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Social and Economic Inequality in India and South Africa

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For the beginning, I would like to define the notion of economic and social inequality, before we move to the main idea of this research. Economic inequality has two meanings: it can either refer to income distribution or wealth distribution among countries. Income distribution and wealth distribution refer to the national income divided among citizens of a country. According to McCarthy (2018), ‘social inequality is traditionally defined as the existence of unequal opportunities for different social positions or statuses for various individuals within a group or society’. Now that we know the meaning of economic and social inequality we can move forward to the main idea of this research, we are going to analyze some countries to see how things have changed during the years and what would be useful in order to prevent inequality or to alleviate it.

One of the first countries we are going to analyze is India. As we know India is the 2nd largest country in the world after China, with a population of 1.3 billion after estimates from United Nations (2019). A little bit of history: we go back to 1980s because in that period ‘domestic reforms started in what is now one of the most attractive markets for global investors’ (Sintia, 2018). Also, Sintia (2018) notes that India was slowly easing restrictions and eliminating ineffective policies that had slowed social and economic progress decades after the country obtained its independence from the British Empire and in the early 2000s witnessed India entering the fastest period of economic growth in its history, averaging more than 8% increase a year from 2004 to 2014, but three years later, the country’s gross domestic product reached $2.597 trillion, which surpassed France’s GDP of $2.582 trillion. Despite their fast economic growth India is still considered one of the countries with a big gap between social classes. People are living in poverty and that’s not all, after a report made by Global Hunger Index in 2018 it came out that India is ranked 103rd from 119th countries on the hunger issue. These are worrying news for the Indian population. However, the situation has slightly changed over the years from 2000s. As it stands now, the GHI score for India is decreasing from year to year, the current GHI score is 31.1%, which means that the level of hunger is really serious. But, India’s top 1% owns more than 50% of the country’s wealth and it is the world’s second largest food producer and yet is also home to the second-highest population of undernourished people in the world (FAO 2015).

This hunger issue comes from the negative effects of economic and social inequality, if there would be a better distribution of money and a wage increase for the lower classes, poverty wouldn’t affect that much the population as it is nowadays. As GHI (2016) mentions that ‘the poorest people in India are those who belong to Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes – traditionally oppressed classes for whom the Indian constitution provides special affirmative provisions to promote and protect their social, educational and economic interests’. As a consequence, ‘Dalits and Adivasis are over-proportionally affected by poverty, with 104 million people belonging to nearly 700 distinct ethnic groups, India has the second-largest tribal population in the world’ (Government of India 2011). This means that ‘47% of the rural tribal population lives below the national poverty line, compared to the national average for rural areas of 28%’ (Rao 2012).

According to Oxfam (2018), in the period between 2006 and 2015, ordinary workers saw their incomes rise by an average of just 2% a year while billionaire wealth rose almost six times faster. The CEO of Oxfam India, Nisha Agrawal (2016) mentions that: ‘The Indian government’s efforts at reducing inequality and combating poverty faster are woefully inadequate. It needs to stop the super-rich and the corporates from continuing to rob India of its wealth, but also needs to invest more in agriculture, and implementing fully the social protection schemes (such as rural job scheme and the Food Security Act) that already exist’. Although, this is not the only problem in India, ‘malnutrition undermined people’s health, often leading to the needless grief of a child’s preventable death or the catastrophic loss of a mother in childbirth’ (David, 2016). The death rate while giving birth is decreasing. In 10 years it has decreased. It’s a small progress and more children have the chance to live a normal life, these are good news because the eradication of hunger and poverty is present in a continuous process to give children a normal life. Unfortunately for those children who have the chance to survive at birth, some of them are dying before the age of 5. The death of children under 5 years is steadily decreasing. As reported by the United Nations (2018), “The under-five mortality rate of India at 39 per 1000 now equals that of the world, highlighting the much faster decline by India in the last five years as compared to the global decline” and ‘the gender gap in child survival has reduced almost four-fold in the last five years, with under-five mortality of girl child now being 2.5% higher, compared to nearly 10% in 2012’. Moreover, from the data that we have analyzed on India we can observe a decrease over the years, on different problems such as hunger, infant death, malnutrition and of course poverty, these decreases are really encouraging for the Indian population giving them hope.

Furthermore, we are going to analyze another country and its issue in the economic and social inequality. The other country we are going to analyze is South Africa. As mentioned by Terence (2018), ‘South Africa is not only the world’s most unequal country, but that extreme inequality has become a major constraint to higher levels of economic growth, because it is undermining policy certainty and depressing investment’.

Indeed, South Africa is the most unequal country in the world, and as consequence its own citizens have to suffers because of this, hunger, poverty, children starving, no workplaces. In line with the furnished information by the World Bank (2017), ‘Job creation is one of South Africa’s fundamental goals, with the country’s National Development Plan (NDP) targeting the creation of 11 million jobs to reduce the high unemployment rate to 6% by 2030, and to significantly reduce poverty and inequality. But to meet this target, the World Bank estimates that the economy would have to produce at least 600,000 new jobs on average, annually’.

South Africa is the most unequal country in the world and its poverty is the ‘enduring legacy of apartheid’ and unemployment disproportionally affects black South Africans, perpetuating apartheid’s inequality (World Bank, 2018). Sulla (2018), mentions that: ‘The country was very unequal in 1994 [at the end of apartheid] and now 25 years later South Africa is the most unequal country in the world and there is no country where the inequality is higher than South Africa’.

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As a result, black African people struggle to find a job; they live in poverty. Because people struggle to find a job, without any income, or any resources, hunger comes into game. The hunger issue is not that serious as it is in case of India, but yet it still exists.

According to GHI (2018), ‘South Africa is ranked 60th country out of 119’, and ‘the hunger issue is moderate’. South African Child Gauge organization (2018) mentions that ‘a third of South Africa’s children at serious risk of hunger and around 20% of (or one-in-five) children do not live with their parents, also around 40% of kids are growing up without a father, without a ‘breadwinner’, or at least an additional source of income, children with absent dads are suffering this cruel fate’. Living without a father and living only with the mother is really hard for a kid and also for the mother, she has to go to work to earn money and at the same time somehow to be sure that her kid is ok. Gender inequality is still present in South Africa, opportunities for work and the amount of wage earned is lower, having to take care of 2 or 3 is hard with lack of money or an income and it often leads to hunger, malnutrition and in the worst-case scenario, to death. As mentioned by Xikombiso and Irene (2017), poverty leads to food deprivation and under-nutrition, which in extreme cases leads to stunting. In 2014, over 10 million South Africans, 19.7% of the country’s population, reported having inadequate food access. Factors such as accessibility, affordability, and quality of available food are part of the reason why over three million people (6.5%) reported had severely inadequate food access. In accordance with David, Louis & Lori (2017), about 53 children under the age of five die in South Africa every day and three-quarters of them do not live to see their first birthday. Most of these children die of preventable causes with malnutrition a key driver of under-five mortality in South Africa. A total of 31% of children who died in hospital between 2012 and 2013 were severely malnourished and a further 30% were underweight for their age.

Malnutrition doesn’t only threaten children’s survival, it undermines their ability to thrive and achieve their full potential. However, this is the result of economic and social inequality. Schools in South Africa are poor and the preparation of teachers is also poor. As mentioned by UNICEF, primary schooling is compulsory for children aged 7 to 15 while an integrated approach to early childhood development aims to give all children between birth and school-going age the best start in life, not to mention that schools’ policy has abolished school fees in the poorest primary schools across the country, helping to attract poor, orphaned, disabled and vulnerable children to school. And yet performance levels are lower than in many other countries in the region and also high levels of school attendance, gender parity in both primary and secondary education and pro-poor school policies are achievements that contrast with the poor quality of education. Even though, South Africa has schools which abolished the fees for education, many children experience a broken journey through school, interrupted by irregular attendance, absent teachers, teenage pregnancy and school-related abuse and violence. Also, around 27% of public schools do not have running water, 78% are without libraries and 78% do not have computers.

Because of the inequality still existing today children don’t have the same possibilities to study as other kids around the world. Kids from disadvantaged backgrounds who live in poverty quit school. Money is the root of all evil if it’s not used in the right way to make the world a better place where to live in. From the data we have analyzed we can observe a slightly improve against poverty in both cases. To fight against economic and social inequality governments ought to stop rich people by taking advantage of poor people by being exploited. For example, in India, some people are working until they are really exhausted; the negative thing about this is that workers are paid just over $2 (£1.30) a day, when they should be paid $7 for a 12-hour shift (Humphrey, 2012). In both countries, India and South Africa rich people get richer, while the poor people get poorer. The sad reality today is that rich people don’t care about their workers in poor countries, they just want money, don’t care about employees who are struggling to make a living for their family to have a normal life at least. What we can do to prevent poverty or to alleviate inequality? To prevent poverty or to alleviate inequality we have international organizations such as UNESCO, UNICEF, ARK, OXFAM. All these organizations have one common target, and that target is to stop poverty and give people a chance to live a normal life.

As UNICEF (2003) stated that their mission is to advocate for the protection of children’s rights, to help meet their basic needs and to expand their opportunities to reach their full potential and is committed to ensuring special protection for the most disadvantaged children – victims of war, disasters, extreme poverty, all forms of violence and exploitation and those with disabilities. Also, their mission is to promote the equal rights of women and girls and to support their full participation in the political, social, and economic development of their communities.

According to OXFAM, ‘In poverty, people have little power and are denied an effective voice. Poverty means little income, too few assets, lack of access to basic services and opportunities, deep inequalities, ongoing insecurity and little opportunity for development. Poverty is rooted in inequality, and in human action or inaction. It can be worsened by natural disasters, human violence, oppression and environmental damage, and maintained by institutions and economic means’. Also, OXFAM mentions that ‘our vision is a just world without poverty: we want a world where people are valued and treated equally, enjoy their rights as full citizens, and can influence decisions affecting their lives’ and ‘people have a right to life and security, to a sustainable livelihood, to be heard, to have an identity, and to have access to basic social services’.

As we observed the missions of these two organizations to alleviate poverty we have to stand together and help poor people in order to live a normal life.

As a conclusion, we should care about economic and social inequality and in this case governments ought to fight against them to provide for their citizens a higher income, more opportunities for a job, better education. If we are able to end poverty, prosperity begins. If we end hunger people start to blossom to reach their full potential. We are shaping the world with the actions we take and every kid/person deserves the right to live a normal life.

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Social and Economic Inequality in India and South Africa. (2022, September 01). Edubirdie. Retrieved September 22, 2023, from
“Social and Economic Inequality in India and South Africa.” Edubirdie, 01 Sept. 2022,
Social and Economic Inequality in India and South Africa. [online]. Available at: <> [Accessed 22 Sept. 2023].
Social and Economic Inequality in India and South Africa [Internet]. Edubirdie. 2022 Sept 01 [cited 2023 Sept 22]. Available from:
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