Difference Between Stigma and Discrimination

Key Difference – Stigma vs Discrimination

Stigma and discrimination are two concepts that we are very well familiar within the social context, although one may fail to realize the key difference between the two words. Some people in the society experience stigma due to various reasons, it can be due to an illness such as in the case of HIV or else a particular behavior or act such as being convicted for a felony etc. Stigma is a form of disgrace that the individual experiences as other devalue them. This process is referred to as stigmatization. Once the individual has been stigmatized, he can also be discriminated. This includes the ill treatment of the individual or difference in treatment. The key difference between stigma and discrimination mainly stem from the discrimination involving treatment and stigma involving the act of regarding an individual as tainted. Through this article, let us examine the difference between stigma and discrimination further.

What is Stigma?

Stigma can simply be understood as a mark of disgrace. In this sense, it is a form of consideration of the individual as tainted. This highlights that stigma works in the form of a stereotype of the individual. Stigma is associated with individuals of various backgrounds. For instance, having a physical deformity can result in stigma because there is a difference between the virtual identity and the actual identity of a person. Erving Goffman spoke of two main types of stigma. They are,

  1. Discrediting stigma and
  2. Discreditable stigma

Discrediting stigma refers to what is clearly visible to others such as disabilities. On the other hand, discreditable stigma refers to what is not visible to others. In this case, the individual can hide it from others. For instance, let us take those who suffer from HIV. It is not apparent to others as a disability, but still people stigmatize such individuals on various grounds. People who are often stigmatized  experience discrimination. With this thought in mind, let us move on to the next section.

Difference between Stigma and Discrimination

What is Discrimination?

Discrimination can be defined as the difference in treatment on unfair grounds based on sex, race, religion, etc. If we look at the society we see people discriminating others for various reasons. The belief that we are superior to others is at the core of such treatment. Let us attempt to comprehend this through some examples.

People with HIV are often discriminated in the society mainly due to misconceptions such as touching would result in HIV, people who have HIV are polluted, etc. These are all false beliefs that people have created. Based on these people tend to treat those who suffer from HIV differently. For instance, people are afraid to share things, sit close to such a person, etc. These are all different forms of discrimination.

People who suffer from mental disorders and various disabilities are also often discriminated. In some situations, the intention of the other is to assist however the treatment results in discrimination. This clearly highlights that discrimination involves treatment, whereas in stigma it does not. Now let us summarize the difference between the two in the following manner.

Stigma vs Discrimination Key Difference

What is the Difference between Stigma and Discrimination?

Definitions of Stigma and Discrimination:

Stigma: Stigma is a mark of disgrace

Discrimination: Discrimination can be defined as the difference in treatment on unfair grounds based on sex, race, religion, etc.

Characteristics of Stigma and Discrimination:


Stigma: Stigma includes the formation of a stereotype of the individual that is associated with disgrace.

Discrimination: This includes treatment of the individual differently.


Stigma: Stigma is a form of a devaluation of the individual.

Discrimination: Stigma can lead to discrimination when the devaluation of the individual is visible through difference in treatment.


Image Courtesy:

1. “Poor People’s March at Lafayette Park ppmsca.04302″ by Warren K. Leffler, U.S. News & World Report  [Public Domain] via Wikimedia Commons

2. “Segregation 1938b” by John Vachon for U.S. Farm Security Administration – Library of Congress[1]. [Public Domain] via Wikimedia Commons