Inequality appears to have always been an inherent feature in society and is no exclusive characteristic of a particular social pattern or period of history. The main forms of social inequality are those that result from disparities of wealth and income, those related to differential prestige or honour, and those derived from the distribution of power. These dimensions of inequality are related but not reducible to each other.
Social inequality can be based on natural differences of kind between people (sex, race, character traits, natural endowments) and on institutional variations (citizenship, religion, social position, etc); or on natural differences of rank (properties that are common to all but in varying amounts) in intelligence, age, strength, power, etc. It is the unequal treatment that results from these unequal characteristics that constitutes social inequality. It has a distributive aspect which refers to the ways in which different factors such as income, wealth, education, occupation, power, skill, etc, are distributed in the population and a relational aspect which refers to the ways in which individuals differentiated by these factors are related to each other within a system of groups and categories.
Throughout society, social inequality is still an extensive source of conflict. Although both types of industrial society - socialist and capitalist - have provided opportunities for social equality, and inequality has thus largely decreased during the last decades, it remains a fact that even in these affluent societies, people are still unequally placed. Nevertheless these inequalities seem small when compared to the far more obvious forms of social inequality in the Third World.