Equity vs. Equality: What’s the Difference?



Sophia Dababo, Journalist

While the two terms may sound completely identical, the way you imply them can result in significantly different consequences for different individuals. Equity and equality are really two completely different things, and this brief definition of the two will hopefully help you to fully understand the differences. 


Equality is one of the founding concepts of democracy, and it is founded on the notion that everyone should have the same chances to succeed and live a happy, productive life. Since it is tied to another American ideal, that of a meritocracy, equality is rooted in fairness. The concept of equality is central to the idea that everyone may succeed based on their efforts and contributions to society rather than their social class or position. When people of color did not have equal status or treatment under the law during the civil rights movement, equality was especially crucial. There has recently been discussion regarding whether equality is sufficient and whether equity is a more fundamental ideal.


Equity understands that no one starts out on the same footing in society. Some people confront difficulties and situations that make it more difficult to reach the same goals with the same effort. Equity fights for individuals who have been historically disadvantaged, making success harder for them. When it comes to equity, what is “fair” isn’t an issue of what is the same, but rather the starting point. When assessing what is fair, equity considers historical and other criteria.


In the pictures below, two people have unequal access to a system – in this example, a fruit tree. Their access to the fruit remains unequal even with equal help from equally distributed tools. The fair approach, on the other hand, assigns the precise resources that each person requires to obtain the fruit, resulting in positive outcomes for both parties.



While the tree appears to be a naturally occurring system, it’s important to remember that social systems aren’t fair — they’ve been purposefully designed to reward particular groups for so long that the system’s outcomes may appear unintentional but are actually rooted in discriminatory or biased practices and beliefs. 

Equity and equality are two very important topics that you normally do not hear people talk about often. Equality is not a bad thing, if anything it is actually good in some cases, and it is better than inequality. Equity is just equality taken to a step further, creating a better path to fairness.