Social Problems in Sociology

What is Social Problem?

Social change creates many social problems in a functional society (i.e.). The norms, values, customs, traditions, mores, and laws of social change as the changes occur inside society. It means that society is disturbed by external or internal forces of social change. A changing society inevitably develops problems; either the conditions themselves change and become unacceptable (population growth, soil erosion, and deforestation create a conservation problem) or the society's changing values define an old shape as no longer tolerable (child labour, poverty, racism. or sex inequality)

Factors, Types, Causes and Consequences of Social Problems

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There is no universal, clear cut, constant, or absolute definition of what constitutes a social problem. Instead, social issues are defined by objective and subjective criteria that vary across societies, among individuals and groups within a community, and across historical periods.

A social problem is a condition born in a society that is not an ideal situation. As long as a society still finds the community's unmet needs equally, social problems will always exist. A heterogeneous society like Bangladesh will undoubtedly encounter a lot of social issues. 

According to Arnold Rose “ A Social Problem may be defined as a situation which has influenced a good majority of people. i.e.., they believe that this situation itself is responsible for their difficulties or displeasures which may be removed”

According to the International Encyclopedia of the social sciences, Vol-14 “ social problems are described most simply as perplexing questions about human societies proposed for solutions. The social problems are part of the climate of opinion in society which enters on expressed needs for public policies and anticipated requirements for social control”. 

The Social Work Dictionary Defines Social problems as “Conditions among people leading to social responses that violets some people's values and norms and cause emotional or economic suffering.


Some other essential definitions of social problems are given below : 

1. Horton and Leslie: It is often defined as a condition that many people consider undesirable and wish to correct. 

2. Lindbergh: "It is any deviant behaviour in a disapproved direction of such a degree that it exceeds the tolerance limit of the community".

3. L.K. Frank: Any difficulty of misbehaviour of a relatively large number of persons which we wish to remove or correct." 

4. Fuller & Mayer: "A social problem starts with the awakening of people in a given locality, with the realization of certain cherished values that are threatened by the conditions which have become acute."

Read: Theoretical Perspectives to Social Problems


Factors of Social Problems

Social problems encountered in the community are usually very diverse. However, the diversity of social issues can be categorized into four main factors, namely as follows.

a) Economic factors, usually in poverty, unemployment, Beggary, Dependency and so on.

b) Cultural factors, usually in divorce, juvenile delinquency, Overpopulation, Communal Conflict and so on.

c) Economic factors, usually poverty, unemployment, Beggary, Dependency, etc.

d) Cultural factors, usually in divorce, juvenile delinquency, Overpopulation, Communal Conflict and so on.

e) Biological factors, usually in the form of infectious diseases, food poisoning, etc.

f) Psychological factors, usually in the form of neurological disease, a cult, Frustration, Suicide and so on. 


Forms of Social Problems

¾   Abortion /Alcoholism 

¾   Bullying /Campus Crime

¾   Capital Punishment / Death Penalty 

¾   Child Abuse /Child Labor 

¾   Cyber Bullying (Cyberbullying)

¾   Domestic Violence 

¾   HIV / AIDS 

¾   Human Trafficking 

¾   Pornography  /Poverty

¾   Rape /Sex Trade/ Sexual Harassment /Spousal Abuse 

¾   Smoking / Tobacco 

¾   Stereotyping /Suicide

¾   Terrorism /Unemployment 


Read: Poverty: Types, Causes and Trends

Read: Corruption as a Social Problem

Read: Women Vulnerabilities: Levels and Forms

Characteristics of Social Problems

Salient features and characteristics of social problems are that it changes the situation so that a problem is created to the extent that the existing social order has to be changed. It also means that it is challenging to solve the problem, but feeling that such a solution is inevitable or undesirable is not proper. But one of the significant characteristics is that it becomes a problem only when people begin to feel and take that in that sense. As long as the people are not aware of the problem, even though that exists, there is no social disharmony, but maladjustment comes to the front only when the masses become conscious of it.


Classification of Social Problems

So far, no universally accepted classification has been produced about social problems. Our sociologists have tried to give different categories.

According to Harold A. Phelps, the classification of such problems is biological. 

¾   physical defects; bio-psychological 

¾   feeble mindedness cultural, 

¾   juvenile delinquency and economic 

¾   poverty and unemployment. 

Another classification is based on heritage 

¾   physical heritage, 

¾   biological heritage, 

¾   social heritage. 

But so far, no universally accepted classification has been produced. The primary reason for this is that no problem is absolute in society. Every issue is relative and linked with one or more aspects of our life.


Causes of Social Problems in Bangladesh

A social problem is not welcomed in any society. Problems create disharmony and maladjustment, but still, the problems exist. What are the leading causes which have been posted by our sociologists? So far, the situation has found no solution, and every attempt made in this regard has failed. The main reason for this is that sociologists cannot pinpoint a single cause responsible for creating such a problem. The grounds, which may be accountable in one society, may not be liable in the other society.

Similarly, what may be liable under certain circumstances may not be under certain other circumstances. In fact, in actual practice, it has been found difficult to find any single cause responsible for creating social problems. Some of the many reasons include the individual's feeble-mindedness and physical disability. Industrialization, immobility and weak social institutions may be other causes responsible for it.

The nature of a social problem and its need for binding intervention cannot be overemphasized to salvage society from the conditions or situations that warrant its occurrence. These causes are therefore contingent factors worthy of understanding in order to wage war against social problems affecting societal growth, development and transformation respectively. Also, the basic causes of the social problem are structural and individual-related. The structural cause of a social problem revolves around the way and manner the socio-economic, and political administrators function (Uzodike & Maiangwa, 2012; Akanni, 2014; and Aborisade, 2017) while the individual factor can singlehandedly engineer some problems – by initiating a social movement. Due to the relativity of social problems, sociologists cannot pinpoint a single cause responsible for creating the problem everywhere i.e. the cause of a problem in a particular jurisdiction, may not be the force in another. Hence, in actual practice, it is presumed difficult to relate a single cause for a social problem. Worthy of note, a social problem can also necessitate another social problem from anywhere in the world (Uzodike & Maiangwa, 2012). 

For instance, unemployment or underemployment in any nation can stir up the likelihood of poverty, poor standard of living, low cost of living, and health issues to mention but a few. On another note, war as a significant social problem usually comes with other acquaintances – homelessness, famine, sexual assault, homicide, genocide to mention a few. Other causes of a social problem include feeble-mindedness of the individual, individual consciousness, segregation/marginalisation, globalization, industrialization, leadership aptitude, weak social structure – especially the political and economic base, to mention a few (Uzodike & Maiangqa, 2012; Ijewereme & Dunmade, 2014; and Aborisade, 2017). Nonetheless, the causes highlighted above as engineered by the individual, national and international bodies or even by the social problem itself make it quite important to proffer appropriate and workable mechanisms for the menace. This is therefore necessarily based on the consequences of any social problem on the individual and the society at large – which is the main focus of the next heading. 

    a) Social Change

    b) Natural Disaster

    c) Overpopulations

    d) Political Turmoil

    e) Unequal Distribution of Wealth and Opportunity

    f) Illiteracy

    g) Social Ill-Health

    h) Cultural Lag and Cultural Conflict ( Satellite Culture)

    i) Unplanned Urbanization and Industrialization

    j) Values Conflict and so on.


Attitudes Towards Social Problems

a) Indifference

b) Fatalistic Resignation

c) Cynicism

d) Religious Retribution

e) Sentimentalism

f) Social Scientific Attitude

Ways to Reduce/Control Social Problems

    a) Social Research
    b) Legal Control
    c) Change in Behavior
    d) Social Policy and Planning
    e) Use and Engagement of Experts
    f) Religion and Moral Education
    g) Equal Distribution of Wealth and Opportunity
    h) Social Prognosis


Read: NGOs Initiatives in Poverty Alleviation in Bangladesh

Read: Government Initiatives in Poverty Reduction of Bangladesh

Solutions/Effects/Consequences of Social Problems

The social problem very adversely affects our society. One of the significant effects is that our harmony is disturbed, and in its stead, there is hostility and suspicion in society. These also result in large-scale social dissatisfaction and create suffering and misery. On the whole, These do not help solve any problem but create a problem of serious magnitude, which is disadvantageous to the whole society. But in this connection, it may be pointed out that 'problem' is not an absolute term. It is only a relative term because what is a problem for one society may not be a problem for the other. Similarly, 'problem' is not permanent and universal. What may appear problem today may not remain so tomorrow.

We found that child marriage was a problem in India until yesterday, but it has received universal condemnation today and is no problem at all. So is the case with Sati System and so on. But despite this, there are still some universal problems that are identical, e.g. poverty, unemployment and crime etc.

The implications of any social problem (no matter its structural dimension) in a society cannot be left underrated for reasons concerning value consensus, continuity and development of the system in question. This is implying that the nature of social problems experienced in any living society bears a significant effect on the state of the economy, political administration and the individual members of the society regardless of their social class (Ogionwo, 2016). The consequences of social problems ranging from a pressing need to an unexpected and disastrous ending. For instance, the mob actions of citizens in Libya, Egypt and Gambia led to a desirous ending of the government in power while the re-occurrence of the Ebola virus (killing thousands of people in 2014/2015) led to the concerted effort nationally and internationally bodies (Caputo, 2005). In essence, social problem threatens the social and the physical world. Social problems such as underemployment, unemployment, poverty, rape, terrorism, hard drug use/abuse and a host of others can impact a person’s quality of life (emotions, psychology, social and medical) negatively, as well as his friends and families (Aborisade & Vaughan, 2014; and Ogionwo, 2016). The social problems briefly highlighted above have led to the death of numerous individuals, some now reside in psychiatric homes, some have sustained several health challenges (hypertension, stress, high blood pressure, heart attack), and some have lost bearing of their life (giving up on their dreams).

On a societal level, kidnapping activity threatens the national orientation (freedom to move freely all around the nation without any fear) as well as the nation’s security. Terrorism at the extreme shakes the nook and crannies of the nation, especially the targeted area. This is one reason why Maiduguri city in Nigeria currently remains a no-go area for sensible individuals - Nigerians and outsiders due to the bombings activities of Boko Haram from the earliest time to date (BBC, 2014). In the same vein, the United States of America would forever remember, The World Trade Centre bombing on September 11, 2001, by the Al-Qaeda Group led by the late Osama Bin Laden.

Nevertheless, social problems can also threaten social institutions on the local or international front. For example, spousal killing if not given adequate catered for can be highly disastrous to the family system – which bears significant implications for the continuity of the society. The global economic crisis – the great depression, the great recession and the 21st-century recession for instance also bears so many implications on the economic state of the nation either developed or developing. Against all odds, it is so crucial to work out a possible mechanism for ameliorating social problems that influence societal development and continuity. The next section, therefore, explains the possible mechanism practically useful to give any social problem the attention and intervention it requires.


Obileye, A. A., & Aborisade, R. A. (2020). Social Problem. Introduction to Sociology: African Culture, Context and Complexity, 275-285

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