MCAT Content / Discrimination / Individual Vs Institutional Discrimination

Individual vs. Institutional Discrimination

Topic: Discrimination

Individual discrimination is the prejudicial treatment of an individual based on his or her membership in a certain group whereas institutionalized discrimination refers to discrimination embedded in the procedures, policies, or objectives of large organizations against an individual or group of individuals.

Discrimination can be classed in two forms, individual or institutionalized.

Individual discrimination examples include:

  • Racial discrimination: The unequal treatment between individuals on the basis of racial differences. Such as segregation of racial groups or the exclusion of a racial group from an activity.
  • Sexual and Gender discrimination: The unequal treatment of individuals or groups based on their perceived sex, gender, and/or gender identity. Such as the social roles for men and women and jobs for men and women based on gender due to stereotypes.
  • Religious discrimination: The prejudicial treatment of a person or group differently based on their spiritual or religious beliefs

Institutional discrimination targets specific, easily stereotyped, and generalizable attributes of individuals (such as race and gender) and can exist within governments and social institutions such as religion, educational groups, police, etc.

Examples of institutionalized discrimination include:

  • Laws and decisions that reflect racism. For example, the 1896 Plessy vs. Ferguson U.S. Supreme Court case which ruled in favor of “separate but equal” public facilities between African Americans and non-African Americans.
  • The housing market. Housing in the United States can be valued differently based on the racial makeup of the neighborhood.
  • Education. In education, the achievement gap in education where there is an observable disparity in educational measures between the educational outcomes and performance of groups of students defined by race/ethnicity and socioeconomic status is another example of institutional discrimination.

Practice Questions


Khan Academy


MCAT Official Prep (AAMC)

Official Guide P/S Section Passage 4 Question 20

Sample Test P/S Section Passage 10 Question 53

Practice Exam 4 P/S Section Passage 10 Question 56


Key Points

• A common form of discrimination is the exclusion or restriction of members of one group from opportunities that are available to another group. Some examples are racial, religious, and gender discrimination.

• Institutional discrimination targets specific, easily stereotyped, and generalizable attributes of individuals, such as race and gender.

• Institutionalized discrimination often exists within governments, though it can also occur in any other type of social institution. Some countries around the world practice some form of institutionalized discrimination. For example, in some countries, women cannot vote, drive, or work certain jobs.

Key Terms

Discrimination: The prejudicial treatment of an individual based on his or her membership, or perceived membership, in a certain group or category.

Individual discrimination: Refers to the behavior of individual members of one race/ethnic/gender group that is intended to have a differential and/or harmful effect on the members of another race/ethnic/gender group.

Institutionalized Discrimination: The unfair, indirect methods of treatment of individuals that are embedded in the operating procedures, policies, laws or objectives of large organizations.

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