Equity vs. Equality: What’s the Difference? (2024)

Equity vs. Equality: What’s the Difference? (1)

While the terms equity and equality may sound similar, the implementation of one versus the other can lead to dramatically different outcomes for marginalized people.

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

In the illustration below, two individuals have unequal access to a system —in this case, the tree that provides fruit. With equal support from evenly distributed tools, their access to the fruit still remains unequal. The equitable solution, however, allocates the exact resources that each person needs to access the fruit, leading to positive outcomes for both individuals.

While the tree appears to be a naturally occurring system, it’s critical to remember that social systems aren’t naturally inequitable — they’ve been intentionally designed to reward specific demographics for so long that the system’s outcomes may appear unintentional but are actually rooted discriminatory practices and beliefs.

Equity vs. Equality: What’s the Difference? (2)


Equity vs. Equality: What’s the Difference? (3)


Equity vs. Equality: What’s the Difference? (4)


Equity vs. Equality: What’s the Difference? (5)


Source: “Addressing Imbalance,” by Tony Ruth for the2019 Design in Tech Report.

Equity is a solution for addressing imbalanced social systems. Justice can take equity one step further by fixing the systems in a way that leads to long-term, sustainable, equitable access for generations to come.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO),equity is definedas “the absence of avoidable or remediable differences among groups of people, whether those groups are defined socially, economically, demographically or geographically.” Therefore, as the WHO notes, health inequities involve more than lack of equal access to needed resources to maintain or improve health outcomes. They also refer to difficulty when it comes to “inequalities that infringe on fairness and human rights norms.”

TheU.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) refers to health equityas “when everyone has the opportunity to be as healthy as possible.” As such, equity is a process and equality is an outcome of that process. Or, as theRace Matters Institutedescribes, “The route to achieving equity will not be accomplished through treating everyone equally. It will be achieved by treating everyone equitably, or justly according to their circ*mstances.”

Understanding thedifference between health equality and health equityis important to public health to ensure that resources are directed appropriately — as well as supporting the ongoing process of meeting people where they are. Inherent to this process is the promotion of diversity in teams and personnel, public health practice, research methods and other related factors. For these reasons, providing the same type and number of resources to all is not enough. In order to reduce the health disparities gap, the underlying issues and individual needs of underserved and vulnerable populations must be effectively addressed.

The Difference Between Equity and Equality

“The route to achieving equity will not be accomplished through treating everyone equally. It will be achieved by treating everyone justly according to their circ*mstances.”

—Paula Dressel, Race Matters Institute1


A city cuts the budget for 25 community centers by reducing the operational hours for all centers by the same amount at the same times.

A community meeting, where all members of the community are invited, about a local environmental health concern is held in English though English is not the primary language for 25% of the residents.

Examples of EqualityAll public schools in a community have computer labs with the same number of computers and hours of operation during school hours.


The city determines which times and how many hours communities actually need to use their community centers and reduces hours for centers that aren’t used as frequently.

Examples of EquityThe community leaders hire translators to attend the meeting or offer an additional meeting held in another language.

Examples of EquityComputer labs in lower income neighborhoods have more computers and printers, as well as longer hours of operation, as some students don’t have access to computers or internet at home.

There are many successful initiatives in communities around the United States where specific steps have been taken tomake approaches to health more equitable (PDF, 4.9MB),according to the CDC. Attempts to achieve equity have involved identifying the individualized needs of specific populations and implementing steps to help meet those needs. Below are three examples of public health initiatives.

Project Brotherhood

Project Brotherhood— a clinic for Black men at Woodlawn Health Center in Chicago — was created through the CDC’s Healthy Communities Program. The clinic was formed by a Black physician and a nurse-epidemiologist who were interested in better addressing the health needs of Black men. Partnering with a Black social science researcher, they conducted focus groups with Black men to learn about their experiences with the health care system and met with other Black staff at the clinic. As a result of this research, Project Brotherhood employed a number of specific strategies, including:

  • Offering free health care, with optional appointments and evening clinic hours, to make health care more accessible to Black men.
  • Providing health seminars and courses specifically for Black men.
  • Employing a barber to perform free haircuts after receiving health education training to be a health advocate for Black men whom the clinic staff could not reach.
  • Providing fatherhood classes to help Black men become more effectively involved in the lives of their children.
  • Building “a culturally competent workforce able to create a safe, respectful, male-friendly environment and to overcome mistrust in Black communities toward the traditional health care system.”
  • Organizing physician participation in support group discussions to enhance understanding between providers and patients.

According to the organization, positive outcomes were achieved: “In January 1999, Project Brotherhood averaged four medical visits and eight group participants per week. By September 2005, the average grew to 27 medical visits and 35 group participants per week….” By 2007, Project Brotherhood had provided service to more than 13,000 people since the initiative started and created a health services environment designed specifically for Black men where they would be respected, heard and empowered, thus helping to reduce the health disparities experienced by this population.

Poder es Salud

Poder es Salud (Power for Health)is a partnership involving nonprofits, government organizations, local health care providers and several community- and faith-based groups. This partnership was formed to address social determinants of health and reduce health disparities in Black and Latino communities in Multnomah County, Oregon, by employing an approach to “increase social capital through durable social networks for the purpose of facilitating the achievement of community goals and health outcomes.” This was achieved through three specific strategies:

  • Conducting community-based participatory research to support cross-cultural partnerships.
  • Implementing popular education, which involves mutual learning and analysis.
  • Providing community health workers with specialized training “in leadership, local politics, governance structure, advocacy, community organizing, popular education, and health.”

Program effectiveness was reflected in follow-up surveys that showed “significant improvements in social support, self-rated health and mental health among community members that participated in the interventions with community health workers who use popular education.”

Project BRAVE: Building and Revitalizing an Anti-Violence Environment

Project BRAVEis a school-based intervention that builds on existing relationships among schools, community members, community-based organizations and local researchers. In doing so, Project BRAVE supports preexisting opportunities for students to share their experiences with violence and to take part in community change to reduce it. The program’s effectiveness was evidenced by an increase in school attendance, which is an important social determinant of community health.

Using Equity and Equality in Public Health Practice

Understanding the difference between equity and equality is a key component in the effort to reduce health disparities among vulnerable populations. The good news is that public health officials can take specific steps to help address this confusion in their own communities — including using educational resources such as the CDC’sDefining and Measuring Disparities, Inequities, and Inequalities in the Healthy People Initiative (PDF, 391KB)and group exercises such as those suggested byJustHealthAction (PDF, 637KB),in which teams can work together to differentiate between equity and equality.

Additional Resources about Equity and Equality


1 “Racial Equality or Racial Equity? The Difference it Makes,” Race Matters Institute. 2014. Accessed Oct. 15, 2020. http://viablefuturescenter.org/racemattersinstitute/2014/04/02/racial-equality-or-racial-equity-the-difference-it-makes/

2 “How are Equity and Equality Different?” Just Health Action, 2010. Accessed Oct. 15, 2010. http://justhealthaction.org/wp-content/uploads/2010/05/JHA-Lesson-Plan-3-How-are-equity-and-equality-different-final.pdf

Citation for this content: MPH@GW, the George Washington Universityonline Master of Public Health program

Equity vs. Equality: What’s the Difference? (2024)


Equity vs. Equality: What’s the Difference? ›

Equality simply means everyone is treated the same exact way, regardless of need or any other individual difference. Equity, on the other hand, means everyone is provided with what they need to succeed. In an equality model, a coach gives all of his players the exact same shoes.

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

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

What is the difference between equality and equity and give an example of each? ›

Equity is providing a taller ladder on one side, or propping the tree up so it's at an angle where access is equal for both people. A line of people of different heights are watching an event from behind a fence. Equality is giving each person a box to stand on to get a better view.

What is an example of equity in real life? ›

Equity refers to the specific things each person needs to succeed. As an example, a person might ask to work from home a few days a week because of a medical condition. Providing the option to work remotely allows them to fulfill their full potential at their job.

What is an example of equity? ›

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, that means the owner has $100,000 in equity.

What does equity mean to me? ›

What is Equity? 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.

What is the difference between equity and equality for students? ›

If equality means giving everyone the same resources, equity means giving each student access to the resources they need to learn and thrive. As those of us who are parents know, each child is different.

What are 2 examples of equality? ›

Let's look at a few examples of equality and diversity in the workplace:
  • Male and female workers doing the same job and receiving the same pay.
  • Physical disabilities not restricting the carrying out of a role i.e. someone in a wheelchair doing the same job as someone sitting in a chair.

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

While the concept of equality assumes that everyone has the same needs, practices of equity involve asking employees their needs and making space for everyone to share how they work best. “Normalizing the concept of having needs is important so that it doesn't single disabled folks out,” LaVant says.

What is equity in any society? ›

Social equity is impartiality, fairness and justice for all people in social policy. Social equity takes into account systemic inequalities to ensure everyone in a community has access to the same opportunities and outcomes.

What does equity mean in the workplace? ›

Equity in the workplace is about ensuring all employees access the same opportunities, resources, and treatment. Equity means employees are valued based on their skills, knowledge, and abilities in a workplace, rather than their characteristics.

Why is equity 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.

Which is better equality or equity? ›

Equality sets the foundation of creating an equal playing field while equity levels out the playing field by identifying disparities to ensure everyone has what they need to achieve success. In viewing everyone strictly as equal and nothing more, you're not being equitable.

What is equity in one sentence? ›

Examples from Collins dictionaries

The company is considering raising part of its future capital requirements by selling equity to the public. Equity is the sum of the assets or investments of a business after liabilities have been subtracted.

How do you demonstrate equity? ›

9 ways to promote equity in the workplace
  1. Drive awareness around equity in the workplace. ...
  2. Evaluate workplace equity. ...
  3. Prioritize wage equality. ...
  4. Share equity targets and progress. ...
  5. Prioritize equitable representation among the workforce. ...
  6. Update hiring practices. ...
  7. Examine your onboarding process. ...
  8. Create a DEIB council.
Oct 6, 2022

What is the difference between equality and equity quizlet? ›

What is the difference between equality and equity? Equity is giving everyone what they need to be successful. Equality is treating everyone the same. Equality aims to promote fairness, but may only work if everyone starts from the same place & needs the same help.

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

Equality: equal sharing and division, keeping everyone at the same level. It gives the same thing to all people, regardless of their needs. Equity: fair treatment, access, advancement, and opportunity for all people.

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