In a mathematical equation, equality is represented by the symbol =, which indicates a state of equality between the first part of an equation and the second part. 

Equality Equality

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    Let's make it simpler.




    All of the above are equations. They tell us that, for instance, 2+2 equals 4 or that 2+2 has the same value as 4.

    Is such a concept translatable to society?

    Let's find out.

    Equality meaning

    In this explanation, we will primarily refer to the meaning of social equality. Before delving into definitions of this "type" of equality, let's try to break down equality as a concept.

    As we have seen with the above mathematical equations, equality is the status of two parts being equal. In societal settings, we would speak of two individuals or groups being equal.

    Social equality is a state of affairs where every person has equal status, rights, and liberties. Social equality stands, therefore, in opposition to societal settings where individuals face social barriers because of some component of their social identity. This is a context of discrimination, usually encountered by people who are not societally equal because of their race, sex, gender, ethnicity, age, class, disability, or religion.

    Social equality relates to four types of equalities or pillars of equality:

    1. ontological equality,

    2. equality of opportunities,

    3. equality of condition,

    4. and equality of outcome.

    In the next section, we will look at these in more detail to break down some of the theories.

    Equality theories

    Let's now look at the main theoretical pillars of equality. We will refer to how such pillars are translated into political, economic and philosophical thought. These equality theories are ontological equality, equality of opportunity, equality of conditions, and equality of outcome.

    Ontological equality

    Equality is, as we have said, the status of two parts, or individuals in the case of social equality, being equal. This status can be described as ontological equality. Ontological means 'of the being'.

    An example of ontological equality is in the US Declaration of Independence, which says that all men are created equal and possess inalienable rights.

    John Locke, an English philosopher, is one of the leading thinkers of the Enlightenment, the philosophy at the base of the French Revolution and the United States Declaration of Independence. John Locke argued that all men have some set of equal natural rights: the rights to life, liberty, and property.Naturally, the ontological equality that inspired movements in the 18th century was flawed: think about that while the US declared its independence and recognised equality, slavery was the backbone of American society.

    Equality, US Declaration of Independence Equality theories, StudySmarter

    Fig. 1 An old transcript of the US Declaration of Independence, a groundbreaking text for its time since it allegedly centred on equality.

    Equality of opportunity

    The second pillar of equality is equality of opportunity.

    Equality of opportunity signifies that all individuals have an equal likelihood of success; in other words, the way to "success", particularly socio-economic comfort, is the same for everyone regardless of their identity.

    This pillar was at the heart of the civil rights movement in the 1960s. Against the racist laws of the US at the time, these activists argued that their race should not determine their opportunities. Anti-racist demands today, such as the Black Lives Matter movement, are based on equality of condition and outcome, and not just of opportunity.

    Equality of opportunity can become a problem if used to defend the idea that everyone in society has the same opportunities or, in other words, to say that there are no differences in treatment between people. Moreover, it is used by neoliberal thinkers to defend how free markets also function according to luck. Similar to a game with dice, society is, in their view, characterised by equal opportunities, and injustices or disadvantages are only due to chance.

    Equality of conditions

    Equality is also based on equality of conditions, meaning that everyone should have an equal starting point in their life or that advantages and privileges should not exist.

    In our society, equality of conditions is protected but rarely the actual scenario. Race, class, gender, sexuality, and many other aspects of identity make people's lives unequal from the beginning. The way to respond to this one should adjust the structure of society, hence eliminating structural barriers to access equal opportunities.

    An example of these adjustments can be found in the UK Equality Act of 2010, where disabled people's conditions in the labour market are not discriminated against by

    making it more difficult for disabled people to be unfairly screened out when applying for jobs, by restricting the circumstances in which employers can ask job applicants questions about disability or health1

    Equality of outcome

    Equality of outcome is the fourth pillar of equality. It signifies that all individuals should have the same gains for equality to happen. This is crucial for socialism and communism economic thought, as we will see later.

    This pillar of equality often stands in contradiction with equality of opportunity. If everyone is given the same opportunities, the outcome rarely will be the same for everyone. This is, again, due to structural factors that discriminate against people and that can be fixed through equity.

    Economic equality

    Equality, Socialism Economic equality, StudySmarter

    Fig. 2 Socialist revolutions and manifestations demand economic equality and a transformation of the capitalist system.

    Equality is a crucial principle in socialism. In particular, socialists aim at economic equality in their fight against capitalism.

    Moreover, the pillar of equality on which socialism and economic equality base themselves is equality of outcomes. In other words, everyone should have the same gains. This contradicts Liberalism which is based on equality of opportunity.

    According to socialists, the capitalist system is unequal in its structure, and no one can ever have the same opportunities. By centring on equality of outcomes, socialism believes that we should restructure the system so everyone can achieve the same goals by eliminating advantages and privileges instead of giving everyone equal opportunities without adjusting the system.

    Equality, Equity and Justice

    The adjustments theorised by socialism aim to create a situation of equity, not just equality.



    Equality in terms of society signifies giving everyone the same opportunities and conditions to reach the same outcome. Everybody is given the same quantity of resources; however, discriminating factors are not necessarily considered.

    When discriminating factors are taken into account, we speak of equity. Therefore, equity signifies considering that people are, even if not inherently or naturally, perceived as different, and this opens different opportunities and conditions.

    So what is justice?

    Justice: Justice can be described as the state of equity that has been ingrained into society to create fair, long-term equal systems.

    An example of justice can be found in some ecologist campaigns that demand climate justice. Climate justice is a form of environmentalism that, alongside addressing the need to respond to the climate crisis, refuses the idea that capitalism can be the terrain for the solution. Furthermore, it theorises a redistribution of resources and a socialist democratic transition to renewable resources demanding a form of socialism and economic equality.

    Gender equality

    Gender equality is one of the pillars of feminism. At the same time, it has been the cause of some discussions within this school of thought.

    The demand for equality between genders comes from the view that gender is a social construct, which means that, as with other identity cues such as race, class, or disability, gender determines one’s participation and privileges in society. Equality feminism, hence, demands gender equality in the economic, labour, and social spheres of life. Moreover, they demand equality in the domestic sphere.

    To understand more check out our articles on Equality Feminism and its opponent Essentialist Feminism.

    Equality in liberal, socialist and radical feminism

    This notion of equality can go hand in hand with liberalism and give birth to liberal feminism. Liberal feminists believe in equality because they believe that non-cis-male individuals should be free to compete in the socio-economic sphere alongside men. This sort of thought calls for an equal rights agenda based on equality of opportunity. An example of equality of opportunity crucial for women's empowerment in society is equality of education for all people regardless of their gender.

    The Equality Act of 2010 in the UK is an example of an equal rights policy and legislation. We will look at it in detail in the next section.

    However, socialist feminism believes that equal rights will not signify gender equality unless the capitalist liberal system is transformed. They see the latter as the root of the problem of gender inequality, as capitalism can only survive by exploiting non-cis-male individuals’ unwaged labour.

    Radical feminists theorise gender equality in the domestic sphere as well. They believe in the reformation of the domestic sphere, the control over women’s bodies, and the discourse on their sexual expression.

    Therefore, radical and socialist feminism all favour equality of outcome and conditions over equality of opportunities. These demands drive politics based on levelling the conditions that create inequality in outcomes based on gender. For instance, in the case of equality of education, these feminists would demand the elimination of factors that can make it harder for non-cis-male people to stay in education, such as domestic roles.

    Equality Abortion protest in Poland Equality of Opportunity StudySmarterFig. 3 Many feminists today demand equality in the labour market and freedom from society's control of bodies, such as the protest in Poland, pictured above, which stems from equality of conditions

    Equality Act

    The above pillars of equality that we saw manifested in socialist and feminist thought have informed policies and legislation in many countries. These can be called anti-discrimination laws.

    An example of anti-discrimination legislation is the Equality Act of 2010 in the UK. This act concerns discrimination in the workplace and broader society.

    This legislation recognises that specific characteristics, named 'protected characteristics', are more likely to be the object of discrimination. The Act, therefore, makes it illegal to discriminate against individuals based on their:

    • age

    • gender reassignment

    • being married or in a civil partnership

    • being pregnant or on maternity leave

    • disability

    • race including colour, nationality, ethnic or national origin

    • religion or belief

    • sex

    • sexual orientation2

    We could say that the act is based on equality of opportunity since it aims at eliminating discrimination but does not necessarily propose levelling mechanisms for making the conditions of society, and not just the opportunities of access, equal. At the same time, the act does provide rules to adjust the conditions of equality between disabled and non-disabled people.

    Equality - Key takeaways

    • Social equality is a condition of equality between two individuals who do not face discrimination according to their identity. Race, sex, gender, ethnicity, age, class, disability, and religion are characteristics of people's identities on which one may be discriminated against.
    • The four theoretical pillars of equality are ontological equality, equality of opportunities, equality of condition, and equality of outcome.
    • Equality of opportunity is crucial for liberal thought.
    • Equality of condition and outcome is crucial for socialist and feminist thought.
    • Through adjustments to the system, one can reach not only equality but equity, meaning that everyone has the same opportunities, and the system accounts for societal advantages and disadvantages.
    • The Equality Act of 2010 in the UK is an example of an anti-discrimination law that aims at giving everyone the same socio-economic opportunities.


    1. Fig. 1 Transcript of the US Declaration of Independence https://pixabay.com/photos/old-transcript-constitution-vintage-438035/ by jp26jp https://pixabay.com/users/jp26jp-308026/
    2. Fig. 2 'Discrimination: your rights' https://pixabay.com/vectors/fists-sky-red-black-fight-311162/
    3. Fig. 3 Abortion protest in Poland https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Protest_against_abortion_restriction_in_Krak%C3%B3w,_20210129_2113_1799.jpg byJakub Hałun. https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/User:Jakubhal licensed by CC-BY-SA-4.0 https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Category:CC-BY-SA-4.0
    Frequently Asked Questions about Equality

    What are the main points of the Equality Act?

    The Equality Act of 2010 in the UK renders discrimination against 'protected characteristics' illegal. 

    What is definition of equality?

    Equality is the status of two parts being equal. In society we speak of social equality, which is a condition of everyone having equal rights, liberties, opportunities, conditions, and outcomes. 

    What is an example of equality? 

    The rights to fair pay due to differences in wage regarding gender and race of workers. 

    Why is economic equality important?

    For socialists, economic equality is crucial to achieve freedom and societal equality. To reach economic equality it is not enough hat everyone has the same opportunities, but also the conditions of people's lives have to be equal. 

    What is an example of equal opportunity?

    An equal opportunity can be, for example, the conditions of a man and a woman having the same opportunities to secure a job regardless of their sex difference. 

    How can we achieve equality in education?

    By giving everyone the same opportunities to access the education system and making sure that the conditions of all people's paths to education are equal, we can achieve equality in education. 

    Test your knowledge with multiple choice flashcards

    Which English philosophers theorised ontological equality? 

    On which pillar of equality does classical liberalism and its economic principles, i.e. neoliberalism, base themselves?

    How do you achieve equity and not just equality? 

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    Team Equality Teachers

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