What's the Difference Between Equity and Equality?

What's the Difference Between Equity and Equality?

A frequently cited illustration External link (shown below) showing the difference between equality and equity External link is that of three individuals of different heights who are attempting to peer over a fence. In order to treat them equally, they would all be given the same size box to stand on to improve their lines of sight. However, doing so wouldn't necessarily help the shortest person see as well as the tallest person. In order to give equitable treatment, each person would need to be given a box to stand on that would enable a clear view over the fence.

According to the World Health Organization External link (WHO), equity is "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."

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention External link (CDC) refers to health inequities and health disparities interchangeably as "types of unfair health differences closely linked with social, economic or environmental disadvantages that adversely affect groups of people." As such, equity is a process External link and equality is an outcome of that process. Or, as the Race Matters Institute External link describes, "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 circumstances."

Understanding the difference between health equality and health equity is important to public health External link 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.