1st Edition

Societal Problems as Public Bads

By Nan de Graaf, Dingeman Wiertz Copyright 2019
    300 Pages
    by Routledge

    300 Pages
    by Routledge

    Corruption, crime, economic inequality, religious fundamentalism, financial crises, environmental degradation, population ageing, gender inequality, large-scale migration… This book tackles many of the most pressing problems facing societies today. The authors demonstrate that similar social mechanisms lie behind many of these seemingly disparate problems. Indeed, many societal problems can be traced back to behaviours that are perfectly rational and often well-intended from an individual perspective. Yet, taken together these behaviours can – paradoxically – give rise to unintended and undesirable outcomes at the society level.

    In addition to addressing the causes of societal problems, the book explains why some problems rank higher on the public agenda than others. Moreover, it is shown how government intervention may sometimes provide a cure, yet other times exacerbate existing problems or create new problems of its own. This book includes an extensive amount of data on trends and geographic variation in the prevalence of different problems, as well as telling examples – both recent and historical – from a variety of countries to support its key arguments.

    Employing a bold multidisciplinary approach, the authors draw on insights from across the social sciences, including sociology, economics, anthropology, criminology, and psychology. Throughout the book, students are introduced to analytical concepts such as free-riding, herding behaviour, principal-agent relations and moral hazard. These concepts are essential tools for better understanding the roots of many societal problems that regularly make headlines in the news. This improved understanding will, in turn, be critical for ultimately finding solutions to these problems.


    1. Introduction

    2. Analytical Framework

    3. The Promises and Pitfalls of State Intervention

    4. Welfare States: Affordability and Perverse Incentives

    5. Population Growth While Fertility Drops

    6. Migration and the Multicultural Society

    7. Economic Inequality

    8. Gender Inequalities

    9. Crime

    10. Corruption

    11. The Fragility of the Financial System

    12. Global Warming and Climate Change

    13. Secularization, Religious Fundamentalism, and Religious Extremism


    Nan Dirk de Graaf is an Official Fellow at Nuffield College and Professor of Sociology at the University of Oxford. His research interests include social stratification – especially educational attainment and how social mobility affects political preferences, health and attitudes, sociology of religion, pro-social behaviour, and political sociology.

    Dingeman Wiertz is a Lecturer in Social Science and British Academy Postdoctoral Fellow at University College London. Having received training in economics as well as sociology, his research interests include civic engagement, inter-ethnic relations, social networks, economic hardship, political attitudes, school choice, and residential segregation.