Difference Between Overlapping and Cross-Cutting Social Differences

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

There are little differences between some groups, 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 having differentiating opinions on topics.

Overlapping vs Cross-Cutting Social Differences

The main difference between Overlapping and Cross-Cutting Social Differences is that 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

An example of overlapping social differences is voters believing a politician rather than the political party that 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 Between Overlapping and Cross-Cutting Social Differences

Parameter of ComparisonOverlapping of Social DifferencesCross-Fitting Social Differences
How problems reflect social interactions.Bigger problems that alienate people.Smaller problems that 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 under the same religion of Christianity.

What are Overlapping Social Differences?

Overlapping is when two social groups share more commonalities than differences between them and become estranged to one another.

Overlapping social differences are like a tree and its roots. The tree is the main difference of a group and then the roots being the differences that add on and branch out, causing alienation to people for these differences.

It could also be one difference that is too big to ignore that 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 example 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. For some people, they don’t even look at the platform of their political party, believing that everything that they believe will be what the politician will believe.

There could an issue that a citizen feels strongly about, but the politician that is 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 what their chosen political party is.

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 the different sides of these topics would be separated from another party. There are touchy subjects to 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. Things like religion, politics, and race can cause the most heated interactions between groups of people, which are prime examples of overlapping social differences.

Groups separated through resources and economic status is a common source for having people go against one another, or not wanting anything to do with one another.

What are Cross-Cutting Social Differences?

Cross-cutting social differences are difficult to point out between some social groups because the differences are neutralized by the more prominent similarities between groups.

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 smaller differences in what details they believe or not.

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 don’t even see it as something to be worried about, so social groups can possibly work together for similar interests.

Common Examples

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

Extended Examples

It’s like in an argument where two opposing people find common ground to have a better understanding of one another. This could be fighting for common interests like when two enemies join together 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 communists countries with other countries so they could defeat the powers that were causing a major catastrophe in their own countries.

The countries that America fought beside had differences in how they run things and their culture. They all wanted to bring down the powers that were doing harm.

Anyone that was 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.

Main Differences Between Overlapping and Cross-Cutting Social Differences


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


  1. Differences, but can have common ground
  2. Small 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 have more categories in Christianity

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) About Overlapping and Cross-Cutting Social Differences

What is the basis of social differences?

Social differences have two main types:
The first type of social difference is based on the basis of a person’s birth. Like you may be fair or dark in complexion. You may be tall or short. You could be a boy or a girl.
The second type of social difference is based on a person’s choice. You may be born into a religious family but you choose to be an atheist.
You choose to pursue a degree in a specific field or you choose to leave the study and run your own business.

Which type of social difference is more dangerous and why?

The overlapping social differences are considered more dangerous. It happens when different social differences overlap with each other and create social division. As a result, one social difference becomes more important than the other.
For example, a lot of Muslims were killed by the Christian soldiers during crusade because the preachers at that time think that God wanted them to do it.

How does the overlapping of social differences lead to social division?

Overlapping of social differences results in social division. It happens when two social differences overlap and one disparity becomes more prominent than the other. It generally happens when two social groups oppose each other.
People start to believe that they belong to separate communities. Both groups start criticizing each other which results in a social division.

How do social differences affect politics?

Social differences can affect politics in both a positive and negative manner. Social differences exist in every country. In a democracy like India, political parties compete against each other to get votes from the people who belong to different communities.
Let’s discuss some of the negative ways of how social differences affect politics. Political parties try to get votes by competing on the terms of social differences like pitting two different communities against each other. These parties talk about the atrocities of one community on another which could also result in social unrest.
In a positive manner, social parties can make different promises to different social communities. They can actually try to elevate the conditions of some of the communities that are living in poverty or are suppressed. Social differences make people prefer one party over another. A political party that talks about improving the conditions of black are most likely to get votes from black people.


Overlapping and cross-cutting brings up the differences between social groups. The latter are social groups that can get past the differences between other groups.

The former could cause tensions between people that can ignore the severe problems that divide people and prevents them from seeing eye-to-eye. Depending on the belief system and different values, it could cause people not to associate with certain people.

They aren’t able to put aside their differences to get along. Overlapping social differences could have layers of problems between each group and these problems make the division more prominent.

Cross-cutting cuts the problems as though they’re not even there, making it easier to set aside differences. When there are people and society, there’s always going to be social divisions.

A lot of the time it will depend on beliefs and what people are born into and experience. There are many things that are complicated and hard to distinguish. It’s easier for people with small differences to get along, like the need for gun control but debates how much there should be, but unfortunately, beliefs like abortion have much more difficulty getting people to get along because of the subject in human rights and decency.


  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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