What is Inequality? What is Inequity?

Clearing up the confusion about inequality and inequity. A cheat sheet for clarity.

May 09, 2019 - 2 min read

By Jurnell Cockhren

Inequality and inequity are commonly misused and misapplied by activists and educators. The fight against oppression requires activists understanding how to distinguish between the two. Your favorite dictionary may not be enough to drive practical understanding. This post will help you remember their definitions and aid in their application.

Similarities between inequality and inequity
  • They are indicators of social disparity
  • They are components of oppressive conditions & experiences
  • They are measurable
  • They are solveable
  • Their effects compound over time
Inequality

the quality of being unequal or uneven: such as a) social disparity b) disparity of distribution or opportunity 1

Think quantity. Inequality occurs when discrimination prohibits vulnerable persons from accessing and consuming a good or service. For instance, food deserts exists where there's a lack of access to grocery stores for one or more neighborhoods. Affordable housing for vulnerable populations spanning food deserts serves as an example of inequality.

Inequity

an instance of injustice or unfairness 2

Think quality. Inequity occurs when vulnerable populations experience significant differences in the quality of goods or services compared to the privileged groups. For example, everyone gets a day in court according to the code of law. However, vulnerable populations receive lower quality attorneys and unfair judgments.

Wrap Up

Use Inequality and inequity to highlight how social disparities impact vulnerable populations. Inequality reflects disproportionate access to opportunities for vulnerable populations. Inequity occurs when vulnerable populations receive goods or services at a significantly lower quality than privileged groups. When fighting for equity and equality in your work, identify which parts of your social problem reflect issues of quality versus issues of quantity.


  1. "inequality." Merriam-Webster.com. 2019. https://www.merriam-webster.com (8 May 2019).

  2. "inequity." Merriam-Webster.com. 2019. https://www.merriam-webster.com (8 May 2019).