Language Lesson: Equity vs. Equality

Equity. Equality. These two words look so similar they could be related. Actually, they are. They both come from the same Latin root word “aequus” meaning “equal”. So, what’s the difference?

At their core, both equity and equality still involve the concept of “equal”. In equity, the outcome is equal. In equality, the means used is equal.

Confused? Don’t worry. This image helps spell it out.

Equality Equity

The image to the left is equality. The same thing (in this case, a crate to stand on) was given to each child.

The image right is equity. Each child received a different amount of crates (0-2), but the end result was that all three children had an equal view of the game.

A mistake many causes and organizations make in their writing (mission statements, value statements, grant proposals, donor appeals, etc.) is using equality when they really mean equity. Imagine an organization whose mission is to make quality education accessible to all school-age children in a community. Each child will have their own circumstances, and some will need the organization’s services much more than others. Some may not need it at all. This organization is creating equity, not equality.

In short, equality is sameness, whereas equity is fairness. Remember this the next time you write about your organization’s work. A few letters can change the meaning of your message.

What do you think? Are there circumstances in which an organization really means equality, and not equity?

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  1. Jon Asbjørn Rogne says:

    You, like many other persons and organizations, have a wrong undersdanding of these expressions, which is completely the opposite of what is correct.

    The lexical meaning of “equity” is non-preferential treatment, while “equality” is the state or quality of being equal. Equity is handing out the same amount of boxes to anyone, independent of their abilities. Equality is the quality or state of being able to access the same resource, namely watching the game. This can only be acheived by handing out an unequal amount of boxes based on the abilities of each person.

    In an environment where each individual has unequal abilities, equity will produce inequality. In such an environment, the only way to accomplish equality, is to be inequitable, which by definition is unfair. Unless everyone is exactly equally equipped with abilities, and everyone acts in the exact same manner, equity will never bring about equality.

    Go to Merriam-Webster and look it up.

    I also wonder from where you got your illustration. It is an excellent illustration of the difference, and I’d like to use it in my text on this subject. There are several different variants of this, but since this is without text, it will work for me. WIll you accept my request to use this illustration?

    Have a nice day.

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