Sociology Index

EQUALITY OF OPPORTUNITY

Equality of opportunity is seen where there are no differences in individual's wealth, status and power. When there is equality of opportunity there is no great advantage or disadvantage in the pursuit of personal achievement. Americans are used to considering equality of opportunity and equality of condition as separate issues. Equality of opportunity is undermined by inequality of condition. The American ideal has been to provide equality of opportunity, whereas the European Social Democracy seeks equality of outcome. Liberal ideology and consensus perspective 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. 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. "While we don’t promise equal outcomes, we have strived to deliver equal opportunity." – Barack Obama.

In the ideal of equality of opportunity, one’s access to rewards would exactly equal one’s personal efforts and merits toward achieving those rewards, and also one’s class position or other social characteristics would not skew the relationship between merit and rewards. Many believe that equality of opportunity is a myth designed to keep people motivated to work hard, while getting them to accept social inequality as the legitimate outcome of personal achievement. Many also believe that the ideology of equality of opportunity is just a mirage that masks real and permanent structural inequality in society.

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, 1999, "Against Rawlsian Equality of Opportunity," Philosophical Studies 93.
Equality of Opportunity, Oxford: Oxford 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, 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.