UNDERGRADUATE ADMISSIONS at WASHINGTON UNIVERSITY in ST. LOUIS

Equity vs. Equality

Something most of us learn about in high school or in our early college careers is how equity and equality are not entirely the same thing. The most common example used to demonstrate this difference between the two is the picture above of people trying to watch a soccer game.

The far left, is a representation of equality; everyone is given the same thing to see above the fence. They would be considered equal. However, if you pay close attention, the younger individual still cannot see over the fence because they are not tall enough. So technically, does everyone still have equal opportunity to watch the game? The middle picture is a representation of equity; everyone is given what they need in order to see above the fence. This is where the two differ. The picture on the far left is a representation of justice. I think this is an interesting addition to the example, because it presents another perspective. Why is there a fence blocking the view of the game anyway? If we just get rid of that issue, then that solves the problem for mostly everyone.

This semester, I took a class called “Engineering Ethics and Sustainability.” This class focused on the ethics behind engineering and how it’s an extremely important thing to consider. One main concept I took away from this class was how the issue of equity vs. equality actually comes up in real world  engineering situations. 

Topics such as the Equifax Breach in 2017 and the debate on whether or not it’s ethical to remove a mutated gene that causes terminal illnesses and replace it with a healthy gene, really stood out to me. They made me realize that the type of ethical person I want to be is, one who considers equity over more than just equality.

One of the main ethical issues with the Equifax data breach was the fact that they offered credit freezing for people affected by the breach. However, not all 3 credit bureaus did the same, which presented an equity versus equality problem. If I were the engineer in the situation, I would want to be the type of ethical person who considers the fact that not everyone can afford the fees to freeze their credit accounts. Upon this consideration, I’d want to do everything I could in order to ensure that they have access to securing their credit freezes at all costs. By doing so, I would have resolved the equity vs. equality issue.

The debate about genetic modification was deemed unethical for my side because of the equity vs. equality problem. If I were the engineer making the decision,  I’d emphasize the importance of how families from lower economic statuses may not be able to afford this gene editing treatment. I feel as though some would believe that as long as everyone has access to it, then society is considered equal and there isn’t a problem. However, that would only satisfy the equality part of the situation. It wouldn’t be equitable, because while everyone has access to it, not everyone can afford it, and therefore everyone technically does not have access to it. Therefore, creating an even larger divide in the already-existing socioeconomic gap. Leading to people feeling “lesser than” simply because they cannot afford the treatment. 

With all of this being said, I encourage you to think about the world you live in. Think about how it may seem like things are equal for society, but pay close attention to how it actually couldn’t be. It gets very interesting when applying these concepts to your everyday lives!