Difference Between Overlapping and Cross-Cutting Social Differences

People are born into specific communities without any choice of where they would want to belong. Still, some groups are chosen by people as well.


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These communities of people born into or selected from that people are in would cause social division in different ways. Certain groups are held above others, making these groups that are less privileged discriminated against.

Some groups have a few differences, making the similarities more prominent. There are two types of social division: overlapping and cross-cutting social differences.

Overlapping is the more harmful kind of the two. This social difference makes it difficult to make different social groups equal.

Cross-cutting isn’t easy to analyze exactly where the divide is because some groups are similar but have different opinions on topics.

Key Takeaways

  1. Overlapping social differences refers to the intersection of different social categories an individual belongs to, such as race, gender, and class.
  2. Cross-fitting social differences refer to the relationship between social categories, where individuals can belong to multiple classes simultaneously.
  3. Overlapping social differences can lead to compounded disadvantages, while cross-fitting social differences can lead to unique experiences and perspectives.

Overlapping vs Cross-Cutting Social Differences

Overlapping and Cross-Cutting Social Differences differ because overlapping social differences occur when two groups share common beliefs. Cross-cutting social differences occur when two completely different groups come together to solve a problem.

Overlapping vs Cross Cutting Social Differences

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An example of overlapping social differences is voters believing a politician rather than the party he belongs to. An example of cross-cutting social differences is that in World War II, many countries with different cultures fought together so that the war could end.

Comparison Table

Parameter of ComparisonOverlapping of Social DifferencesCross-Fitting Social Differences
How problems reflect social interactions.More significant problems that alienate people.More minor problems are overlooked because of similarities.
The level of social division problems and how they relate.Starker contrasts with social groups.Mostly similar groups with little differences between them.
How people outside view these divisions.Easier to see differences.Harder to see differences.
Likelihood possible to see past differences.Arguably too different to accommodate.Easier to accommodate.
Examples:Black and White people in America.Protestants and Catholics are under the same religion of Christianity.

What are Overlapping Social Differences?

Overlapping is when two social groups share more commonalities than differences and become estranged. Overlapping social differences are like a tree and its roots.

The tree is the main difference of a group, and then the roots are the differences that add on and branch out, causing alienation to people of these differences. It could also be one difference that is too big to ignore, which is too different from a person’s perception of how they fit into a group.

Common Examples:

There are two main examples of overlapping differences, one being the social division between black and white people in America. In this, the difference is that black people are stereotyped to be poor.

Another would be within the Caste system in India, the “lower” people (Dalits) being considered “untouchables.”

Extended Examples

Political parties are another example of overlapping. Some people don’t even look at their political party’s platform, believing that everything they believe will be what the politician will believe.

There could be an issue that a citizen feels strongly about, but the politician in the same political party doesn’t hold that same position. Politicians tend to have beliefs that don’t always ‘align with their political party.

Some politicians can switch parties to be on the ballot and have a completely different platform than their chosen political party. There is something like a checklist to have someone find that they are at that particular party.

Topics like gun control, abortion, government strength, and similar issues regarding the life of the American citizen. People on different sides of these topics would be separated from another party.

There are touchy subjects for some people because it could mean life or death (abortion: when is a baby considered a “baby?”). It’s naturally going to create tension and heated arguments between people.

Religion, politics, and race can cause heated interactions between groups, prime examples of overlapping social differences. Groups separated through resources, and economic status was a familiar source for people going against or not wanting anything to do with one another.

overlapping social differences

What are Cross-Cutting Social Differences?

Cross-cutting social differences are difficult to point out between some social groups because the more prominent similarities between groups neutralize the differences. A social group could be broken down into subcategories, like how religion could have the central belief in a similar God.

The subcategories could be the more minor differences in what details they believe. It could also make it difficult to separate two groups from each other or pit them against one another.

This category promotes unity since social differences don’t overlap with other social groups to cause tensions. It’s easier for people to put aside differences or not even see them as something to be worried about, so social groups can work together for similar interests.

Common Examples

The primary examples that fit this category are Christianity, with their economic status equally capable of being rich or poor. (like the Catholics and Protestants, most notably in the Netherlands and Northern Ireland).

Extended Examples

It’s like in an argument where two opposing people find common ground to understand one another better. This could be fighting for common interests, like when two enemies unite to defeat a common enemy.

They may not trust one another. They both want to destroy the same enemy.

Think about World War II. America fought against the communist countries with other countries to defeat the powers that were causing a major catastrophe in their own countries.

The countries that America fought in differed in how they ran things and their culture. They all wanted to bring down the powers that were harming them.

Anyone fighting on the same side as America must have wanted the Holocaust to end as soon as possible. Both sides wanted a victory and would sign with anyone they could.

cross cutting social differences

Main Differences Between Overlapping and Cross-Cutting Social Differences


  1. Social status could lead to discrimination.
  2. When groups won’t agree on a lot of views
  3. There are significant differences in groups.
  4. Social groups can’t get along.
  5. It brings more tension between groups.
  6. The significant differences could estrange people into groups.
  7. Examples like between Black and White People in America


  1. Differences, but can have common ground
  2. Minor differences that don’t mean much
  3. Much more difficult to see differences in different groups
  4. Social groups could be broken down into subcategories
  5. They can work past differences and get along
  6. Have similar interests in mind
  7. Examples like the similarities of believing in God but having more categories in Christianity.
  1. https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/0146167204271710
  2. https://ecpr.eu/Filestore/PaperProposal/24d00f33-d3d2-48ed-b2c9-06c76af656d9.pdf
  3. https://www.journals.uchicago.edu/doi/abs/10.1111/j.1468-2508.2006.00376.x
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4 thoughts on “Difference Between Overlapping and Cross-Cutting Social Differences”

  1. These social differences are what make our society in current state. Imagine the world without any social differences.

    1. Hi Kel,

      I think these social differences will always be there because every human is different. Even we change ourselves (mentally and physically) so many times during our lives.

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