If you’ve ever had a case of writer’s block from choosing between two very similar words in your writing, you’re not alone. English contains many words which are differentiated more by their conventional usage than by their definition.
Inequality and inequity are two such words. They both refer to a difference in the amount or quantity of something. While many use them interchangeably, there are differences between the two.
What is the Difference Between Inequity and Inequality?
In this article, I’ll explain the difference between inequality and inequity. I’ll use each word in a sentence, and reveal a mnemonic that can help you remember how to correctly differentiate between these two words.
When to Use Inequality
What does inequality mean? Inequality is a noun, but it takes different meanings in different contexts.
In mathematics, it refers to an expression that describes the relationship between two values that are not the same. You might see the following question on a math test:
- Solve for the inequality x + 5 > y – 3.
It can also refer more generally to a difference in quantity or circumstance.
In this usage, it primarily refers to disparity in social or economic prosperity between groups in a society. Here are two examples:
- The inequality of home ownership between married couples and single people is quite large.
- Colorado is a relatively egalitarian place, especially when compared with states such as New York, Connecticut or even Wyoming. But it contains some surprisingly high peaks and deep valleys in income inequality. –The Denver Post
When to Use Inequity
What does inequity mean? Inequity is a noun and is defined as injustice, unfairness; an instance of injustice or unfairness.
In this sense, inequity and inequality are not always the same. Inequity means injustice or unfairness, while inequality doesn’t necessarily imply an injustice, simply an imbalance.
Oftentimes, inequities can lead to or cause inequalities, be they in income, home ownership, graduation rates, etc., but the two are different things.
- African Americans have made significant economic and social advances, even if almost every gain is qualified by some glaring inequity or shortcoming. –The Washington Post
You might also say that a certain inequality is an inequity. In other words, this societal imbalance (inequality) is an injustice (inequity). But again, these are different things.
There is probably some overlap, but the difference seems clear enough. Inequality seems to be more a quantitative measure, while inequity seems to be more of a qualitative measure.
One final note, inequity, unlike inequality, is not used in mathematics, so there is no confusion there.
Trick to Remember the Difference
If you are still wondering how to keep track of inequity vs. inequality, think of this sentence as a mnemonic.
- Inequities lead to inequalities.
In other words,
- Injustices lead to imbalances.
This is a good way to keep these two words separated in your mind.
Also, if you’re writing about a math problem, only inequality should be used. Remember that math problems will usually involve an equal sign. Inequality contains the word “equal,” which is an easy way to remember that it is the only word used around about math problems.
Summary: Inequality vs. Inequity
Is it inequality of inequity? Inequality and inequity are oftentimes used in similar contexts, but they have different meanings.
Inequality refers to an imbalance or lack of equality. This is a quantitative measure. If you’re writing about math, inequality is the only correct choice.
If you remember that math problems usually contain equal signs, and that equality contains the word equal, it will be easier to choose which word to use in the context of a math problem.
Inequity refers to an instance of injustice or unfairness. This is a qualitative measure.
These words overlap in usage quite often, but your writing will be improved by employing them carefully.