Sociology Index


Equality of Condition, Social Inequality, Social Stratification

There is equality of opportunity where differences in individual's wealth, status and power are not so great as to create advantage and disadvantage in the pursuit of personal achievement. The American ideal has been to provide equality of opportunity, whereas the European Social Democracy seeks equality of outcomes. The American ideal has been to provide equality of opportunity. Liberal ideology and consensus theory claim that broad equality of opportunity exists in modern societies. Equality of opportunity is a political ideal opposed to caste hierarchy though not to hierarchy as generally understood. The assumption is that there is a hierarchy of more desirable and less desirable, superior and inferior positions in a society. Equality of opportunity is quite consistent with inequality of condition. But is not the same as two runners given an even start, and equally good tracks. Inequality of condition does not necessarily lead to Inequality of opportunity. But inequality of condition does undermine equality of opportunity.

In a caste society as in India where even today untouchability is practiced in every nook and corner of the country, the assignment of individuals to places in the social hierarchy is fixed by birth. The child acquires the social status of his or her parents if their union is socially sanctioned. Social mobility may be possible in a caste society, but one is admitted to a different level of the hierarchy based on their initial ascriptive social status.

When equality of opportunity prevails, the assignment of individuals to places in the social hierarchy is determined by competitive process, and all members of society are eligible to compete on equal terms.

Reducing inequality of condition is the central aim of huge and expensive welfare states, with not only income support for the poor, but excellent education and health care at all income levels. Britain is somewhat less serious, and the USA hasn't been serious since Roosevelt. We cannot have equality of opportunity without equality of condition. Inequality of condition, like soft discrimination, hurts a child throughout a child's life.

Equality of Opportunity Bibliography

Alexander, Larry, 1992, "What Makes Wrongful Discrimination Wrong? Biases, Preferences, Stereotypes, and Proxies," University of Pennsylvania Law Review 141.
Anderson, Elizabeth, 1999, "What Is the Point of Equality?", Ethics 109.
Arneson, Richard, 1989, "Equality and Equal Opportunity for Welfare," Philosophical Studies 56.
Arneson, Richard, 1999, "Against Rawlsian Equality of Opportunity," Philosophical Studies 93
Becker, Gary S., 1971, The Economics of Discrimination, 2nd edition, Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.
Brock, Dan W., 2000, "Health Care Resource Prioritization and Cavanagh, Matt, 2002, Against Equality of Opportunity, Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Daniels, Norman, 1978, "Merit and Meritocracy," Philosophy and Public Affairs 7.
Fishkin, James S., 1983, Justice, Equal Opportunity, and the Family, New Haven and London: Yale University Press.
Galston, William, 1986, "Equality of Opportunity and Liberal Theory," in Lucash, Frank S., ed., Justice and Equality Here and Now, Ithaca: Cornell University Press.
Miller, David, 1999, Principles of Social Justice, Cambridge: Harvard University Press, chapters 7-9.
Rae, Douglas, et al, 1981, Equalities, Cambridge: Harvard University Press.
Risse, Mathias, 2002, "What Equality of Opportunity Could Not Be," Ethics 112, pp. 720-747.
Roemer, John, 1995, "Equality and Responsibility," Boston Review, April-May issue.
Roemer, John, 1998, Equality of Opportunity, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Roemer, John, 2002, "Equality of Opportunity: A Progress Report," Social Choice and Welfare 19.
Roemer, John, 2003, Defending Equality of Opportunity, The Monist.
Schaar, John, 1967, Equality of Opportunity, and Beyond, in Pennock, J. Roland, and Chapman, John, eds., Equality: Nomos IX, New York: Atherton Press, reprinted in Pojman, Louis P., and Westmoreland, Robert, 1997, Equality: Selected Readings, New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Sen, Amartya, 1992, Inequality Reexamined, Cambridge: Harvard University Press.
Temkin, Larry S., 1993, Inequality, New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press, chapter 8.
Williams, Bernard, 1962, "The Idea of Equality," in Peter Laslett and W. G. Runciman (eds.), Philosophy, Politics, and Society, Series II, London: Basil Blackwell.