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Inequality vs. Inequity

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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.

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.

Origin:

The word inequality originated from late Middle English: from Old French inequalite, or from Latin inaequalitas, from in- ‘not’ + aequalis.

Inequality as noun:

The word inequality is used as a noun in English language where it means difference in size, degree, circumstances, etc.; lack of equality.

I am not a preacher of social inequality.

Inequity as noun:

Inequity is also used as a noun in English language where it means lack of fairness or justice.

Policies aimed at redressing racial inequity were all part of the bill.

Examples:

The U.S. has a higher level of income inequality than Europe, as well as Canada, Australia and South Korea. [CNN Money]

Inequality between countries in access to food, water, housing and work will only increase. [Guardian]

[I]f we win the election we will set up a fair pay review to investigate pay inequality in the public sector. [quoted in The Age]

Aboriginal children in Canada are in crisis, facing gross inequities and lacking opportunities open to other Canadian children. [Vancouver Sun]

Clinton had listened as speaker after speaker used the occasion of her death for sermons on civil rights and racial inequity. [New York Times]

If allowed, it merely reinforces the all too common notion of the inequity of our justice system. [letter to Houston Chronicle]

Inequality or 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. If you are still wondering how to keep track of inequity vs. inequality, think of this sentence as a mnemonic.

Inequities lead to inequalities.

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"Inequality vs. Inequity." Grammar.com. STANDS4 LLC, 2017. Web. 22 Nov. 2017. <http://www.grammar.com/inequality_vs._inequity>.

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