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Why social inequality persists

Danny Dorling
Paperback, 399 pages, 198 x 129 mm
Other formats available
05 Apr 2011


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North America customers can order this book here from the University of Chicago Press.

"..salutary, shocking reading."
Boyd Tonkin, The Independent
"Original and angry"
Wall Street Journal
"For decades researchers have shown the damage inequality does to all society and Dorling's wonderful book extends this. With brilliance and passion Dorling analyses the mind-set of entitlement among those who hold ever tighter to money, power and life's best rewards, generation to generation."
Polly Toynbee, The Guardian
"A powerful and entertaining read, which sets forth a bold, innovative .. thesis about contemporary inequality"
Sociological Research

About This Book

REVISED EDITION NOW AVAILABLE New Foreword by Richard Wilkinson & Kate Pickett, authors of The spirit level Afterword by Daniel Dorling updates developments in the last year Few would dispute that we live in an unequal and unjust world, but what causes this inequality to persist? Leading social commentator and academic Danny Dorling claims in this timely book that, as the five social evils identified by Beveridge are gradually being eradicated, they are being replaced by five new tenets of injustice, viz: elitism is efficient; exclusion is necessary; prejudice is natural; greed is good and despair is inevitable. In an informal yet authoritative style, Dorling examines who is most harmed by these injustices and why, and what happens to those who most benefit. Hard-hitting and uncompromising in its call to action, this is essential reading for everyone concerned with social justice.

Author Biography

Danny Dorling is Professor of Human Geography at the University of Sheffield. With colleagues he has published 25 books, including 8 atlases, one now translated into 7 languages. In 2007 (Sir) Simon Jenkins described him as 'Geographer Royal by Appointment to the Left', in 2008 he was appointed Honorary President of the Society of Cartographers, and in 2009 he was presented with the Back Award of the Royal Geographical Society.


Foreword ~ Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett
Inequality: the antecedent and outcome and of injustice
'Elitism is efficient': new educational divisions
'Exclusion is necessary': excluding people from society
'Prejudice is natural': a wider racism
'Greed is good': consumption and waste
'Despair is inevitable': health and well-being
Conclusion, conspiracy, consensus


ReviewsOwn it? Review it!

A really interesting read which is suitable for both the general reader and students/academics.

Dorling argues that politicians in rich countries have accepted that inequality is inevitable. He says five sets of beliefs - elitism, exclusion, prejudice, greed and despair have replaced Beveridge's five social evils of ignorance, want, idleness, squalor and disease, and have become so entrenched they mean we have an unjust system that perpetuates inequality. In general we seem to have just accepted this in Britain.

The book builds on the analysis of The Spirit Level and covers some of the same detail but in a more accessible way for the general reader. Some well know facts around educational elitism for example but backed up by his analysis of how large numbers of young people are in effect 'written off'.

We are using both books to inform policy going forward what Dorling doesn't give us is any real answers to how we can effectively address inequality and it is definitely seem as endemic despite all the reports over the last decade on social mobility and life changes, including the most recent one set up by the current government.

Reviewed by Sandra Forbes


Ask any first year psychology student and they will tell you that for any individual to develop their potential and thrive, first there needs to be a sense of self-pride and a set of personal goals. Remove these and independently of the social, societal, biological, political factors that may be evoked, we should expect to see a life of underachievement. We develop these goals and aspirations though a mixture of factors such as our parents, role models, our peers and teachers. But we first have to believe in ourselves. However, society and the modern educational, justice, social, healthcare infrastructures start from the premise that if we are accessing a public service, then we must have a problem; it is not because we are simply pursuing our ambitions. Inequality and injustice have so far been treated as top down targets shaped and informed by populists and politicians. So, a book that helps us stretch our imagination and challenge/question ourselves about the role of society and the underlying causes of injustice is indeed welcomed.

The book is broken down into eight sections. In the introduction, it is explained that the book’s structure and logic revolves around “the five tenets of injustice: elitism is efficient, exclusion is necessary, prejudice is natural, greed is good and despair is inevitable”. The author also explains that to reduce injustices for all it is not good enough to “just claim that you do not hold [the beliefs that foster them], but to positively reject them”.

The following chapter makes the links between inequality and injustice. The author claims that injustice is not due to lack of resources. The world has enough for everyone. Injustice is the outcome of greed. Several examples are used from human history to argue that the increase in resources and wealth have a negative impact on us. Successfully (though inaccurately), Dorling uses the example of nutrition to claim that today we are not eating as well as our ancestors and as a result our bodies are not as well developed. Dorling backs this up with findings from ancient skeletons found in “what is now Greece and Turkey” indicating that “modern Greeks and Turks had still not regained the average heights of hunter-gatherer ancestors due to average nutritional levels still not being as good as those found before antiquity”. Dorling however forgets that Turks (or more accurately their ancestors Seljuks) did not reach Europe until 1071 when they invaded the Byzantine Empire from Central Asia, their place of origin.

Dorling’s thinking behind elitism as a cause for injustice and inequality is further explained in chapter 3 where he provides an extensive list of examples of educational underachievement. This section makes by far the most fascinating read although the reader may get a bit lost on the way to understanding the links between IQ reading and injustice. While Dorling claims that “IQism” encourages elitism and injustice, common sense would suggest that scientific measurement of one’s intelligence removes objectivity and encourages fairness.

Chapter 4 provides an accurate and extremely useful account of social exclusion as a phenomenon but also as a policy. Statistics and research are both used to illustrate the transition from inclusion to exclusion and the detrimental effects of this change on society, the individual and justice. Chapter 5 again uses statistical evidence to make a solid argument about the reasons that foster racism and the acceptance of prejudice as natural. Here, Dorling also develops a theory behind the failing politics of multiculturalism. “Ethnic heterogeneity and homogeneity are myths”, he says (pp 163). “… We all live in heterogeneous communities; it is just that we often do not recognise that … people are predisposed to mix better with those who society has made them most likely to mix with”. Strangely enough, Dorling uses again the example of Greece to illustrate his point. He claims that in Greece two people will mix regardless of their skin tone or religion and that what matters the most is their social class. He moves on to say “Where income, wealth and class differences are narrower, such as in Greece, people are a little freer to marry who they like because more are of a similar social class” (169). It is a shame that on this occasion Dorling did not adopt his evidence based approach as marriage statistics would disprove him – not to mention my own experience (being Greek).

Chapter 6 elaborates on greed as a vice and chapter 7 looks at despair as a cause for injustice. Again statistics are used to argue that the excess in wealth creates greed, and subsequently despair and gaps in the social fabric. The discussion on geographical divides is fascinating while the section on profit over poverty is a shocking revelation of today’s morality.

Chapter 8 unsuccessfully tries to bring the book to a conclusion. It does not provide any thoughts on where we go from here. Unfortunately, the reader is left lingering with a feeling of emptiness and to some extent anger, while the argument that it is good enough to identify that there is a problem is too simplistic for the very well elaborated argument of the problem of injustice. Dorling does acknowledge that his conclusion is short. But then he moves on to repeat himself by mentioning the same causes for inequality. ,For instance, I disagree that “recognising inequality is the first step for solutions”. Current equality policy is based on this premise and yet, as Dorling himself argues, it has failed. I was particularly disappointed with the Afterword where Dorling takes the opportunity to comment on recent policy and legislative changes in the UK. The pessimism continues while no hints of moving forward are given. I was surprised to read the author’s critique of the book review process. I always assumed that when joining academia you accept the silent rule that you neither endorse nor condone your reviewers. For instance, the comments on previous reviews almost discouraged me from writing my own review.

Having said that on balance the book is a must read for anyone involved or interested in equality, justice and democracy. It is a bold statement to claim that there are enough resources for everyone in modern Britain. It is an even bolder statement to say that equality targets are a distraction. Both statements however are true and this book, if not for any other reason, should be read to understand the reasons that cause distraction from the actual problem of injustice.

Reviewed by Theo Gavrielides

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