Equality of outcome is most often contrasted with the concept of equality of opportunity. Equality of outcome, equality of condition, and equality of results are controversial political concept. Equality of outcome usually describes a state in which people have approximately the same material wealth or, a state in which the general economic conditions of their lives are similar. Achieving this equality of outcome requires reducing or eliminating material inequalities between individuals or households in a society. Inequality of outcome is often contrasted with the concept of inequality of opportunity.
"Instead of focusing on equality of outcomes, we should be focusing on equality of opportunity." – Paul Ryan
Equality of outcome could involve a transfer of income and/or wealth from wealthier to poorer individuals, or adopting other institutions designed to promote equality of condition from the start. Equality of outcome as a concept is central to some political ideologies and is used regularly in political discourse. A related way of defining equality of outcome is to think of it as "equality in the central and valuable things in life." Equality of Opportunity may help us to decide to run a lottery where each child has an equal chance of getting a place. In cases involving voluntary gambling, equality of outcome condemns inequality resulting from win or loss as wrong or unfair.
Equality of outcome describes a state in which people have similar economic conditions. While inequality in terms of opportunity is defined on an ex-ante basis and is concerned with ensuring a common starting place, inequality of outcomes is concerned with the finish line and depends on both circumstances beyond one’s control as well as talent and effort.
Equality of Opportunity is partly motivated by the plausibility of treating
individuals equally and partly motivated by the unattractiveness of giving each
person the same Outcome. Equality of Outcome requires that individuals have some
share of goods, not merely a chance to obtain them without the hindrance of some
A focus on outcomes with respect to literacy among young children may seem appropriate, since it is important that children actually become literate rather than have an opportunity to read, which could be missed. But a focus on outcomes may seem less plausible in other cases, such as equalizing the results of standardized tests. Equality of outcome might stifle individuality leading to uniformity of character, of preferences or of ability.
Equality of Opportunity distinguishes itself from Equality of Outcome in two main cases. In cases involving goods that cannot be distributed equally, Equality of Opportunity specifies a fair way of distributing unequal outcomes. For example, there may be ten children for every place at a charter school. Unless we are happy to waste school places, Equality of Outcome can’t help us decide here, so we need another principle.
some cases, it may be impossible for individuals to collectively realize the
outcomes that they have equal opportunity to secure. In these cases, Equality of
Opportunity may seem unfair. This is the case with scarce goods, such as jobs or
college places at elite institutions. If only 1,000 doctors can be appointed in
one year, and if there are 10,000 applicants, then each has, insofar as the
relevant obstacles are removed, an equal opportunity, but not all can in fact
realize that opportunity with effort and hard-work, even if they would also be
considered qualified enough to do the job well.
These opportunities are competitive and in those cases we might prefer equal outcomes to having some people realize the opportunity at the expense of others. To address this concern, we might understand Equality of Opportunity as requiring that, with certain effort, and overcoming only relevant obstacles, any person, and any number of persons, can, independent of the actions of others, realize the good that they have an opportunity to secure.
Phillips, Anne. “Defending Equality Of Outcome”. Journal Of Political Philosophy, Journal of political philosophy, 12, no. 1 (2004): 1-19.