4 Things You Thought You Knew about Social Inclusion


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Few concepts are as abstract as “social inclusion”. No wonder it generates questions, confusion and even some misunderstandings among practitioners.

Since social inclusion is a pillar of sustainability and part of new World Bank Goals of reducing poverty and promoting shared prosperity, the term has come into even greater usage. But what is it? We define social inclusion as the process of improving the terms for individuals and groups to take part in society. People take part in society through markets (e.g. labor, or credit), services (access to health, education), and spaces (e.g. political, physical).

Based on the background work conducted by the Social Inclusion team from Social Development for an upcoming report Inclusion Matters: The Foundation for Shared Prosperity, below are four of the most common misconceptions about social inclusion and exclusion.

1. Social exclusion is synonymous with inequality and poverty

While inequality and poverty are outcomes, social exclusion is both an outcome and a process. Social exclusion is often more than poverty and in some cases it is not about poverty at all. Further, while concepts such as poverty and inequality often have material conditions associated with them, social inclusion is to a large extent about non-material aspects of a person’s life. Take for example a hypothetical homosexual man living in a rich neighborhood. He may not be poor, he may not even be affected by inequality, but he is certainly excluded, and in some countries, at risk of death. One’s identity can be a primary marker of exclusion.

2. Social inclusion is the flip side of social exclusion

Although it sounds logical and intuitive, inclusion is not necessarily the flip side of exclusion. Here is why.
Social exclusion occurs when people are systematically prevented from taking part in society. But individuals and groups may have to participate in markets, services, and spaces under unfavorable terms. This is called “adverse inclusion”. For example, immigrants may be included in the host country’s labor market, but under very poor working conditions and for a wage lower than is paid to local residents. Take the case of the Roma who are part of the labor force but are paid less. Roma males have higher labor force participation rates than the majority group in Bulgaria, Romania, and Serbia, yet their average wages are just 40-70% of the non-Roma men. If you can call this inclusion, then it is inclusion under very disadvantageous terms.

Numbers Don't Support

3. Social inclusion is mainly a developing country issue

Challenges related to social exclusion are not distinctive to developing countries. People all over the world face exclusion, discrimination, or chronic poverty. In many developed countries, the discourse around immigrants and restrictions for them to get access to markets and benefits is highly debated. Almost all European countries are dealing with issues of inclusion because of their need for foreign labor and yet immigrants are often discriminated against. Pick most any country and you will find issues of inclusion never fully addressed or new ones constantly emerging.

 Noborders Network, Creative Commons

4. We should rely only on objective/economic indicators when measuring social inclusion.

More and more, subjective measures (of happiness, attitudes and perceptions, for example) have gained interest among policy makers around the world. They are helpful in diagnosing social inclusion and tracking progress over time. And if analyzed in tandem with objective indicators, they can explain why some people get left out from progress.

Attitudes matter because they are a barometer of people’s potential behavior. Attitudes and perceptions can determine who gets excluded and included in the society and how. When certain attitudes become widespread they can affect the way people and institutions treat others, and the way policies are implemented or even designed.

For example, World Values Survey asks respondents whether they think men should be given preference for jobs when jobs are scarce in the economy. This question reflects social norms of men as breadwinners and has impact on women’s economic empowerment. Respondents in a vast majority of countries believe men should be given preference. In fact, the most discriminatory attitudes are found in countries that have the lowest female labor force participation rates.

Rights to workforce participation

We invite you to join the conversation about social inclusion on Facebook and Twitter #inclusionmatters. Tell us what inclusion means in your country. Tell us what inclusion means to you.

The report Inclusion Matters: The Foundation for Shared Prosperity will be launched on October 9, 2013. Learn more about social development and social inclusion.


Social Inclusion Team

'Inclusion Matters' Report Team

Join the Conversation

Dr Asiah Mason
October 02, 2013

Thank you very much for this article/blog. It provides a clear and thorough description of what I try to do everyday in my work. The more we take the time to bring up this topic, share, explain and promote the better. Starting with our own circle of friends and network..

September 26, 2013

Is a discussion of social inclusion a discussion that embraces and furthers a specific set of values? For example, if we orient a discussion around social inclusion we may implicitly be undermining the values of traditional societies that have a preference for male employment when jobs are scarce. According to the narrative above this may play a role in women's social exclusion, which is framed as undesirable. Unless colleagues at the Bank would indicate that they are neutral on social exclusion or view some instances as beneficial it would seem that the Bank is aiming to prefer one set of values over another. Is this the role of a governmental or an intergovernmental institution, which is even further removed from the affected population? Perhaps, but I am curious if this has been or is being discussed.

Maitreyi Bordia Das
October 04, 2013

Hassan, you raise a very important point. As you know, there is a vibrant global discourse on whether values are culturally determined or some values are universal. I suppose I would say (not official World Bank position)as the lead author of the report - lets ask women what they would like. Lets not make decsions for others. And in many cultures women may well prefer to have men in jobs when there is a crunch. But these values change over time and young women have different aspirations from their mothers' generation. Lets honor their aspirations.

Edna Epelu
October 06, 2013

It is important, I believe, to discuss power when talking about social inclusion/exclusion. Almost always, those who threaten others with death, deportation or loss of services are often in a position to enforce the threat.
As a determinant of social inclusion or exclusion, how individuals or groups acquire power, how it is used and controlled affects the ability of others to live free, fair and full lives.