Generally refers to the distribution of material wealth in a society.
Although there appears a consensus of what constitutes social inequality, there is far less agreement over the causes of it.
Many would argue that it is yet another negative consequence of the modern capitalist economy whilst others would argue it is a necessary evil and that the prospect of greater material wealth provides 'incentives' for innovation within an economy. Certainly some modern economic theory has suggested that a functioning economy requires a certain level of unemployment
Economic measurements of inequality, such as gini coefficients, have shown that internationally, inequality has increased in the last 30 years.
Governments have historically played an important role in reducing social inequality, by redistributing the wealth generated in the economy.
Other issues surrounding social inequality include it's role as a source
of crime, health problems and racism.
Longintudinal health studies have shown that the hierarchy inherent to societal inequality is a major cause of health problems such as atherosclerosis, and that these effects have been found in species of apes
as well as humans. The "White Hall Studies" is an example of such a health study which followed a large group of British civil servants.