No matter where we live, what communities we belong to or what we care about, we are affected by social issues. It’s the price of living in a society, and while challenges like poverty, climate change and discrimination can feel overwhelming, we have the power to take action. The first step is understanding what issues we’re up against. In this article, we’ll explore 15 of the biggest social issues facing the world today.
|The global housing crisis
|Threats to LGBTQ+ rights
|Health and healthcare
|Threats to journalism
#1. The global housing crisis
Shelter is a human right, but hundreds of millions of people lack adequate, affordable housing. According to the World Bank, the housing crisis is global, and it could impact as many as 1.6 billion people by 2025. That number will only grow with time. By 2030, the world needs to build 96,000 new affordable homes per day to meet the needs of 3 billion people. What’s driving the global housing crisis? According to Albert Saiz in a paper for the MIT Center for Real Estate, economic factors like rising costs and income inequality are prevalent. Addressing these issues now is critical to protecting people in the future.
#2. Gender inequality
Societies have been working to improve gender inequality for centuries, but we still have a long way to go. Globally, women still make less money than men, have poorer health outcomes, have fewer opportunities and endure more gender–based violence. According to 2023 data, the global gender gap won’t close until 2154. Even the most gender-equal country, which is Iceland, still has social issues to address. Some of the issues are recognized – women are still being subjected to physical and sexual violence – while there are gaps in data related to things like unpaid care, domestic work, gender and the environment, and so on.
#3. Climate crisis
The climate crisis is one of today’s most urgent social issues. Earth.org outlines a list of major climate events in 2023, including severe droughts, wildfires, higher ocean surface temperatures and storms. That same year, the IPCC released a summary of its previous five reports, showing how human activity is causing severe damage to the planet, and, if trends continue, parts of the earth will become unlivable in just a few decades. The world can fight the climate crisis, but we have to significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions and turn to renewable energy sources.
Greenhouse gas emissions are a primary driver of climate change, but overconsumption is hurting the planet, too. Unfathomable amounts of food, clothing, plastic and other things are thrown into landfills and the ocean every day. However, it’s not a problem for everyone. According to research, just 20% of the world’s population is responsible for consuming 80% of the globe’s natural resources. The richest 500 million people release half of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions. To break it down even further, if every person in the world consumed resources at the rate as people in Canada and the United States did, we would need at least five earths.
#5. Global hunger
Global food insecurity is a serious problem. According to data, about 735 million people endured chronic hunger in 2022, and with issues like climate change, the lingering effects of the pandemic and conflict, it will be very challenging to end hunger by 2030. Children typically suffer the most. When kids don’t get enough to eat, they become more vulnerable to diseases like measles, malaria and diarrhea. According to the World Food Programme, “hotspots” for hunger include Burkina Faso, Mali, South Sudan and Palestine.
#6. Threats to LGBTQ+ rights
At the same time as LGBTQ+ rights have expanded, certain countries have pushed back. In the summer of 2023, the first Ugandan was charged with “aggravated homosexuality,” a crime punishable by death. In its 2023 review, the Electronic Frontier Foundation also found an increase in anti-LGBTQ sentiment, including more laws that restrict privacy and freedom of expression, and censorship of LGBTQ+ websites. Even in places like the United States, which is seen by many as a haven for the LGBTQ+ community, legislative threats are on the rise.
#7. Reproductive justice
Reproductive justice, which includes things like abortion access and maternal health, is a social issue affecting every corner of the world. According to the Center for Reproductive Rights, most countries are expanding abortion rights, while just four – the United States, Poland, Nicaragua, and El Salvador – rolled back abortion rights. Globally, about 40% of women live in places with “restrictive” abortion laws. Related social issues include menstrual health, prenatal and maternal health, access to contraception and so on.
#8. Educational disparities
When people get a good education, they’re more likely to have higher incomes, better health, healthier children and other benefits. On a larger scale, education also helps countries achieve overall wealth and health. There’s been significant progress on closing the gender gap in education. According to a blog on the World Bank, boys and girls complete primary school at almost an equal rate. However, around 130 million girls are still being denied an education. Wealth also plays a role in educational disparities. In the United States, one study found that wealth affects a student’s chances of finishing college. On a global scale, wealth also impacts where a family lives and what school options are available, as well as tutoring opportunities, whether a student needs a job and much more.
#9. Health and healthcare
Health and the ability (or inability) to access good healthcare are major social issues. Unfortunately, healthcare systems around the world are struggling. COVID-19 continues to be a problem, but hospitals are also facing staff shortages and competition. Not everyone is affected equally. According to the World Health Organization, refugees and migrants experience worse health outcomes due to language barriers, cultural differences, discrimination and legal restrictions on what services they can access.
#10. Income inequality
Global income inequality fluctuates, but according to a 2023 Oxfam study, the world’s richest 1% took almost ⅔ of all the new wealth created since 2020. That gave them almost twice the amount of money held by the bottom 99%. Income inequality can cause serious problems, such as lower economic growth, worse social cohesion and political polarization. There are also ethical consequences to income inequality, which human rights and social justice advocates often discuss. Can society ever be truly good or free when only a handful of people hold all the wealth?
#11. Global unemployment (and underemployment)
High unemployment rates – and low-paying jobs – drive income inequality and poverty. In a 2023 report, the International Labour Organization found that the world is still experiencing slow employment growth. There was a slight recovery in 2021, but as the economy slows again, people are forced to take jobs that pay less, provide fewer hours and/or offer poor working conditions. South Africa, which is the most industrialized economy in Africa, also has one of the highest unemployment rates. According to Reuters, reasons include structural issues related to the shadows of colonialism and apartheid. To fight issues like poverty and gender inequality, countries need to address unemployment and low-paying jobs.
#12. Increased migration
People move all the time, but issues like war and climate change force people to leave their homes. Sometimes, they move within the borders of one country, but other times, they’re forced to take long, dangerous journeys to countries they’ve never visited. According to the Migration Policy Institute, “humanitarian migration” increased in 2023, while policies could impact elections in 2024. The social issues related to migration, such as the rights of migrants, affordable housing, health services and more, will all be relevant for the foreseeable future.
#13. Artificial intelligence
The presence of artificial intelligence has exploded in recent years, but the technology has several issues. Ethics is just one of them. According to a guide on UMA Libraries, AI has problems with gender and racial bias, plagiarism, generating fake news and supporting scams. It also takes a lot of energy to train and run AI programs, so as the use of AI increases, so will its carbon footprint. As the technology continues to develop, new regulations, legislation and guidelines will need to be created, as well.
#14. Debt bondage
Rates of labor trafficking have been increasing over the years. According to research, about ⅕ of those in forced labor trafficking are in debt bondage. Debt bondage is a very common type of trafficking where a person is forced to work off a loan. However, because the debt is often so high and they are paid so little, it’s impossible to escape the situation. Perpetrators also often have no intention of freeing the people they’re exploiting; debt bondage can even pass on to children. While bonded labor is technically illegal in some places, like India, it persists, especially in rural areas. Because trafficking is an illicit practice, it’s very difficult to get accurate numbers, but it’s most likely worse than what’s reported.
#15. Threats to journalism
By providing vital information to the public, journalists are essential to freedom of speech, freedom of expression, democracy and the protection of other human rights. In recent years, journalism has been under threat. According to the 2023 World Press Freedom Index, the environment for journalism was “bad” in seven out of 10 countries, while it was “satisfactory” in just three out of 10 countries. The reasons include a surge in fake news and propaganda. Journalists also face threats to their lives. UNESCO found that in 2023, there was a near doubling of deaths of journalists working in conflict zones. As conflicts in Ukraine, Palestine and other countries continue, the safety of journalism will remain a social issue.