One of the main conceptual aids to understanding how and why people are not fundamentally the same involves a key sociological distinction between social structures and social institutions. Social structures refer to patterns existing within a social system and are analytically divided into simple and complex types of social structures. A simple type of social structures is limited to roles and status designations along a set continuum; illustrative of this type of simplistic pattern might be age structures, gender structures, or ethnic background structures in a pyramid or pie-chart form.
These are fairly exclusive patterns whereas the complex social structures derive their complexity from the fact that multiple social sources or interrelationships are constructed from existing roles and status designations. These patterns, or social structures, may differ around the world because of a variety of different factors. Age patterns in America differ from other countries, for example, because of such factors as medical technology, education, and even historical experiences with wars. Not only can these patterns be explained by social factors, but they can also be used to predict human behavior and social consequences in the future.
Declining birth rates in America may foretell less tax revenue and social security burdens for seniors whereas increasing birthrates in Kenya may foretell fiercer competition for scare jobs and potential social dislocations. Social structures vary significantly, the patterns have different sources and consequences, and this is evidence that people are not the same everywhere; indeed, people are quite different in origins, in the present, and in the direction in which social forces are shaping the future.
In addition, an examination of the social institution concept further supports the notion that people are not the same everywhere. The social institution is employed to help to explain how certain patterns of social structures emerge in the first instance; for example, patterns describing such social structures as gender or racial inequality find their causative origins in institutions.
The social institution concept is therefore an analytical method for examining how social structures arise, persist, or transform into a new type of social structure. The family and religion are common areas for analysis in the sociological field; for purposes of illustration, religious institutions have and continue to affect patterns related to gender inequality in terms of access to education and income inequality.
Religious institutions in Afghanistan and America, to be sure, are not the same; these different religious institutions affect the social structures that arise in these respective countries. Women are not the same in Afghanistan and America. These differences are explained from a sociological perspective by examining patterns in the form of social structures and by seeking to understand causation by examining institutions. In the final analysis, the empirical evidence strongly suggests that people are hardly the same everywhere.
People are diverse, patterns vary internationally and even domestically in certain respects, and institutional change is frequently unpredictable to the extant that it can be occasioned by such fundamentally transformative events such as the Industrial Revolution, the Internet boom, and the globalization characterized by information technology and excess financial liquidity. Social structures and social institutions can aid in attempting to understand why we are different and how these differences might be minimized in order to prevent excessive types of social conflicts.