Sociology Index


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 undermined by inequality of condition. But is not the same as two runners given an even start, and equally good tracks. Equality of Condition is a form of egalitarianism which seeks to reduce or eliminate differences in material condition. Inequality of condition does not necessarily lead to Inequality of opportunity. But inequality of condition does undermine equality of opportunity. Marginalization or social exclusion occurs when some people or someone is left out of mainstream society, and denied equal opportunity to participate in social, economic and civic processes.

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. 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 Books

Arneson, Richard, 1989, "Equality and Equal Opportunity for Welfare," Philosophical Studies 56.
Arneson, Richard, 1999, "Against Rawlsian Equality of Opportunity," Philosophical Studies 93.
Equality of Opportunity, Oxford: Oxford University Press.
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.
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, 2002, "Equality of Opportunity: A Progress Report," Social Choice and Welfare 19.
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.
Williams, Bernard, 1962, "The Idea of Equality," in Peter Laslett and W. G. Runciman (eds.), Philosophy, Politics, and Society, Series II, London: Basil Blackwell.