Difference Between Stigma and Discrimination

Main Difference – Stigma vs Discrimination

Stigma is being perceived as different from others whereas, Discrimination is being treated differently.

Stigma and discrimination are two words we often see together. However, these words cannot be used interchangeably, as they do not have the same meaning. If these two terms are to be explained simply, stigma is a negative stereotype and discrimination can be described as an unfair treatment that results from stigma. In this article, we are going to analyze these two terms in depth and highlight the difference between stigma and discrimination.

What is a Stigma

Stigma  can be defined as a mark of disgrace associated with a particular circumstance, quality, or person. It refers to a  set of negative and often unfair beliefs that a society or group of people have about something. In simple terms, when a person is perceived as different from others in the society, he is looked down upon by others. Stigma can result from various factors such as diseases (HIV Aids, Leprosy, etc.), mental or physical disabilities, nationality, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, etc. However, these differences associated with social stigma vary according to different societies. According to the sociologist, Erving Goffman there are three types of stigma,

  1. Overt or external deformities such as leprosy, clubfoot, cleft-lip, etc.
  2. Apparent deviations in personal traits such as mental disorders, imprisonment, addiction, homosexuality, unemployment etc.
  3. Tribal stigma – association with a specific ethnic group, religion, or that deviates from the norm.

Stigma can cause the feelings of despair, shame, guilt, distress and hopelessness and the most dangerous effect of stigma occurs when stigma changes the way a person views himself. This is known as self-stigma. In this stage, people who are stigmatized show behaviors such as reluctance to get necessary help, excessive reliance on others, and withdrawal from the society etc.


What is Discrimination

Discrimination is unjust treatment due to a person’s identity, which can include race, gender, sexual orientations, age, marital status, family background or any form of disability. Everyone on earth has a right to be treated equally, no matter what their race, gender, sexual orientation or religion is. Many countries have laws against discrimination in order to protect the citizens from its adverse effects. Discrimination can be either direct or indirect. Look at the examples given below to understand the concept of discrimination better.

An employer offering a lower wage for a woman doing similar work as a man – discrimination based on gender

A landlord refusing to rent his apartment because you are a Muslim – discrimination based on religion/race

 A doctor  viewing an old person with disgust and describing her  in negative ways, such as “depressing” or “crazy.- discrimination based on age

difference between stigma and discrimination

Difference Between Stigma and Discrimination


Stigma is being perceived as different from others.

Discrimination is being treated differently.


Stigma is not a result of discrimination.

Discrimination can be a result of social stigma.


A person cannot take legal actions against stigma.

A person can take legal actions against discrimination.

Image Courtesy:

“Segregation 1938b” by John Vachon for U.S. Farm Security Administration – Library of Congress[1]. Licensed under via 

“Stigma” by Thomas Szynkiewicz  via

About the Author: Hasa

Hasa has a BA degree in English, French and Translation studies. She is currently reading for a Masters degree in English. Her areas of interests include literature, language, linguistics and also food.

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