Using Equity vs Equality

Instructor: David Boyles

David has a Master's in English literature. He has taught college English for 5+ years.

'Equity' and 'equality' cause a lot of confusion because not only do they look and sound similar, they are both nouns and have similar meanings. However, they don't have the exact same meaning, and this lesson will help explain the difference.

Not Quite the Same

Many people think the words 'equality' and 'equity' are synonyms, meaning they have the same definition. But though they have similar definitions, they are not identical, and it is important to understand the difference.

We will go into the specific meanings of each word in a second, but before we do, one important thing to understand about both words is their part of speech. This is the job they do in a sentence. Both words are nouns, which are words that describe a person, place, thing, or idea. And both 'equality' and 'equity' are ideas, meaning that, even though they are nouns, they are not tangible things you can see. This adds to the confusion between the two words.

Equality

'Equality' means 'the state of being equal'. It is used especially in reference to issues like social status, rights, and opportunities. Here are some examples of sentences where you would see this word:

  • The civil rights movement of the 1960s fought for equality for African Americans.
  • The 19th Amendment, which granted women the right to vote, was a major step forward for gender equality.
  • People with disabilities argued that the Americans with Disabilities Act was necessary for them to achieve equality.

The civil rights movement of the 1960s for equality for African Americans.
MLK

Equity

'Equity' actually has two separate definitions that have only a little to do with each other. It is the first definition that often causes confusion with 'equality'. This first definition is 'the quality of being fair and impartial'. You can see it seems similar to the definition of 'equality', but there is an important difference.

Equity, in this definition, is also often used to discuss things like civil rights and opportunities. But while 'equality' has to do with two or more things, or groups of people, being equal, 'equity' refers to the treatment of those things, or groups of people.

Confused? I know these differences can be a little hard to see when just discussing definitions, but they are easier to see in actual sentences, so let's look at a few of those:

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