Societal Problems as Public Bads: 1st Edition (Paperback) book cover

Societal Problems as Public Bads

1st Edition

By Nan Dirk de Graaf, Dingeman Wiertz


286 pages

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pub: 2019-05-20
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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.

Table of Contents


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

About the Authors

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.

Subject Categories

BISAC Subject Codes/Headings:
SOCIAL SCIENCE / Sociology / General