a happy marriage, or good friends, or helpful work partners, we need to know how to get along with other people: perhaps the most essential skill all children must learn for a satisfying life. In hunter-gatherer bands, at Sudbury Valley School, and everywhere that children have regular access to other children, most play is social play. Social play is the academy for learning social skills.
The reason why play is such a powerful way to impart social skills is that it is voluntary. Players are always free to quit, and if they are unhappy they will quit. Every player knows that, and so the goal, for every player who wants to keep the game going, is to satisfy his or her own needs and desires while also satisfying those of the other players, so they don’t quit. Social play involves lots of negotiation and compromise. If bossy Betty tries to make all the rules and tell her playmates what to do without paying attention to their wishes, her playmates will quit and leave her alone, starting their own game elsewhere. That’s a powerful incentive for her to pay more attention to them next time. The playmates who quit might have learnt a lesson, too. If they want to play with Betty, who has some qualities they like, they will have to speak up more clearly next time, to make their desires plain, so she won’t try to run the show and ruin their fun. To have fun in social play you have to be assertive but not domineering; that’s true for all of social life.
Watch any group of children in play and you will see lots of negotiation and compromise. Preschoolers playing a game of ‘house’ spend more time figuring out how to play than actually playing. Everything has to be negotiated — who gets to be the mommy and who has to be the baby, who gets to use which props, and how the drama will unfold. The skilled players use tag questions to turn their assertions into requests: ‘Let’s pretend that the necklace is mine. OK?’ If it’s not OK, a discussion ensues.
We’re not all equally strong, equally quick-witted, equally healthy; but we are all equally worthy of respect and of having our needs met
Or watch an age-mixed group of children playing a ‘pickup’ game of baseball. A pickup game is play, because it’s directed by the players themselves, not by outside authorities (coaches and umpires) as a Little League game would be. The players have to choose sides, negotiate rules to fit the conditions, decide what’s fair and foul. They have to co-operate not just with the players on their team, but also with those on the other team, and they have to be sensitive to the needs and abilities of all the players. Big Billy might be the best pitcher, but if others want a turn at pitching he’d better let them have it, so they don’t quit. And when he pitches to tiny Timmy, who is just learning the game, he’d better toss the ball gently, right toward Timmy’s bat, or even his own teammates will call him mean. When he pitches to walloping Wally, however, he’d better throw his best stuff, because Wally would feel insulted by anything less. In the pickup game, keeping the game going and fun for everyone is far more important than winning.
The golden rule of social play is not ‘Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.’ Rather, it’s something much more difficult: ‘Do unto others as they would have you do unto them.’ To do that, you have to get into other people’s minds and see from their points of view. Children practise that all the time in social play. The equality of play is not the equality of sameness. Rather, it is the equality that comes from respecting individual differences and treating each person’s needs and wishes as equally important. That’s also, I think, the best interpretation of Thomas Jefferson’s line that all men are created equal. We’re not all equally strong, equally quick-witted, equally healthy; but we are all equally worthy of respect and of having our needs met.
I don’t want to over-idealise children. Not all children learn these lessons easily; bullies exist. But social play is by far the most effective venue for learning such lessons, and I suspect that children’s strong drive for such play came about, in evolution, primarily for that purpose. Anthropologists report an almost complete lack of bullying or domineering behaviour in hunter-gatherer bands. In fact, another label regularly used for such band societies is egalitarian societies. The bands have no chiefs, no hierarchical structure of authority; they share everything and co-operate intensively in order to survive; and they make decisions that affect the whole band through long discussions aimed at consensus. A major reason why they are able to do all that, I think, lies in the extraordinary amount of social play that they enjoy in childhood. The skills and values practised in such play are precisely those that are essential to life in a hunter-gatherer band. Today you might survive without those skills and values, but, I think, not happily.
So, play teaches social skills without which life would be miserable. But it also teaches how to manage intense, negative emotions such as fear and anger. Researchers who study animal play argue that one of play’s major purposes is to help the young learn how to cope emotionally (as well as physically) with emergencies. Juvenile mammals of many species deliberately and repeatedly put themselves into moderately dangerous, moderately frightening situations in their play. Depending on the species, they might leap awkwardly into the air making it difficult to land, run along the edges of cliffs, swing from tree branch to tree branch high enough that a fall would hurt, or play-fight in such a way that they take turns getting into vulnerable positions from which they must then escape.
Tantrums might work with parents, but they never work with playmates
Human children, when free, do the same thing, which makes their mothers nervous. They are dosing themselves with fear, aimed at reaching the highest level they can tolerate, and learning to cope with it. Such play must always be self-directed, never forced or even encouraged by an authority figure. It’s cruel to force children to experience fears they aren’t ready for, as gym teachers do when they require all children in a class to climb ropes to the rafters or swing from one stand to another. In those cases the results can be panic, embarrassment, and shame, which reduce rather than increase future tolerance for fear.
Children also experience anger in their play. Anger can arise from an accidental or deliberate push, or a tease, or from failure to get one’s way in a dispute. But children who want to continue playing know they have to control that anger, use it constructively in self-assertion, and not lash out. Tantrums might work with parents, but they never work with playmates. There is evidence that the young of other species also learn to regulate their anger and aggressiveness through social play.
In school, and in other settings where adults are in charge, they make decisions for children and solve children’s problems. In play, children make their own decisions and solve their own problems. In adult-directed settings, children are weak and vulnerable. In play, they are strong and powerful. The play world is the child’s practice world for being an adult. We think of play as childish, but to the child, play is the experience of being like an adult: being self-controlled and responsible. To the degree that we take away play, we deprive children of the ability to practise adulthood, and we create people who will go through life with a sense of dependence and victimisation, a sense that there is some authority out there who is supposed to tell them what to do and solve their problems. That is not a healthy way to live.
Researchers have developed ways to raise young rats and monkeys in such a way that they experience other forms of social interaction but not play. The result is that the play-deprived animals are emotionally crippled when tested as young adults. When placed in a moderately frightening novel environment, they freeze in terror and fail to overcome that fear and explore the novel area, as a normal rat or monkey would do. When placed with an unfamiliar peer they might cower in fear or lash out with inappropriate and ineffective aggression, or both.
In recent decades we as a society have been conducting a play-deprivation experiment with our children. Today’s children are not absolutely deprived of play as the rats and monkeys are in the animal experiments, but they are much more deprived than children were 60 years ago and much, much more than children were in hunter-gatherer societies. The results, I think, are in. Play deprivation is bad for children. Among other things, it promotes anxiety, depression, suicide, narcissism, and loss of creativity. It’s time to end the experiment.
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is a psychologist and research professor at Boston College. He writes the Freedom to Learn blog, and is the author of Free to Learn (2013) and Psychology (2011).
"Social problem" redirects here. For the journal, see Social Problems.
A social issue is a problem that influences a considerable number of the individuals within a society. It is often the consequence of factors extending beyond an individual's control, and is the source of a conflicting opinion on the grounds of what is perceived as a morally just personal life or societal order.[clarification needed] Social issues are distinguished from economic issues; however, some issues (such as immigration) have both social and economic aspects. There are also issues that don't fall into either category, such as warfare.
There can be disagreements about what social issues are worth solving, or which should take precedence. Different individuals and different societies have different perceptions.
In Rights of Man and Common Sense, Thomas Paine addresses individual's duty to "allow the same rights to others as we allow ourselves". The failure to do so caused the birth of a social issue.
There are a variety of methods people use to combat social issues. Some people vote for leaders in a democracy to advance their ideals. Outside the political process, people donate or share their time, money, energy, or other resources. This often takes the form of volunteering. Nonprofit organizations are often formed for the sole purpose of solving a social issue. Community organizing involves gathering people together for a common purpose.
A distinct but related meaning of the term "social issue" (used particularly in the United States) refers to topics of national political interest, over which the public is deeply divided and which are the subject of intense partisan advocacy, debate, and voting. Examples include same-sex marriage and abortion. In this case "social issue" does not necessarily refer to an ill to be solved, but rather to a topic to be discussed.
Versus personal issues
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 involve values cherished by widespread society. For example, a high unemployment rate that affects millions of people is a social issue.
The line between a personal issue and a public issue may be subjective and depends on how groups are defined. However, when a large enough sector of society is affected by an issue, it becomes a social issue. Returning to the unemployment issue, while one person losing their job is a personal and not a social issue, firing 13 million people is likely to generate a variety of social issues.
Valence issues versus position issues
A valence issue is a social problem that people uniformly interpret the same way. These types of issues generally generate a widespread consensus and provoke little resistance from the public. An example of a valence issue would be child abuse, which is condemned across several societies to a large enough degree that some social scientists might speak of them as though they are universal, for the sake of illustration.
By contrast, a position issue is a social problem in which the popular opinion among society is divided. Different people may hold different and strongly-held views, which are not easily changed. An example of a position issue is abortion, which has not generated a widespread consensus from the public, in some countries.
Here are some generic types of social issues, along with examples of each.
Further information: Social stratification and Systems of social stratification
Further information: Economic issues in the United States
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 2007 in Germany, one in six children depended on welfare. That is up from only one in seventy-five in 1965.
Main article: Social disorganization theory
So-called "problem neighbourhoods" exist in many countries. These neighbourhoods tend to have a high drop-out rate from secondary school, and children growing up in these neighbourhoods have a low probability of going to college compared to children who grow up in other neighbourhoods. Abuse of alcohol and drugs is common in these neighbourhoods. Often these neighbourhoods were founded out of best intentions.
Widespread health conditions (often characterized as epidemics or pandemics) are of concern to society as a whole. They can harm quality of life and the ability of people to contribute to society and to work, and most problematically result in death.
Infectious diseases are often public health concerns because they can spread quickly and easily, affecting large numbers of members. The World Health Organization has an acute interest in combatting infectious disease outbreaks by minimizing their geographic and numerical spread and treating the affected. Other conditions for which there is not yet a cure or even effective treatment, such as dementia, can be viewed as public health concerns in the long run.
Age and the life course
Main article: Agism
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.
Main article: Social inequality
Social inequality is "the state or quality of being unequal". Inequality is the root of a number of social problems that occur when things such as gender, disability, race, and age may affect the way a person is treated. A past example of inequality as a social problem is slavery in the United States. Africans brought to America were often enslaved and mistreated, and did not share the same rights as the white population of America (for example, they were not allowed to vote).
A number of civil rights movements have attempted to, and often succeeded at, advancing equality and extending rights to previously marginalized groups. These include the women's rights movement (beginning around the 1920s), the civil rights movement in the United States for African-American equality (beginning around the 1950s) and the LGBT rights movement (beginning around the 1960s).
Education and public schools
Main article: Educational inequality
Education is arguably the most important factor in a person's success in society. As a result, social problems can be raised by the unequal distribution of funding between public schools, such as that seen in the United States. The weak organizational policy in the place and the lack of communication between public schools and the federal government has begun to have major effects 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 occupational stress, theft, sexual harassment, wage inequality, gender inequality, racial inequality, health care disparities, and many more.
Main article: Environmental racism
Environmental racism exists 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 which are not seen in more affluent cities.
Main article: Abortion debate
The abortion debate is the ongoing controversy surrounding the moral, legal, and religious status of induced abortion. The sides involved in the debate are the self-described "pro-choice" movement and the "pro-life" movement. "Pro-choice" emphasizes the right of women to decide whether to terminate a pregnancy. "Pro-life" movement emphasizes the right of the embryo or fetus to gestate to term and be born. Both terms are considered loaded in mainstream media, where terms such as "abortion rights" or "anti-abortion" are generally preferred. Each movement has, with varying results, sought to influence public opinion and to attain legal support for its position, with small numbers of anti-abortion advocates sometimes using violence.
For many people, abortion is essentially a moral issue, concerning the commencement of human personhood, the rights of the fetus, and a woman's rights over her own body. The debate has become a political and legal issue in some countries with anti-abortion campaigners seeking to enact, maintain and expand anti-abortion laws, while abortion rights campaigners seeking the repeal or easing of such laws while expanding access to abortion. Abortion laws vary considerably between jurisdictions, ranging from outright prohibition of the procedure to public funding of abortion. Availability of safe abortion also varies across the world.
A number of social issues have taken prominence in the history of the United States. Many have waxed or waned over time as conditions and values have changed. The term "social issue" has a broad meaning in the United States, as it refers not only to ills to be solved but to any topic of widespread debate, involving deeply-held values and beliefs.
The Library of Congress has established an index of social causes in the United States. Examples include: academic cheating, church-state separation, hacking, evolution education, gangs, hate speech, suicide, urban sprawl, and unions.
Social issues take a particularly high-profile when a new president is elected. Elections are often impacted by several social issues, and many social issues would be discussed during the debate, such as Abortion rights, LGBT rights and gun control issues.
Crime and the justice system
Further information: United States incarceration rate
In the United States, 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.
Main article: Hate crime
Hate crimes are a social problem in the United States because they directly marginalize and target specific groups of people or specific communities based on their identities. Hate crimes can be committed as the result of hate-motivated behavior, prejudice, and intolerance due to sexual orientation, gender expression, biological sex, ethnicity, race, religion, disability, 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 institutions. Hate crimes can result in physical or sexual assaults or harassment, verbal harassment, robbery, or even in death.
Advertising junk food to children
Further information: Psychological aspects of childhood obesity § Television and advertisements, and Fast food advertising
The food industry has been criticized for promoting childhood obesity and ill-health by specifically targeting the child demographic in the marketing of unhealthy food products. The food products marketed often are deemed unhealthy due to their high calorie, high fat, and high sugar contents.
Some common methods of junk food advertising include:
In 2005, the Institute of Medicine of the National Academies (IOM) released a report requested by Congress that evaluated the influence and nature of food and beverage marketing practices on American children and adolescents. "The report concluded that food and beverage marketing influences the diets and health of children and adolescents; current marketing practices create an environment that puts young people's health at risk; companies and marketers have underutilized their resources and creativity to market a healthful diet; industry leadership and sustained, multisectoral, and integrated efforts are required; and that current public policy institutions lacked the authority to address emerging marketing practices that influence young people's diets."
According to Christian and the PHA website, the obesity epidemic in children and adolescents in the U.S. reflects changes in society: The article suggests unhealthy eating choices are due to an increase of sedentary activity (e.g., children watching too much television and playing computer games) and the influence of the media in causing children to eat unhealthy food choices.
In the view of some opponents, if governments took action to prevent the marketing of unhealthy food products, they would seriously reduce the prevalence of obesity and its serious health consequences, such as cardiovascular disease and diabetes. As part of the IOM food marketing report, 10 recommendations were made to both the public and private sectors. One of the recommendations was that the government partner with the private sector to "create a long-term, multifaceted, and financially sustained social marketing program to support parents, caregivers, and families to promote a healthful diet." First lady Michelle Obama and Partnership for a Healthier America have proposed new rules that would limit junk food marketing in public schools.
Main article: Obesity in the United States
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.
Main article: Hunger in the United States
Hunger is a fairly obvious social Issue. Many people around the globe, especially in countries such as Burundi, Eritrea, Ethiopia, and Zambia, experience malnutrition and undernourishment.
Further information: Propaganda in the United States, News propaganda, propaganda model, and Propaganda techniques
Mass media may use propaganda as a means to promote or publicize a particular political cause or point of view, or to maintain the viewer's attention. Who owns a media outlet often determines things such as the types of social problems that that outlet presents, how long that outlet airs those problems, and how dramatically that outlet presents those problems. The American media is often biased towards one or the other end of the political spectrum; that is, many media outlets have been accused either of being too conservative or of being too liberal.
Alcohol and other drugs
Main article: Drug abuse in the United States
Drugs are at times the cause of social problems. Drugs such as cocaine and opiates are addictive for some users. A minority of users of such drugs may commit crimes in order to obtain more drugs. In some individuals, drugs such as methamphetamine have been known to contribute to violent behavior, which would be considered a social problem.
Drunk driving is on the rise and is the number two cause of accidental deaths; it is a cause of around 17,000 deaths each year. All but 9 states in USA have adopted the Administrative License Revocation where if you are caught drinking and driving and found guilty you will lose your license for a full year. This is a step that is being taken in order to try to avoid the occurrence of this social problem.
Legal marijuana is debatable topic. Marijuana can be used in the medical domain, and there is no accurate fact that shows marijuana kills. However, people believe marijuana is a gateway to other drugs, injures lungs, and inhibits function. There are some states that are legalizing medical marijuana, such as New Mexico, Arizona, New York. Some states are also legalizing it for both medical and recreational purposes, such as Colorado, California, and Oregon.
Main article: Corruption in India
India is ranked 76 out of a 179 countries in Transparency International's Corruption Perceptions Index, but its score has improved consistently from 2.7 in 2002 to 3.1 in 2011.
In India, corruption takes the form of bribes, tax evasion, exchange controls, embezzlement, etc. A 2005 study done by Transparency International[unreliable source?] (TI) India found that more than 50%[dubious– discuss] had firsthand[dubious– discuss] experience of paying bribe or peddling influence to get a job done in a public office. The chief economic consequences of corruption are the loss to the exchequer, an unhealthy climate for investment and an increase in the cost of government-subsidised services.
The TI India study estimates the monetary value of petty corruption in 11 basic services provided by the government, like education, healthcare, judiciary, police, etc., to be around Rs.21,068 crores. India still ranks in the bottom quartile of developing nations in terms of the ease of doing business, and compared to China and other lower developed Asian nations, the average time taken to secure the clearances for a startup or to invoke bankruptcy is much greater. Recently a revelation of tax evasion (Panama Papers' Leak) case involving some high-profile celebrities and businessmen has added spark to the fumes of corruption charges against the elite of the country.
The World Bank, in 2011 based on 2005's PPPs International Comparison Program, estimated 23.6% of Indian population, or about 276 million people, lived below $1.25 per day on purchasing power parity. According to United Nation's Millennium Development Goal (MDG) programme 270 millions or 21.9% people out of 1.2 billion of Indians lived below poverty line of $1.25 in 2011-2012 as compare to 41.6% in 2004-05.
Main article: Terrorism in India
The regions with long term terrorist activities today are Jammu and Kashmir, Central India (Naxalism) and Seven Sister States (independence and autonomy movements). In the past, the Punjab insurgency led to militant activities in the Indian state of Punjab as well as the national capital Delhi (Delhi serial blasts, anti-Sikh riots). As of 2006, at least 232 of the country’s 608 districts were afflicted, at differing intensities, by various insurgent and terrorist movements.
See also: Poverty in Germany
Unemployment rates vary by region, gender, educational attainment and ethnic group.
A growing number of Germans are poor and depend on welfare. In 2007 one in 6 children depended on welfare. That is up from only one in 75 in 1965. Poverty rates seem to vary in different states, as in Bavaria only 3.9% suffer from poverty, while in Berlin 15.2% of the inhabitants are poor. Families that are headed by a single parent and working-class families with multiple children are most likely to be poor.
There is a discussion going on about hunger in Germany. Reverend Bernd Siggelkow, founder of the Berlin-based soup kitchen "Die Arche", claimed that a number of German children go hungry each day. He blamed the lack of jobs, low welfare payments, and parents who were drug-addicted or mentally ill. Siggelkow has been criticized by a number of people who said there was no hunger in Germany. SPD politician and board member of the German central bankThilo Sarrazin said it was possible to live on welfare without going hungry if one did not buy fast food, but was able to cook from scratch. He was criticized by The Left politician Heidi Knake-Werner, who said it was not right that "well-off people told poor people how to shop".
Germany has one of the lowest birth rates in the world. In 2012, its national fertility rate was 1.41 children per woman, up slightly from the 2002 rate (1.31), but still well below the replacement rate of 2.1 children per woman. (By contrast, the United States had a fertility rate of 2.06 in 2012). At the same time, Germans are living longer, with a life expectancy of 80.19 years (77.93 years for men and 82.58 years for women) – 2012 estimates. This demographic shift is already straining the country's social welfare structures and will produce further economic and social problems in the future. The Mikrozensus done in 2008 revealed that the number of children a German women aged 40 to 75 had was closely linked to her educational achievement.
So called problem neighbourhoods ("Problemviertel") exist in Germany. Those neighbourhoods have a high drop-out rate from secondary school and children growing up in a neighbourhood like this have only 1/7th the probability of going to college compared to a person growing up in another neighbourhood. Abuse of alcohol and drugs is common. Many people living in those neighborhoods are what is called a-people. They are poor ("arm"), out-of-work ("arbeitslos") and immigrants ("Ausländer"). Often those neighbourhoods were founded out of best intentions. Many districts that later became problem neighbourhoods were founded in the 1960s and 1970s when the State wanted to provide better housing for poorer persons. Big tenement buildings were built. The first tenants mostly were two-parent-families, not those one kind with at least one parent working and many were happy with their neighbourhoods. But when the unemployment rate started climbing more and more people were losing their jobs. Also, families who could afford it started moving into better districts and only those who could not afford to move stayed in districts such as Hamburg-Mümmelmannsberg.:)
Political extremism, racism and antisemitism
Since World War II, Germany has experienced intermittent turmoil from various groups. In the 1970s radical leftist terrorist organisations like the Red Army Faction engaged in a string of assassinations and kidnappings against political and business figures. Germany has also continued to struggle with far-right violence or neo-Nazis which are presently on a rise, in line with the younger generation of Germans growing older. There is some debate as to whether indeed the hate crime is rising, or whether simply more arrests have been made due to increased law-enforcement efforts. The number of officially recognized violent hate crimes has risen from 759 (2003) to 776 (2005). According to a recent study a majority Jews living in Germany are worried about a rise in antisemitism. The situation of Jews in Germany however was better than of those in France where 90% of those polled said that antisemitism has risen in the last years. Some have suggested that the increase in hate crime is related to the proliferation of right-wing parties, such as the NPD (National Democratic Party) in local elections.
France also has to deal with social issues.
Precarity and poverty
There is a certain fragility of income and social position in France. There are several ways to measure this. One possibility is to look at unemployment. Inside the European Union, in May 2017, France was ranked 6th country with its unemployment rate of 9.4 percent, according to Statista. Moreover, according to Observatoire des inégalités, France has between 5 and 8.9 millions of poor people, depending on the definition of poverty (if the poverty line is at 50 percent of the median standard of living or if it's 60 percent).
Women suffer from economical and social problems in France. Indeed, they are paid, on average, 16.7 percent less than men, according to l'insee. Women in France also have to handle sexual harassment, inequalities in education, and other problems. That are some reasons why the Global Gender Gap report of 2016 has ranked France 17th with a score of 0.755 (reaching 1 means gender equality).
This section needs expansion. You can help by adding to it.(January 2013)
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.
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