Equity vs. Equality: What Is the Difference? (2022)

In the context of social systems such as education, politics, and government, the terms equity and equality have similar but slightly different meanings. Equality refers to scenarios in which all segments of society have the same levels of opportunity and support. Equity extends the concept of equality to include providing varying levels of support based on individual need or ability.

Key Takeaways: Equity vs. Equality

  • Equality is providing the same level of opportunity and assistance to all segments of society, such as races and genders.
  • Equity is providing various levels of support and assistance depending on specific needs or abilities.
  • Equality and equity are most often applied to the rights and opportunities of minority groups.
  • Laws such as the Civil Rights Act of 1964 provide equality, while policies such as affirmative action provide equity.

Equality Definition and Examples

The dictionary defines equality as the state of being equal in rights, status, and opportunity. In the context of social policy, equality is the right of different groups of people—such as men and women or Blacks and whites—to enjoy the benefits of similar social status and receive the same treatment without the fear of discrimination.

(Video) Equity and Equality

The legal principle of social equality in the United States was confirmed in 1868 by the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which provides that “nor shall any State [...] deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.”

A modern application of the Equal Protection Clause can be seen in the Supreme Court’s unanimous 1954 decision in the landmark case of Brown vs. Board of Education, which declared that separate schools for African American and white children were inherently unequal and thus unconstitutional. The ruling led to the racial integration of America’s public schools and paved the way for the enactment of more sweeping social equality laws, such as the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Equity Definition and Examples

Equity refers to the provision of varying levels of support—based on specific needs—to achieve greater fairness of treatment and outcomes. The National Academy of Public Administration defines equity as “The fair, just and equitable management of all institutions serving the public directly or by contract; the fair, just and equitable distribution of public services and implementation of public policy; and the commitment to promote fairness, justice, and equity in the formation of public policy.” In essence, equity can be defined as a means of achieving equality.

For example, the Help America Vote Act requires that people with disabilities be provided with access to polling places and voting systems equal to that of able-bodied people. Similarly, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requires that persons with disabilities have equal access to public facilities.

(Video) Equity vs. Equality

Recently, U.S. government policy has focused on social equity in the area of sexual orientation. For example, President Barack Obama appointed nearly 200 self-declared members of the LGBTQ Community to paid positions within the executive branch. In 2013, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development published the first-ever estimate of discrimination against same-sex couples in housing opportunities.

Equity in the area of gender-based discrimination in education is provided by Title IX of the federal Education Amendments Act of 1972, which states, “No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving federal financial assistance.”

Title IX applies to virtually every aspect of the educational experience from scholarships and athletics, to employment and discipline at approximately 16,500 local school districts, 7,000 postsecondary institutions, as well as charter schools, for-profit schools, libraries, and museums. In athletics, for example, Title IX requires that women and men be provided equitable opportunities to participate in sports.

Equity vs. Equality Examples

In many areas, achieving equality requires the application of policies ensuring equity.

(Video) Equity Vs Equality


In education, equality means providing every student with the same experience. Equity, however, means overcoming discrimination against specific groups of people, especially defined by race and gender.

While civil rights laws ensure equality of access to higher education by barring public colleges and universities from completely denying enrollment to any minority group, these laws do not ensure equity in levels of minority enrollment. To achieve that equity, the policy of affirmative action increases college enrollment opportunities specifically for minority groups including races, genders, and sexual orientations.

First introduced by an executive order issued by President John F. Kennedy in 1961, affirmative action has since been extended to apply to the areas of employment and housing.

On January 24, 2022, The U.S. Supreme Court announced it would hear two cases challenging affirmative action in college admissions. Supporters of affirmative action fear the move could end the practice of race being used as a consideration for which applicants are admitted to elite American universities.

(Video) Equity vs Equality EXPLAINED

Both brought by Students for Fair Admissions, the two suits claim that using race as a part of the college selection process violates protections against discrimination found in the U.S. Constitution and the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Similar arguments have been used in previous challenges to affirmative action that have come before the Supreme Court since the 1970s. In those rulings, the Court significantly limited the extent to which race can be weighted in college admissions. However, the justices allowed affirmative action to continue in the belief that colleges have a compelling interest to promote diversity on their campuses.

Legal experts say the current Court is far more likely to strike down affirmative action in its entirety. Justices Anthony Kennedy and Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who had routinely defended the practice, were replaced during the Donald Trump administration by staunch conservatives, Brett Kavanaugh and Amy Coney Barrett.

Defenders of affirmative action argue that without it, America’s elite colleges would become more racially homogenous and less representative of the country as a whole. In support of this argument, they cite data from states that have nullified racial preferences on their own. In the University of California system, for example, enrollment rates for Latino, Black, and Native American students have fallen significantly since the state eliminated affirmative action in 1996.


While religious equality is enshrined in the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, religious equity in the workplace is provided by Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Under this law, employers are required to accommodate their employees’ religious observances or practices unless doing so would cause a “unique hardship to the conduct of the employer's business.”

(Video) What's the difference between equity and equality?

Public Policy

A city is forced to cut the budget for its several neighborhood service centers. Cutting the operational hours for all of the centers by the same amount would be a solution representing equality. Equity, on the other hand, would be for the city to first determine which neighborhoods actually use their centers the most and reduce the hours of the less-often used centers.

Sources and Further Reference


What is the difference of equity and equality? ›

Equality means each individual or group of people is given the same resources or opportunities. Equity recognizes that each person has different circumstances and allocates the exact resources and opportunities needed to reach an equal outcome.

What is the difference between equity and equality What do those two words have to do with teaching and schooling? ›

Equality in education is necessary for students to have the same opportunities to start off with positive educational outcomes, and equity helps to make sure those equal opportunities are adjusted to make room for students who might need extra help and attention.

Why is it important to know the difference between equality and equity? ›

Equality provides the same resources to all and pays little attention to the fairness of desired outcomes; while the practice of equity requires more foresight, and intentional allocation of resources tailored to individual needs to reach desired outcomes.

Which is more important equality or equity Why and how do you say so? ›

The difference between equality and equity must be emphasised. Although both promote fairness, equality achieves this through treating everyone the same regardless of need, while equity achieves this through treating people differently dependent on need.

What comes first equality or equity? ›

Equality generally refers to equal opportunity and the same levels of support for all segments of society. Equity goes a step further and refers offering varying levels of support depending upon need to achieve greater fairness of outcomes.

What is the difference between gender equity and gender equality explain your answer *? ›

'Gender equality' means equal outcomes for women, men and gender-diverse people. 'Gender equity' is the process to achieve gender equality. Gender equity recognises that women and gender-diverse people are not in the same 'starting position' as men.

Can you have equity without equality? ›

Can you have equity without equality? Short answer: No. Ideally, through the process of equitable actions, we can achieve equality. Equitable problem solving can fill in the gaps that are often overlooked in the name of equality, because the same answer is not always enough or right for everyone.

What is a real life example of equity? ›

Example of workplace equity: Difference in salary, benefits and rewards to the employees as per their work performance, expertise and specialty. Example of workplace equality: Same salary, benefits and rewards to all the employees irrespective of the difference in their work performance.

Do we need equality or equity? ›

Equity is free from the biases that occur with equality. It reduces institutional barriers and motivates an individual to strive to be successful. Whereas equality is giving everyone the same thing, equity is giving individuals what they need.

What equity means to me? ›

The term “equity” refers to fairness and justice and is distinguished from equality: Whereas equality means providing the same to all, equity means recognizing that we do not all start from the same place and must acknowledge and make adjustments to imbalances.

Why equity is important in our life? ›

Thinking about equity can help us decide how to distribute goods and services across society, holding the state responsible for its influence over how goods and services are distributed in a society, and using this influence to ensure fair treatment for all citizens.

What are the 3 types of equality? ›

While identifying different kinds of inequalities that exist in society, various thinkers and ideologies have highlighted three main dimensions of equality namely, political, social and economic.

Can you prioritize equity over equality? ›

Prioritizing Equity over Equality. The importance of creating a workplace that promotes fairness, equity and justice for everyone has never been more important. However, it is not enough to simply denounce discrimination, intolerance and exclusion.

What is gender equality in short answer? ›

Gender equality is when people of all genders have equal rights, responsibilities and opportunities. Everyone is affected by gender inequality - women, men, trans and gender diverse people, children and families. It impacts people of all ages and backgrounds.

What is the difference between gender equity and? ›

Gender equality means that an individual's rights, responsibilities and opportunities will not be determined by the sex they are assigned at birth. While gender equity is the equal treatment or treatment that might be considered equivalent in terms of rights, benefits, obligations, and opportunities.

What is the difference between equity and equality in education? ›

To describe the difference between these two equality and equity in terms of fairness, equality is concerned with what is fair within a group, while equity focuses on what is fair for an individual.

What do you mean by equality and equity in education? ›

Equality is a system where everyone is treated in the identical way, without giving any attention to their needs and requirements. Equity is thus a situation in which each and every individual is granted same rights and facilities, irrespective of their individual differences.

What is the meaning of equity in education? ›

Equality in education is achieved when students are all treated the same and have access to similar resources. Equity is achieved when all students receive the resources they need so they graduate prepared for success after high school.

How do you teach equity in the classroom? ›

8 meaningful equity in the classroom strategies
  1. Start with yourself. ...
  2. Model equity for your students. ...
  3. Be flexible with online learning. ...
  4. Address inappropriate remarks. ...
  5. Create an equitable classroom environment. ...
  6. Accommodate different learning styles. ...
  7. Examine your teaching materials. ...
  8. Give students a voice.
3 Jun 2022

What is the difference between equity and equality and diversity? ›

In equitable approach, people are treated fairly but differently. In equality approach, people are treated equally but may be unfairly. Equity focuses and stresses on social justice, racial justice, social inclusion and social change. Equality does not focus on social and racial justice.

What is the true meaning of equity? ›

June 22, 2021 – Equity: the quality of being fair and impartial. Equality: the state of being equal, especially in status, rights and opportunities.

What is the difference between equality and inequality? ›

Equality is having equal opportunities and rights. It is being treated fairly. It also means being able and supported to reach your potential. Inequality is when people aren't given equal opportunities and rights.

What is a real life example of equity? ›

The goal of equity is to help achieve fairness in treatment and outcomes. It's a way in which equality is achieved. For example, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was written so that people with disabilities are ensured equal access to public places.

What is an example of equity? ›

Equity Example

Equity can be calculated by subtracting liabilities from assets and can be applied to a single asset, such as real estate property, or to a business. For example, if someone owns a house worth $400,000 and owes $300,000 on the mortgage, the difference of $100,000 is equity.

Why is equity so important? ›

Equity ensures everyone has access to the same treatment, opportunities, and advancement. Equity aims to identify and eliminate barriers that prevent the full participation of some groups. Barriers can come in many forms, but a prime example can be found in this study.

How do you show equity? ›

Seven effective ways to promote equity in the classroom
  1. Reflect on your own beliefs. ...
  2. Reduce race and gender barriers to learning. ...
  3. Establish an inclusive environment early. ...
  4. Be dynamic with classroom space. ...
  5. Accommodate learning styles and disabilities. ...
  6. Be mindful of how you use technology. ...
  7. Be aware of religious holidays.
19 Mar 2020

What are equity issues? ›

Equity discussions need to focus not only on race, but also on factors such as socioeconomic status, gender, sexual orientation, family background, disability, and religious beliefs, because they all bring different experiences to the educational setting, Moody wrote.

What is equity and its types? ›

Equity share is a primary source of finance for any company giving investors rights to vote, share profits, and claim on assets. Various types of equity share capital are authorized, issued, subscribed, paid-up, rights, bonus, sweat equity, etc.

What does equity look like in education? ›

What Does Equity Mean in Education? Equity in education is the process of reforming practices, policies, and procedures at the school and district levels to support academic fairness and inclusion. This ensures every child has everything they need to be successful, like resources, teachers, and interventions.

How do you explain equity to a child? ›

Equality is everyone receiving the same thing or the same treatment. Equality is giving everyone two pieces of pizza. Equity is meeting everyone's needs. Equity is giving the child who eats more three pieces of pizza and the child who eats less one piece of pizza.

How is equity measured in education? ›

It focuses on two key principles – impartiality and equality of condition. Impartiality zooms in on the idea that it is unfair to discriminate by characteristics such as gender, wealth or ethnicity when it comes to the distribution of education.


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