Equality of opportunity vs equality of outcome


Kevin Mangelschots

Table of Contents

Equality is a topic that often gets brought up in these modern times.

I believe that an equal amount of chances is something we should strive for. Yet, I believe that striving for equal results is not desirable, not to mention impossible to achieve.

Illustration depicting the difference between equality and equity.

I don’t like to speak of equality. Since this is kind of a vague term that isn’t well-defined enough.

Equality might mean equality of opportunity for one person, while another individual is talking about equality of outcome. And while both have the word equality in common, they are not the same at all.

That’s why I think it’s more appropriate to split the term equality into two entirely separate identities, namely:

  1. Equality of opportunity.
  2. Equality of outcome.

Quite obviously, these are two different things.

What does equality of opportunity mean?

Image of planet earth with the sentence, “equal opportunity for all” written in the middle with happy children around it.

Equality of opportunity means a state of fairness in which job applicants are treated similarly, unhampered by artificial barriers or prejudices, except when particular distinctions can be explicitly justified.

This fundamentally means that the goal of equal opportunity is to make it so all humans across the whole world get an equal amount of opportunities. Regardless of their race, social status, and gender.

For example, every person should get the chance to go to school and get an education, another example is that everyone should have the possibility to get a job. Everyone should also get the possibility to receive decent healthcare and so on.

Benefits of equality of opportunity

  • Eliminates discrimination

    Image of multiple pawns standing together with one pawn standing separated alone.

    One of the largest benefits of equality of opportunity is that it levels the playing field.

    If everyone gets an equal amount of chances, then this eliminates discriminating against people based on skin color, gender, age, looks, and so on.

    That doesn’t mean that discrimination will be eliminated entirely because bad, close-minded people will always continue to exist in this world trying to belittle others. But it will at least help to lessen favoritism.

  • Improves democracy

    Picture of the word 'society' being written in a notebook, with glasses lying on the notebook.

    It benefits democracy greatly because people get the chance to get a degree that suits their innate talents and interests.

    Thus, people will be better, and more motivated doing their jobs which leads to folks being more productive.

    This means we can deliver better services, which will benefit society as a whole.

  • Everyone gets the chance to become what they want to be in life

    Since people get the chance to get the job of their dreams, they can use those opportunities to become whatever their heart desires. Whether it’s a plumber, a lawyer, a surgeon, or an electrician.

    This is as it should be, seeing as people who like what they’re doing, and performing tasks that suit their talents, will do so much better than someone who doesn’t enjoy their craft.

  • Promotes fairness

    A sign saying “fairness”, with both a man and a woman painted on it.

    It’s only fair that everyone gets the same chances in life. This promotes equity since everyone can succeed in life.

    When some people get ahead of others due to unfairness, then this will promote anger and vengeful behavior.

    Perhaps even worse is that the people who get ahead unfairly know they can get away with it, which means they are more likely to do so again.

  • Promotes diversity

    When people get the chance to chase after what they want to become and achieve in life, is where the diversity comes from.

    Think of it this way, if men could only do physical jobs such as plumbing or engineering, then there wouldn’t be men in other jobs either. Likewise, if women could only work as nurses in hospitals, or rear the children at home, then there wouldn’t be women in other occupations either.

    Still, men will typically lean more towards physical labor and machinery by nature, while women tend towards jobs requiring lots of interaction with other people due to the biological difference in male and female personality traits.

    Yet, the capacity to pick what you want to pursue still promotes diversity. Because despite our biological differences, there are still exceptions to the rule.

  • It’s a human right

    Illustration of people of different skill color holding up signs saying, “every human has rights.”'

    Equal opportunity is a human right just the same as freedom of speech is.

    Since everyone is equal to the law, all people should also receive a balanced amount of chances in life.

    Human rights are the foundation of civilization. And without them, the pillars upon which our current civilized society is built would crumble.

    Society would collapse into chaos, and we would devolve into individuals who perform despicable acts such as stealing, fighting, and even killing others to survive.

  • Benefits the economy

    When people exercise their options and work in occupations they enjoy, value, and find purposeful, is when they’re most productive. Not to mention that they’re less likely to fall sick as well.

    This means that it benefits the economy by having a larger number of hardworking employees and having less medical expenses to pay for.

  • People become more skilled

    When people get ample opportunities, they have the best chance to become more proficient. That is if they decide to take those opportunities.

    It’s hard to become superb at something you’re not interested in. Thus, having multiple selections at your disposal means we’re more inclined to go after things we value and enjoy. And the things we find meaningful will always be done best.

  • Aids setting change into motion

    Image of scrabble blocks reading, “time for change.”

    Equality of opportunity promotes change, since we’re free to pursue what we desire in this existence. This conveys that we’re not limited in what we can do and become.

    This freedom promotes free thinking and will help to change society for the better.

  • Encourages peace

    People are less likely to feel discriminated against, angry, and vengeful because they’re getting an equal amount of opportunity, just as everyone else around them.

    When people feel disadvantaged, especially over long periods, is when they’ll start to turn cynical, which frequently spirals out of control and can turn into retaliation.

    Holding many negative feelings for too long will start wreaking havoc on your health at some point in your life. And it usually doesn’t take long to start seeing the detrimental effects of chronic stress.

  • Promotes cooperation

    Illustration that cooperation should be a win for both parties.

    Folks who are happy, and feel like they’ve been given a generous amount of possibilities, will be more likely to work together with the other members inhabiting society.

    They’re also less likely to become cynical and angry, and this results in being more willing to cooperate peacefully as well.

  • Improves health outcomes

    People who actively pursue what they find substantive and like doing will feel better mentally.

    Being in a good headspace is important for our mental health. And those who feel good will have more vigor, meaning they’re more likely to work out and exercise. This consequently improves their physical health as an additional bonus!

Equality of opportunity in education

Image of a young child in school holding a book in front of a blackboard.

Education is a basic human right. As such, equality of opportunity in education should be too.

Equality of educational opportunities is possible by making it unbiased, and by pursuing justice for everyone. This is exactly why it has been declared a human right in the first place.

This is what Article 26 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (United Nations, 1948) has to say about the right to equal education for all:

The notion that there should be equality of opportunity in education, where everyone has fair and equal access to a good quality education regardless of social background, race, gender or religion, and where people achieve success in education according to their efforts and ability, free of any form of discrimination, is enshrined in several International Conventions.

Article 26 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (United Nations, 1948) proclaims that “everyone has the right to education”, that “education shall be free, at least in the elementary or fundamental stages” and that “education shall be directed to the full development of the human personality”.[1]https://link.springer.com/chapter/10.1007/978-94-017-3368-7_10

Equal educational opportunities are important for individual maturation, but also for collective growth.

Think of it this way. A person who receives the education of their choosing will be more content and more capable. That’s why they’ll be more productive, which benefits the overall economy.

Image of a hand writing the word “education” on a board with chalk with a male and female sign underneath it.

It also benefits the collective, seeing as folks who practice their preferred occupation will do so with more happiness, vigor, and knowledge. They will make a better product, deliver an improved service, and create more options to pick from as well.

It promotes academic accomplishment and typically provides more financial stability in addition to welfare.

Equal opportunities in schools, regardless of gender, religion, race, or social background, lay the foundation for promoting and receiving, equal educational opportunities.

In the end, what we want is equal opportunity in education for all students, so that they, and society as a whole, can benefit as a result of these favorable outcomes for society.

Equality of opportunity coalition

A black background with the sentence, “open to new opportunities” written in white letters.

The Equality of Opportunity Coalition is a group of organizations that are part of the purpose coalition. It is launched by a group of leading employers.

They bring together the private and public sector establishments that are focused on measuring and accounting for the socio-economic background of their workers.

They do so to get a better understanding of what needs to change to improve the socio-economic variety and to detect what challenges are currently hindering, or slowing down, progression. In short, they want these advancements to happen at a quicker rate.

What does equality of outcome mean?

Equality of outcome means the state of being matching in degree, ability, value, quantity, or rank unhampered by artificial barriers, prejudices, or preferences except when particular distinctions can be explicitly justified.

This means that equality of results strives for every person to be evenly competent, valued, and reimbursed as such.

This can smother individuality and as a consequence, lead to similarity of skill, preferences, and even personality. It’s undesirable since everyone has their talents and weaknesses. And we want people to express their natural gifts instead of suppressing those for the sake of equalizing results.

A potential example of equality of outcome could be that every employee gets paid the same amount of money at work, regardless of their degree or what their job consists of.

Another instance is that every workplace should consist of 50% women and 50% men. This is irrespective of who is a better fit for the job or who performs better.

Equality of outcome in socialism

Gender equality in corporate world. Figures of man and woman on pencil seesaw, blue background, copy space.

The main goal of socialism, which is a political way of thinking, is undoubtedly equal outcomes.

Sometimes, the reason for desiring socialism can be benevolent, such as wanting the same positives and amount of resources for the poor. Think of everyone having the same amount of money, mating opportunities, and social standing.

But other times, the ends can be much more malevolent, like wanting to reduce the amount of power others hold and not letting them climb the social hierarchy to keep the spoils to themselves.

This can be accomplished by preventing others access to resources. Such as forbidding others from gaining more money than others, or getting more mating opportunities than their peers.

My personal take

Black equals sign on a white background

I’ll summarize my thoughts about equality of opportunity vs equality of outcome quickly for the people who don’t have the time to read my whole statement.

I believe in equality of opportunity, but I don’t believe in equality of outcome. People need to realize that a balanced amount of opportunities does not mean receiving equal results.

Life doesn’t organize itself equally either. Just take a good look at nature, and you will see that the spoils go to the victor. Thus, indicating that equal effects are a utopia.

I would even go as far as saying that striving for equality of outcome is bad. Let me explain down below.

  • Equality of opportunity

    Illustration of multiple people of different skin color raising their hands signaling that they're equal.

    Simply put, I think that equality of opportunity is always good and something we should strive for.

    Lower mortality rate

    Equal opportunity has multiple advantages. For instance, did you know that equality of opportunity is linked to a lower mortality rate in Europe?

    We have already established, and this is well documented, that every individual is different regarding skills, values, and beliefs. This conveys that every person has their own unique strengths and weaknesses.

    Promotes fairness

    Satirical illustration saying that freedom isn't as important as fairness.

    Life in itself is unfair and not everyone is blessed with the same innate advantages.

    However, don’t all people deserve an equal amount of opportunities, considering we are all humans? I believe that everyone should get at least the chance to turn their life into something worthwhile. Ultimately, we only get to experience this existence one time.

    Free to pursue what we want to

    However, what we are equal in is the fact that we are all human beings.

    If we believe that every person is unique, then that also means that each one of us has their own specific gifts and personality traits. These differences will naturally affect which goals we decide to pursue, as we are all wired and endowed in different areas of life.

    Gives everyone a chance to grow

    I’m a big proponent for people all over the world getting equal chances, uninhibited by prejudices and artificial barriers.

    I believe that this gives each individual the best chance to grow and be the best possible version of themselves.

    This way, we are free to pursue whatever skills and passions we value and want to improve at.

    Individual improvement benefits the entire society

    If we allow every individual to be the best possible version of themselves, then the world will become a better place as a whole.

    That’s because the surrounding folks also benefit from every single person that improves their unique skill set. Be it because they are more skilled at their job, or because they improve themselves personality wise, leading to less spite, hate, and violence in the world.

  • Equality of outcome

    A male and female symbol written, indicating that they're both equal.

    However, just because I believe in equality of opportunity doesn’t mean that I believe in equality of outcome. On the contrary, I believe that equal results are an appalling idea.

    This is what famous Canadian psychologist Jordan Peterson has to say about the subject:

    Each individual is different

    Illustration of a red stick art standing in front of a crowd of gray stick arts with the text, “u r unique” written above them.

    I believe that each individual is different. All with our personal values, passions, and talents. This means it’s foolish to pursue equality of outcome.

    We are simply not equipped to be evenly good at every aspect in life. This is because our unique gifts differ from person to person.

    If, for example, parents have two sons. Let’s say twins who received exactly the same education and opportunities growing up, then they would still not be the same personality, looks, and skill set wise.

    They would not be equally strong, they would not be as tall, they would not be just as fast, they would not be every bit as smart, and the list goes on and on.

    And even if both boys are good at, let’s say sports, it might not be in the same category of athletics. One of the brothers might be good at athletics that require a lot of coordination and balance like gymnastics. Simultaneously, the other brother might be good at recreations that require a lot of raw strength and explosiveness like power lifting for instance.

    Men and women are biologically and sociologically different

    A drawing of a man and a woman stick art with chalk on a blackboard.

    Men and women are biologically and sociologically different, which means it’s foolish to pursue equality of results. If both women and men differ in their needs and desires, then why would we pursue equal outcomes for everyone? Wouldn’t that be counterproductive?

    It has been established that men and women differ biologically in a big study about gender equality in Scandinavia. The study concluded that the more egalitarian a state becomes sociologically, the more men and women differ in the choices they make and, thus, in the outcome.

    When a state becomes more egalitarian, it maximizes the biological differences.

    That means that the more egalitarian a state becomes, the more it maximizes biological differences between the two genders.

    Let’s take a look at personality traits for example. Biologically speaking, men are generally more disagreeable, more interested in things/materialism, and more assertive.

    Women on the other end are typically more agreeable, more interested in people than in things, and less assertive.

    These differences at the averages between men and women in personality will of course lead to different interests, which will in turn also result in different job preferences and choices.

    Image of a male construction worker working.

    This is why men are over-represented in jobs like plumbing, construction, electrician, and management while women are over-represented in jobs like nursing, day-care, secretaries and waitresses.

    Over-represented might be the wrong word, because it makes it sound like a bad thing. In reality, it is a good thing that people pick their profession based on their passions and what their capabilities are. Regardless if a job is primarily populated by men or women.

    One study found that increased gender equality generally led to poorer health outcomes for both men and women. Something to think about when promoting the same outcomes.

Gender equality: Are men and women that different?

Gender equality is another hotly debated topic in our current society.

While I agree that both genders are equally essential to a well-functioning society, I don’t believe that gender equality can be attained regarding spontaneous interests, the profession we choose to practice, and even our abilities. At least not when talking about equality of outcome and at the average.

However, I am all for equality of opportunity. Even though plumbing, for example, and all other fields requiring heavy physical labor, will always be a male-dominated field seeing as men are more interested in things at the average, and women in people. Still, that shouldn’t prevent an equal amount of opportunity for the women who do want to pursue plumbing as a career.

Caring and tending occupations like nursing will forever be a female-dominated profession, while practical jobs like electricians will always be largely practiced by men. That’s not to say that women can’t be electricians and that men can’t be nurses. There’s nothing wrong with that! But again, most women are more people-minded than men are, and this results in different personalities and career choices.

Biological differences between men and women

Illustration of the sexual differences of the male and female brain.

At the norms, the differences in spontaneous interests in both genders will lead to different career choices.

I do believe that both genders should be paid equally for the same job if they perform just as well. This is also a form of equal outcomes. The way I see it is that you deserve to get paid well if you’re good at your trade. Regardless if you’re a man or a woman. That should be irrelevant in this case, since we want the best service available to us.

Equal results regarding the number of men and women in a workplace are not desirable. Again, this is due to the deviations in spontaneous interests and temperament at the average.

If we regard each individual as being unique in their strengths, then why should we try to make some people do jobs they don’t like? Why would we force them into an occupation they have no interest in just to balance the amount of male and female workers? That’s just insanity running its course.

Men and women are more alike than they are different despite all those differences

Image of two women wearing similar clothes hugging while extending their outer arm.

All that being said, men and women are more alike than they are different, even though there are some distinct deviations at the extreme end of the distribution.

At the mean, men are slightly to moderately more disagreeable and assertive than women. This might not even be all that noticeable in real life. But if we take a look at the extreme ends of the distribution, then we see that almost all the disagreeable and assertive individuals are men.

That means that our personality divergences will be most visible and pronounced at the extremes rather than the average.

Why striving for equality of outcome is bad

A boy giving two thumbs down in disapproval.

Previous generations more or less accepted that life wasn’t fair, and were by and large content if they had food on the table to feed themselves and their family.

However, the modern generation of people has a strong distaste for inequality of outcome and wants everything to be fair, even though that’s not how life and nature work.

Promotes authoritarianism

Pursuing equal outcomes encourages authoritarianism. As Karl Max cleverly pointed out, the ruling class will never want to voluntarily relinquish their position of power and influence.

This means that the rest of society will have to coerce or force the folks in power for a change to happen.

It’s unnatural

Image of a clown making a silly face.

One of the biggest reasons why equality of outcome is bad is that it’s unnatural.

Human beings, and a lot of animals for that matter, are inclined to divide themselves in dominance hierarchies.

Dominance hierarchies are not always decided on the premise of strength alone, most certainly not in humans. We tend to value competence, kindness, honesty, and generosity a lot more than we do raw physical strength.

This means that there are winners and losers in life, which is true. It’s a harsh fact, but not everyone gets to an advantageous position. If there are winners, then there must be losers by default.

We are all competing for access to a limited pool of resources, mating opportunities, and so on.

While this might not always be the perfect system, it’s still much better and preferable than having to fight to the death with others regularly.

Besides, isn’t it the fairest when the most competent, who often put in uncountable hours of time, effort, and discipline to master their craft get rewarded handsomely? I think it is.

Identity politics

The words “identity politics” written in white letters on a black background.

This extreme desire for equal outcomes might evolve (or rather devolve) into identity politics when it spirals out of control.

That’s never good because identity politics has little regard for the sole person and the individual’s responsibility.

If nobody were to fulfill their obligation, then the collective wouldn’t be able to thrive either. A group is still made up of singular, albeit many individuals, no matter how large it gets.

Each individual is different

Equality of outcome is bad because each individual is incomparable.

Furthermore, it’s impossible to balance everything to achieve an equal outcome since life is inherently unfair, and people have different natural gifts and failings.

Chasing equality of results is a never-ending toxic cycle wherein people are not allowed to show their genuine gifts because that would create an “unbalanced” and “unequal” world.

Eliminates personal responsibility

Image of a finger pointing at a single human signifying his personal responsibility.

Let’s entertain the following thought for a second. Let’s say all results were the same, whether you applied yourself or not, then what would the incentive be to work hard and improve yourself? Why would you go through all that trouble when you could get the same rewards with much less effort?

One of the main reasons why we decide to put in the required time, effort, and discipline instead of sitting on our behinds all day is because we believe that we can better our lives.

We conceive that we have some control over our existence and that we can improve ourselves by becoming more competent.

If all outcomes were the same, then that would eliminate personal responsibility for ourselves and our own lives.

It regresses society

Furthermore, since we can’t increase the fluid intelligence of people, we can’t truly let anyone achieve something that’s beyond their inherent ceiling. And as much as everyone likes to say that we can attain whatever we want and set our minds to, that’s simply not true. Everyone is capped by nature in some way, shape, or form, no matter how skilled we might be.

This is a problem because it means we have to make the skilled folks less achieving to balance things out since there’s very little we can do to make the less achieving people actually smarter.

This is a sad thing to do since we regress society as a whole because we’re not fully maximizing the potential of the competent individuals and thus, are not making use of their abilities to the fullest.

People will be less happy

An unhappy face in the middle of happy ones.

We know that humans are the happiest and most content when they’re engaged in things they find meaningful. And there’s little that’s as purposeful as reaching our latent potential.

Walking this path of continuous self-improvement is what makes our lives worth living. It provides us with a sense of meaning, which is something that we desperately need to combat all the suffering and harsh reality of merely existing.

Let’s face it, who is truly happy knowing that they’re not living up to their potential and knowing that they’re not as good as they could be? That’s exactly why we shouldn’t strive for the same outcomes.

As we can see, equality of outcome is detrimental, and that’s precisely why we shouldn’t be chasing it.

Is equality of outcome better than equality of opportunity?

A person holding a question mark in front of their face.
No, equality of outcome is not better than equality of opportunity. It’s much worse for a variety of reasons.
Most people agree that each individual is different, with all their set of skills, but also weaknesses. I agree, since we’re not all equally tall, strong, beautiful, smart, and so on, even if we do get equal opportunities.
Therefore, it’s in poor taste to vie for equality of outcome. Do we need to make the more intelligent individuals dumber, or make them perform worse just to please the people that are less smart for the sake of leveling the playing field? Do we need to make the beautiful people less pretty to make it fair for the less aesthetically pleasing of us?

That’s just ridiculous. And that’s a dead end since these notions can go on forever.

Equal opportunity is much better, and even desirable because it allows people to be the best version of themselves that they can be.

We should not try to get equal outcomes, but we should give all people a chance in addition to a choice to pursue what they want to in life, and to give them the required possibilities to learn.

What are real life examples of equality of outcome?

Image of the word “example” being written with a blue marker by someone's hand.

Real-life examples of equality of outcome include the requirement to have as many men and women in certain jobs such as politics and positions of a company like CEOs.

In some countries, equal participation of both genders is required for jobs such as politics and in leadership positions with the notion to create diversity in the workspace, and equality.

Let me flesh out these instances to paint a clearer picture.

Example of why equality of outcome is not desirable

I’ll give you an example of why controlling equality of outcome is bad concerning the distribution of male and female workers.

Image of a team of surgeons standing above the patient before surgery with equipment.

Let’s say a hospital can hire just 10 neurosurgeons. Of course, we want our treating doctors who “play” with our lives to be as good as humanly possible, right? We should since they’re deciding our fate.

Well, if these 10 neurosurgeons all happen to be female, then is it really in our best interest to hire 5 female neurosurgeons and 5 male neurosurgeons just for the sake of “gender equality?” What matters in this case is finding the 10 best neurosurgeons. Regardless if they happen to be male or female.

And while there are still some gender inequalities in the workplace at times, it’s nowhere near as bad as some people make it out to be, nor is the pay gap that has already been debunked for a long time.

Often, it’s the case of a male or female worker being better at, or more suited for their job, rather than gender inequalities in the workplace.


Image of the word, “conclusions” written on a black backboard with white chalk.

To end the equality of opportunity vs equality of outcome debate once and for all, if you believe in individualism, then you think that every human being is unique and different. This automatically means that equal outcomes are impossible and not attractive to pursue.

Equality of opportunity on the other hand is something worthwhile to quest for. Maximizing every individual’s skills makes the world a better place in every way imaginable.

Not only does it maximize the person’s specific strengths, but the people around them will also benefit from the increased quality that everyone can provide.