Breaking the Status Quo Article #3: Social Segregation

Written by: Poh En Xi (20-E3), Pheobe Ong Hong Ying (20-O1)

Designed by: Poh En Xi (20-E3)

What is social segregation? When groups of people are deprived of opportunities, some end up having more power over others which enables them to infringe upon the rights of others. Those who are discriminated against become less able to challenge this system of prejudice as it is controlled by those with said power and influence. When we unfairly deprive others based on socio-economic backgrounds, ethnicity or class, we become part of the root cause of inequality in the world.

Sometimes, social segregation arises due to the inability of the less-privileged to change their position. Lower-income groups often cannot afford costly residence or services like healthcare and have to settle for residence in more rural or less developed areas where the standard of living is low (Vandecasteele, I., et al, 2019.) Over time, this can result in areas where the rich and poor congregate separately, leading to segregation based on socioeconomic status. For example, residential segregation has been on the rise in Britain and it has gotten to the point where the Commission has had to discourage locals from building against setting up ‘poor doors’ and ‘rich gates’ in their vicinity (Taylor, 2015). Geographical separation creates an “us against them” mentality that can result in discrimination against vulnerable groups such as lower-income families or minorities, which lowers chances of people in these groups receiving the help they need to step out of their poverty cycle. A paper stated that ‘in 2011, the process of urbanisation is among the fastest in the world. As a result of urbanisation, India contains the highest number of urban slum dwellers, accounting for 17% of the world’s slum dwellers’. It also found that ‘as low-income and middle-income countries become increasingly urbanised, there is a risk that this may lead to increased segregation of the poor as well as increased premature mortality.’ (Chandola, T., et al, 2018). Without adequate assistance and aid to these marginalised groups, the deleterious effects of social segregation are likely to persist.

Another form of social segregation is ethnic segregation, a topic that is still rather sensitive in the present day. Ethnic segregation is the enforced or voluntary residential separation of two or more groups, on the basis of cultural identity (French, 2020). Throughout history, ethnic segregation has caused racism and a lack of understanding for the cultures of other races, which have escalated into ethnic violence or riots. One prominent example is the United States of America (USA), where due to past ethnic segregation during the Reconstruction Era (1863 – 1877), white Americans and African Americans mostly lived together with others of their own ethnic group. One only needs to look at the stories of Ahmaud Arbery and George Floyd, both being African Americans who were allegedly killed due to being ‘suspicious’, to see the distrust and racism that this segregation has led to (BBC, 2020) (Sanchez, 2020). Even in a city as racially diverse as Chicago, the segregation persists, with the South and West sides of Chicago being starkly African American, while other areas remain starkly Hispanic or white (Williams & Emamdjomeh, 2018). Ethnic segregation has long-lasting effects, and it is important that we do not discriminate against others and avoid choosing to only live near people of the same race as us. 

 Singapore is a racially diverse country where many people of different races live close to each other in densely-populated HDBs, due to our Ethnic Integration Policy. However, does this mean that as a society, we have successfully avoided social segregation? The answer to this question is not as black and white as it seems. Although the government has tried to close the income gap and we have been blessed with the ability to mingle with those of different racial or ethnic backgrounds, research suggests that we may be experiencing a different form of social segregation now: elitism. In a study conducted by the Institute of Policy Studies’ (IPS), “Study On Social Capital In Singapore”, it was found that ‘on average, Singaporeans who live in public housing have fewer than one friend who lives in private housing. People who study in elite schools also tend to be less close to those in non-elite schools, and vice versa’. To quote National University of Singapore (NUS) sociologist Vincent Chua, one of the study’s three researchers, ‘Even if you give people equal opportunities, they will still gravitate to hang out with their own kind. So we have to think of ways to disrupt this’. Just the thought of an existence of an ‘elite’ subset of individuals can actually cause the population to boycott interactions with those who seem like ‘elites’,  regardless of whether such a group of people exists. This causes people to be unwilling to interact with people they perceive as “different” from them. Stepping out of our comfort zone to create a more peaceful environment used to be a social responsibility, however, are we starting to take it for granted?

In all, the major obstacle that stands in the way of reducing social segregation is complacency. While many people notice segregation between groups, they do not make an active effort to try and bridge the gaps, instead believing that other parties, such as the government or people in the other groups. People tend to think of social segregation as a problem for the higher-ups to deal with instead of a problem that they can help to solve. Due to this, they tend to be complacent and ignore the power they have to turn the tables around. We tend to group with those similar to us because of our perceived perception that those we do not interact with are “different” from us. It is important that we take the responsibility to step out of our comfort zone when meeting new people and confront our own inner prejudices with an open-mind, if we believe that this is a problem we must tackle.

This article was written in the author’s personal capacity. Views, opinions, and thoughts expressed in all articles published on The Origin* belong solely to the author(s), and do not represent the values or ethos of The Origin* or the College. 


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Taylor, M. (2015, March 10). Social segregation is rising – what’s to be done about it? NewStatesman. Retrieved from

Chandola T., Mikkilineni, S., Chandran, A., Bandyopadhyay, S., Zhang, N., & Bassanesi, S. (2018, February 10). Is socioeconomic segregation of the poor associated with higher premature mortality under the age of 60? A cross-sectional analysis of survey data in major Indian cities. Retrieved June 14, 2020, from 

Sanchez, R. (2020, May 24). Ahmaud Arbery’s tragic final run grips an anxious America. Retrieved June 14, 2020, from 

French, K. (2020). Ethnic Segregation. SAGE Knowledge. Retrieved June 14, 2020, from

BBC. (2020, May 30). George Floyd: What happened in the final moments of his life. Retrieved June 14, 2020, from

Williams, A., & Emamdjomeh, A. (2018, May 10). Analysis | America is more diverse than ever – but still segregated. Retrieved June 14, 2020, from 

Government of Singapore. (2020, April 13). HDB’s Ethnic Integration Policy: Why it still matters. Retrieved June 14, 2020, from 

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With great power comes great responsibility.

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