Social categories create and reflect inequality: Psychological and sociological insights

Michael S. North, Susan T. Fiske

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter

17 Scopus citations


Social categories both create and reflect inequality. Macro, overarching forces, and individual, perceiver biases each contribute. First, we review perspectives deriving from classic sociological and prevailing psychological social psychology, including both interpersonal fluidity and cognitive economy. Social psychologists have implicated several specific categories in social inequality. We then discuss the two that have garnered the most focus (race and gender), and next the less-studied ones (age disability, sexuality, social class, and weight). Afterward, we focus on a theory that ties together all these categories, the stereotype content model. Other structural, group-based hierarchy perspectives compliment these perspectives. Broader perspectives from social cognition highlight how categories are often automatic, at times ambiguous and ambivalent, often complex, and ultimately driven by stereotype content and sociostructural forces. Clearly much remains for social psychologists interested in hierarchy.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationThe Psychology of Social Status
PublisherSpringer New York
Number of pages23
ISBN (Electronic)9781493908677
ISBN (Print)1493908669, 9781493908660
StatePublished - Apr 1 2014

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General Psychology


  • Emotions
  • Inequality
  • Prejudice
  • Social categories
  • Social psychology
  • Stereotype
  • Structural tensions


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