In every country, certain groups confront barriers that prevent them from fully participating in their nation’s political, economic, and social life. These groups may be excluded not only through legal systems, land and labor markets, but also through attitudes, beliefs, or perceptions. Disadvantage is often based on social identity, which may be derived from gender, age, location, occupation, race, ethnicity, religion, citizenship status, disability, and sexual orientation and gender identity (SOGI), among other factors.
Exclusion can rob individuals of dignity, security, and the opportunity to lead a better life.
There is a moral imperative to address social exclusion. Left unaddressed, the exclusion of disadvantaged groups can also be costly. And the costs—whether social, political, or economic—are likely to be substantial.
At the individual level, the loss of wages, lifetime earnings, poor education, and employment outcomes are the commonest measures of costs. Social exclusion is often solidified through discrimination, which can have physical and mental health costs.
At the national level, the economic cost of social exclusion can be captured by forgone gross domestic product (GDP) and human capital wealth. Exclusion or the perception of exclusion may cause certain groups to opt out of markets, services, and spaces, with costs to both individuals and the economy.
A recent International Monetary Fund (IMF) paper shows that the current gender gap in the labor force costs countries at the bottom half of gender inequality around 35 percent of GDP. A 2018 World Bank paper estimates that Africa alone lost $ 2.5 trillion in human capital due to gender inequality and 11.4% of total wealth in 2014. Another study found that exclusion of the ethnic minority Roma cost Romania 887 million euros in lost productivity.
Acknowledging this, the United Nations has committed to “leaving no one behind” in an effort to help countries promote inclusive growth and achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
Social inclusion is also an integral part of—and vital to—achieving the World Bank Group’s twin goals of ending extreme poverty and boosting shared prosperity.
The World Bank Group defines social inclusion as:
- The process of improving the terms for individuals and groups to take part in society, and
- The process of improving the ability, opportunity, and dignity of those disadvantaged on the basis of their identity to take part in society.