The Theory of Relative Deprivation

Have you ever felt that you’re not getting your fair share? That you’re working just as hard as others, but not seeing the same benefits? This feeling is called relative deprivation, and it’s a key concept in sociology and psychology.

What is relative deprivation?

Relative deprivation is the feeling of dissatisfaction or unfairness that arises when people compare their situation to that of others who they perceive as being better off. It is a subjective perception of injustice, and it can arise even if people’s objective circumstances are objectively good. The grass being greener and all…

For example, imagine two coworkers, John and Bob, who have the same job and the same salary. John finds out that Bob has been given a bonus for his performance, while he hasn’t. Even though John is objectively doing well, he feels unfairly treated compared to Bob, and may experience relative deprivation.

Relative deprivation can also be experienced by groups of people who feel that they are not receiving their fair share of resources or opportunities, compared to other groups. This can lead to social unrest, conflict, and even influence elections as people seek to rectify what they perceive as an injustice.

Relative deprivation can be seen in many different contexts. Here are a few examples:

  • In the United States, many working-class people feel that the economy is rigged against them, and that the wealthy are getting richer while they struggle to get by. This feeling of relative deprivation has contributed to the rise of populism and anti-establishment politics.
  • In some parts of the world, people who belong to minority groups may feel that they are not receiving their fair share of political power or economic opportunities, compared to the dominant group. This can lead to tensions and conflict between different ethnic or religious groups.
  • In a school setting, students may experience relative deprivation if they perceive that others are getting better grades, or have more opportunities for extracurricular activities.

How does relative deprivation affect people?

Relative deprivation can have a range of effects on individuals and groups. In some cases, it can motivate people to work harder or strive for change, in order to improve their situation. However, in other cases, it can lead to feelings of anger, frustration, and hopelessness, and can contribute to social conflict.

In extreme cases, relative deprivation can lead to violent protests, social unrest, or even terrorism. For example, some experts have suggested that the rise of terrorist organizations like ISIS can be partially attributed to relative deprivation among young men in the Middle East, who feel that they have been left behind by globalization and modernization.

How can relative deprivation be addressed?

There are a few ways to address relative deprivation. One is to work to reduce social inequality and ensure that everyone has access to basic resources and opportunities. This can help to reduce feelings of unfairness and injustice.

Another approach is to work to increase social mobility, so that people who work hard and play by the rules can move up the social ladder. This can help to reduce the perception that success is a zero-sum game, and that one person’s gain must come at another’s expense.

Finally, it’s important to promote empathy and understanding between different groups, and to encourage people to see the commonalities that they share, rather than focusing on their differences. By doing so, we can help to reduce feelings of relative deprivation, and build a more harmonious and inclusive society.

And finally-finally, here’s an amusing cartoon to help explain it…