Sociology Index

INEQUALITY OF OUTCOME

Inequality of outcome is most often contrasted with the concept of inequality of opportunity. Inequality of outcome and inequality of condition, are both controversial political concepts. Inequality of outcomes comes in various material dimensions of human well-being, such as the level of income, educational attainment, health status and so on. In practical terms, it exists when individuals are compensated in some way for their disadvantageous circumstances. The term equality of outcome is seen as more controversial which connotes socialism or possibly communism and is viewed skeptically. A mainstream political view is that the comparison of the two terms is valid, but that they are somewhat mutually exclusive in the sense that striving for either type of equality would require sacrificing the other to an extent, and that achieving equality of opportunity necessarily brings about "certain inequalities of outcome."

For example, striving for equal outcomes might require discriminating between groups to achieve these outcomes; or striving for equal opportunities in some types of treatment might lead to unequal results. Policies that seek an equality of outcome often require a deviation from the strict application of concepts such as meritocracy, and legal notions of equality before the law for all citizens. 'Equality seeking' policies may also have a redistributive focus.

Inequality of outcomes occurs when individuals do not possess the same level of material wealth or overall living economic conditions. Development theory has largely been concerned with inequalities in standards of living, such as inequalities in income/wealth, education, health, and nutrition. However, the lens through which economists gauge progress in these fronts has been income or consumption. Development theory was concerned with income inequalities, in so much as it affected or was affected by the economic growth of the average income of the nation. Distributional concerns were mostly put aside, as growth was thought to eventually “lift all boats” (Kuznets curve). Studies began showing that growth had inconclusive effects on inequality, but income inequality was detrimental for economic growth. As income inequality rose in many countries, a distributional bias in the growth process was becoming evident. Startling levels of poverty in the late 1990s pushed a refocus in the income inequality debate.

Inequality of opportunities vs. inequality of outcomes: Are Western societies all alike?
Arnaud Lefranc, Nicolas Pistolesi, Alain Trannoy. If inequality of opportunity were perfectly related to inequality of outcome, the interest of focusing on opportunity would have been greatly reduced, given the considerable amount of results already collected regarding di erences across countries in income inequality. Fortunately, our results suggest that inequality of outcome is far from perfectly correlated with inequality of opportunity. On the one hand, countries that exhibit very high (low) levels of inequality of outcome also experience high (low) levels of equality of opportunity. On the other hand, the rankings of countries according to the two criteria are not identical, particularly for countries in the middle of the pack. Obviously, more countries should be analyzed to obtain a more complete and de nite picture of the potential contrast or congruence between inequality of outcome and inequality of opportunity among the developed world.

First, some policy instrument may achieve reduction in inequality of outcome and opportunity. For instance, by reducing inequality of opportunity for education, by giving more resources to schools located in poor neighborhoods, equality may be enhanced in the long run on both dimensions. It may explain the achievement of equality of opportunity in Sweden as well as the remoteness of this goal in the US. Analyzing the impact of such policies may help to understand the extent of the correlation between inequality of outcome and inequality of opportunity. This calls for further scrutiny of the mechanisms through which inequalities of di erent types have been generated. It is clearly out of the scope of this article but it may be pursued in further research. Then, our results also suggest that the relative emphasis put on the two egalitarian principles (outcome vs. opportunity) may vary across countries. A better knowledge of the political debate about redistributive issues in each country may shed light on international di erences in this respect.

Equality of opportunity exists when life outcomes depend only on factors for which persons can be considered responsible, and not on disadvantageous attributes outside of their control. It argues that gender, ethnicity, family background, etc. should not determine outcomes.