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Separating people from one another based on ethnicity, race, gender or sexuality are just a few examples of segregation. A prime example of segregation is the divide between 'white' and 'black' people in the US, which has gone on for centuries. Even though it may not always look like it, segregation, in various ways, still exists in modern times and on a global scale too. Read on to learn more about the different types of segregation.

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Separating people from one another based on ethnicity, race, gender or sexuality are just a few examples of segregation. A prime example of segregation is the divide between 'white' and 'black' people in the US, which has gone on for centuries. Even though it may not always look like it, segregation, in various ways, still exists in modern times and on a global scale too. Read on to learn more about the different types of segregation.

Segregation meaning

Segregation is the act of dividing or isolating groups of people or individuals from one another by discriminative means. This divide or isolation is often based on characteristics that people have no control over, for example, race, gender, and sexuality. Sometimes, society creates segregation, but sometimes it is enforced by the government. Segregation reflects the cultural context of a place or time. There are different types of segregation, and it affects groups in different ways. The experience and perception of segregation have also developed over time.

Examples of Segregation

There are several types of segregation, many of which cross over and influence each other. This means that many marginalised groups experience multiple forms of segregation.

Discrimination is when someone is treated differently due to their different characteristics, such as age, gender, and/or race. Therefore, segregation is a form of discrimination.

Economic segregation

Economic segregation is the separation of people based on the money they both earn and have. This can result in people being unable to get out of poverty or wealthier people being given social benefits. Economic segregation can have serious knock-on effects on people. Low socio-economic areas have increased risks of poverty, housing instability, homelessness and crime. This can also result in poorer nutrition and poor access to healthcare, resulting in increased disease and illness.

In places such as Los Angeles, more funding and support have been given to areas with already functioning services and a higher overall quality of life. This leaves lower, poorer areas to struggle, eventually leading to the collapse of services within the area.

Ethnic & racial segregation

This is the separation of different groups, usually according to culture, ethnicity or race. Racial and ethnic segregation see people being split and treated differently based on their race and ethnicity. This is more evident in areas of political conflict and can be highly noticeable in developing countries. This, however, does not mean that segregation does not occur in wealthy developed countries.

While your mind may instantly go to the US when thinking about racial segregation and the whole divide between 'white' and 'black', there are many more examples of ethnic and racial segregation throughout history, some even going back to the 8th century!

Examples are:

  • Imperial China - 836, in the Tan dynasty (618-907 AD), Lu Chu, governor of Canton, southern China, banned interracial marriages and made it illegal for any foreigner to own property. The law that was imposed specifically banned the Chinese from forming any sort of relationship with anyone belonging to the 'Dark peoples' or 'People of colour', such as Iranians, Indians and Malays.
  • Jewish people in Europe - as far back as the 12th century the Pope ruled that Jews had to wear distinctive clothing to show they are separate from Christians. Jewish segregation, in various ways, went on for centuries, with the most infamous (recent) example being World War II. Jewish people had to wear a Yellow Badge showing they were Jewish. They were also, alongside Roma, Poles, and other 'undesirables' killed in the Holocaust during World War II.
  • Canada - people indigenous to Canada were either treated in racially segregated hospitals or on segregated wards in regular hospitals. They were also often the subject of medical experimentation, often without their consent.
  • US - for centuries, there has been segregation between 'white' and 'black', from banning interracial relationships and marriages to segregation in busses, public spaces and even at drinking fountains.

Segregation Jewish Yellow Star StudySmarterFig. 1 - Jewish people were forced to wear yellow stars in an act of segregation

Rosa Parks

Racial segregation has been around for centuries in the US, having been made law several times in the 18th and 19th centuries. These were dark and heavy times for people of any skin colour other than white. There have been movements against racial segregation over time, but the most notable event happened on 1 December 1955. Rosa Parks (February 4, 1913 – October 24, 2005) had a seat on a bus in the designated 'coloured section'. The bus became more crowded, and when the 'white section' was full, she was asked to vacate her seat in the 'coloured section' so that a 'white' passenger could take that seat. She refused and was subsequently arrested and charged with a violation. A friend bailed her out. In the years that followed, there were protests against racial segregation. After her initial arrest in 1955, she became an international icon of racial segregation resistance and the Civil Rights Movement.

She also caught the attention of people such as Dr Martin Luther King Jr. Eventually, in June 1963, President John F. Kennedy first proposed legislation against racial segregation. When Kennedy was assassinated on November 22, 1963, his successor, President Lyndon B. Johnson, pushed the bill forward. The president signed this new bill on July 2, 1964, and it became known as the Civil Rights Act 1964.

Gender segregation

Gender segregation, also known as sex segregation, is when men and women are physically, legally and/or culturally separated based on their biological sex. Those that seek to enforce gender segregation see women as subservient to men. It has been argued that the fight against this type of segregation has seen the most progress, but the negative impacts of gender segregation are still evident across the globe. Many jobs are still seen as feminine only or masculine only. Even more serious than this, countries still prevent (through laws or societal norms) women and girls from voting, driving or attending school based purely on their gender.

Occupational Segregation

Occupational segregation is a term used to describe the distribution of social groups in the workplace; it provides information about the make-up of a workplace and allows the company to understand the social groups in their company and if a particular group is too small.

In a company with 100 workers, the head of the company may wish to analyse if they are lacking a diverse structure and will send out a report to check the demographics that are prevalent and non-prevalent in the company. This can allow them to understand the image they have and prevent segregating a particular group from being part of the workforce.

Causes of segregation

The leading cause of segregation is the choices made by the state or government. These can include job availability, funding to areas, and perspectives taken by politicians.

As governments invite large global companies into specific areas such as cities and more affluent commercial areas, jobs become more available in these areas, often populated by more wealthy residents. As well as this, funding for areas with established services and high quality of life can leave areas without lacking.

The perceptions of genders, ethnicities, and more can significantly influence how that group lives at the social level. As opinions of certain groups grow, negative implications are placed on people and are thusly isolated. Lack of education can also cause the continuation of segregation.

Has segregation ended?

While it may seem that certain types of segregation have ended, this is far from the truth. That is not to say that there have been no steps forward. When Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat, it eventually brought about change. This change, however, was slow, and it never fully ended racial segregation. The 1964 Civil Rights Act was supposed to crush institutional discrimination in the United States, but many still suffer from segregation.

Other types of segregation also exist. Think of the earlier-mentioned gender segregation, where we still see that women are not in high-power jobs, such as a CEO of a company; the majority are men. Or think of children with various learning disabilities that are shunned from regular classrooms. These are only 2 examples; there are plenty more.

What are some perceptions of segregation?

People outside the area can perceive areas with segregation in several negative ways, and as time goes on, some of these have changed for the better. Occupational segregation is one of these perceptions that has allowed people to analyse their workplace.

Negative changes

Whilst perceptions around ethnic groups have significantly improved, several groups, such as the English Defence League (EDL) or KKK, continue to raise hostility.

As well as this, many perceptions of poorer people, such as laziness and drug abuse, have made it far harder for those in poverty to climb out of it.

Positive changes

Several ethnic communities have developed economically with the growth of businesses and higher-paying managerial positions. Alongside this, younger generations are now a full part of the education systems in the countries they inhabit and can mix their culture with their new homes, such as the UK.

Politically, a growing percentage of politicians have immigrant ancestors or backgrounds and have given their groups a much easier way to get their voices heard.

Whilst these are more reactions to segregation than positive effects, the changes these reactions are making are reducing segregation significantly.

Segregation - Key takeaways

  • Segregation is groups and individuals being split apart by society or the state.
  • There are many types, but three main forms are:
    1. Economic
    2. Ethnic
    3. Gender segregation.
  • There are both positive and negative changes to segregation. There are ways segregation is being tackled, with occupational segregation showing people how different workplaces split social groups.


  1. Fig. 1: Jewish star ( by Daniel Ullrich ( licensed by CC BY-SA 3.0 (

Frequently Asked Questions about Segregation

The definition of segregation is the splitting of groups or individuals apart through rules/laws or by choice.

Segregation still exists across the world but many forms of institutional segregation were ended in 1964 with the civil rights act.

The make-up of different social groups in a workplace.

The separation of races and ethnicities in an area or group.

There are different kinds of segregation; they don't all have a specific start date. However, if we look at the most common one, racial/ethnic segregation, there are examples dating back to the 8th century.

Test your knowledge with multiple choice flashcards

True or false? Bangladeshi migrants are often forced into high concentration areas with low quality of life.

Which of these is not a problem poorer people face?

True or false? Segregated areas can cause alienation between different groups


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