In socioeconomics, the term "minority" typically refers to a socially subordination ethnic group (understood in terms of language, nationality, religion and/or culture). Other minority groups include people with disabilities, "economic minorities" (working poor or unemployed), "age minorities" (who are younger or older than a typical working age) and sexual minorities.
The term "minority group" often occurs alongside a discourse of civil rights and collective rights which gained prominence in the 20th century. Members of minority groups are prone to different treatment in the countries and societies in which they live. This discrimination may be directly based on an individual's perceived membership of a minority group, without consideration of that individual's personal achievement. It may also occur indirectly, due to social structures that are not equally accessible to all. Activists campaigning on a range of issues may use the language of minority rights, including student rights, consumer rights and animal rights. In recent years, some members of social groups traditionally perceived as dominant have attempted to present themselves as an oppressed minority, such as white, middle-class heterosexual males.
Persons belonging to religious minorities have a faith which is different to that held by the majority. Most countries of the world have religious minorities. It is now widely accepted in the west that people should have the freedom to choose their own religion, including not having any religion (atheism or agnosticism), and including the right to convert from one religion to another. However in many countries this freedom is constricted. For example in Egypt, a new system of identity cards requires all citizens to state their religion - and the only choices are Islam, Christianity or Judaism (See Egyptian identification card controversy).
A 2006 study suggests that atheists constitute a religious minority in the United States, with researchers concluding: "Americans rate atheists below Muslims, recent immigrants, gays and lesbians and other minority groups in 'sharing their vision of American society.' Atheists are also the minority group most Americans are least willing to allow their children to marry.
An understanding of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people as a minority group or groups has gained prominence in the Western world since the 19th century. The acronym LGBT is currently used to group these identities together. The phrase sexual minorities can also be used to refer to these groups, and in addition may include fetishists, practitioners of BDSM, polyamorists and people who prefer sex partners of a disparate age. The term queer is sometimes understood as an umbrella term for all non-normative sexualities and gender expressions, but does not always seek to be understood as a minority; rather, as with many Gay Liberationists of the 1960s and '70s, it sometimes represents an attempt to uncover and embrace the sexual diversity in everyone.
Various local and international statutes are in place to mitigate the exploitation of children, such as the Convention on the Rights of the Child, as well as a number of organizations that make up the children's rights movement. The youth rights movement campaigns for social empowerment for young people, and against the legal and social restrictions placed on legal minors. Groups that advocate the interests of senior citizens range from the charitable (Help the Aged) to grass-roots activism (Gray Panthers), and often overlap with disability rights issues.
Differing minority groups often are not given identical treatment. Some groups are too small or too indistinct compared to the majority, that they either identify as part of the same nation as the members of the majority, or they identify as a separate nation but are ignored by the majority because of the costs or some other aspect of providing preferences. For example, a member of a particularly small ethnic group might be forced to check "Other" on a checklist of different backgrounds, and consequently might receive fewer privileges than a member of a more defined group.
Many contemporary governments prefer to assume the people they rule all belong to the same nationality rather than separate ones based on ethnicity. The United States asks for race and ethnicity on its official census forms, which thus breaks up and organizes its population into different sub-groups, but primarily on racial origin rather than national one. Spain does not divide its nationals by ethnic group, although it does maintain an official notion of minority languages.
Some minorities are so relatively large or historically or otherwise important that the system is set up in a way to guarantee them comprehensive protection and political representation. As an example, the former Yugoslav republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina recognizes the three main nations, none of which constitute a numerical majority, as constitutive nations, see nations of Bosnia and Herzegovina. However, other minorities such as Roma and Jews, are officially labelled as "others" and are excluded from many of these protections - for example they may not be elected to a range of high political positions including the presidency.
The issue of establishing minority groups, and determining the extent of privileges they might derive from their status, is controversial. There are some who argue that minorities are owed special recognition and rights, while others feel that minorities are unjustified in demanding special rights, as this amounts to preferential discrimination and could hamper the ability of the minority to integrate itself into mainstream society - perhaps to the point at which the minority follows a path to separatism or supremacism. In Canada, some feel that the failure of the dominant English-speaking majority to integrate French Canadians has given rise to Quebec separatism.