Well-meaning people often use the terms “equity” and “equality” interchangeably when discussing matters related to race and social justice. While both terms have to do with “fairness,” there are key differences as the application of one over the other may lead to drastically different outcomes. Equality requires that everyone receives the same resources and opportunities, regardless of circumstances and despite any inherent advantages or disadvantages that apply to certain groups. Equity, on the other hand, considers the specific needs or circumstances of a person or group and provides the types of resources needed to be successful.
Equality assumes that everybody is operating at the same starting point and will face the same circumstances and challenges. Equity recognizes the shortcomings of this “one-size-fits-all” approach and understands that different levels of support must be provided to achieve fairness in outcomes.
A highly circulated image seeks to provide a visual illustration of the differences between equality and equity. The image depicts three people standing behind a fence, watching a baseball game. The three individuals are all different heights, with the tallest of the three being able to see over the fence without any help. The other two are not tall enough to see over. Equality provides each of these people with identical boxes to stand on to peer over the fence. The tallest person, who didn’t need the box in the first place, now stands even higher, continuing to enjoy a perfect view of the game. The second person can now see over the fence, and the third person, even with the help of the box, is still too short to see over.
EQUALITY VS. EQUITY EXAMPLES
Institutions like the nation’s public health and education systems provide some of the starkest examples of equity and equality in action and the vastly different outcomes they affect. While “equality in health care” may sound noble, it is only equity in health care that takes into account social injustices and provides additional resources to the individuals who need them.