What is the difference between a ghetto and a slum?

6 Answers 6


A slum is characterized by its run-down status, while a ghetto is characterized by the people who live there. Both usually mean some degree of poverty, being overcrowded, and having high crime rates.

Historically, a ghetto would be a place to put groups such as immigrants, Jews or black people, who weren't allowed to live anywhere else. Nowadays the reasons are mostly economical and cultural; people can't afford to live wherever they like, and choose to live among others with similar background.

A ghetto doesn't have to be particularly poor, some Chinatowns for example can be called ghettos even though they are not really slums. Sometimes, "slum ghetto" is used to clarify both the ethnic grouping and the poverty of an area.

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    The term ghetto was originated in Venice to describe the restricted quarter of many European cities in which Jews were required to live. (wikipedia)
    – bjelli
    Jan 15, 2011 at 18:05
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    I've also heard the term "student ghetto" referring to the area near a university which is populated mostly by students. Jan 15, 2011 at 22:10
  • Ironically in Venice the ghetto was to protect the Doge's middle eastern traders from the visiting followers of another Jew who seemed to have slightly misunderstood his message. The Venetians didn't do religion if there wasn't a profit in it.
    – mgb
    Jun 7, 2011 at 2:33
  • "Slumlord" is the landlord of decrepit housing in the slums.
    – Steve
    Feb 8, 2022 at 17:12
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    Note to potential close voters: This question was asked in 2011—long before the emergence of the "no research shown" close reason. I do not think it should be subject to closure for failing to satisfy an ex post facto rule.
    – Sven Yargs
    Feb 10, 2022 at 6:39

Originally, yes, but people not aware of the history use them interchangeably now.

The word ghetto was used to refer to a concentration of a particular ethnicity into a single neighborhood. In Poland during WWII Jews were forced to live in communities where they did not mix with others. In the United States this term was used to describe the ethnically-centered neighborhoods in the big cities.

A slum is a very low income area marked by poor living conditions, sometimes crime.

Some ghettos became slums and so now the two ideas have intertwined in the minds of many.


In a ghetto you will find people of the same race/socio-economic status/etc. While today indistinguishable from a slum, from a historical perspective, a ghetto was meant as a separate part of a society where 'certain' people were moved (as for instance the Warsaw ghetto for Jews during WWII). A slum, on the other hand, is merely a very poor neighborhood.


Ghetto can also be used as an adjective, and not necessarily a negative one, depending on context and speaker. While the modern ghetto is usually of a lower socio-economic class, I think of a slum as much more destitute. Also, lest we forget the term slumming it, as in stooping beneath one's self, indicating perhaps again the implied undesirable factor of a slum.

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    +1 for the adjective and verb forms of the words. Some example sentences might be good. Jun 7, 2011 at 2:36
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    How is 'ghetto' "not necessarily negative"? It has lots of connotations but all seem negative. "You didn't clean up after yourself when your hot pocket exploded in the microwave? That's so ghetto."
    – Mitch
    Jun 7, 2011 at 15:49
  • One place where I think the negativity dissipates is within a group mentality, specifically one associated with a ghetto. Saying "you're so ghetto" within, say a group of young women from the ghetto, could be simply be an implication of a certain sense of style or attitude.
    – Elizabite
    Jun 7, 2011 at 20:46
  • @Mithc - it's often used ironically of rich neighbourhoods (although in a negative sense), eg Hampstead in North London is the "media/politics ghetto" because a lot of young trendy (and rich) media and political types live there.
    – mgb
    Jul 27, 2011 at 18:16

I can't afford to move out of east oakland California. There is extreme poverty, and where the violence is sickening to me. Full of turf gangs creating what mainstream media usually calls the killing fields. I dont think Ive ever called this area a 'slum'.

The term ghetto started in WW2 to describe some of the areas the Jewish people were forced to live. I think that term applies more because it's more about a specific race of people forced to live in a specific area due to whatever reasons. Here it's due to poverty and a horrid educational system.

When I hear the term "Slum" or "Slums", I tend to think about people forced to live under slum lords that will grossly over pack their land with people. I consider parts of Rio de Janeiro to be slums where there is people so over packed they're almost standing on each other. Mostly for bad areas, people use the term "hood"

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    I didn't downvote, but there is a general dislike of people providing answers to old questions (awakening "zombies") when those answers do not really add anything new to the knowledge base.
    – Hot Licks
    Jul 17, 2016 at 12:21
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    Note that had the question been recent your answer is good and would have been much better received.
    – Hot Licks
    Jul 17, 2016 at 13:55

I think a ghetto is a place where a group of a certain culture ethnic or race live maybe due to the government pressure whereas a slum is a part of an urban area where people are forced to live due to extreme poverty and is usually densely populated.

  • 1
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    Feb 8, 2022 at 17:00

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