Equality is a concept in law, politics, philosophy, sociology, psychology, and many other fields based upon the notions of equal treatment, equal access to resources, and similar concepts.

What is Equality?

Philosophers and political scientists have debated the meaning of equality for generations, and the definition of equality tends to change with each generation. The United States Declaration of Independence declared that all men are created equal at a time when many men could not vote and slavery was a major force. However, notions of equality in the United States are often based upon this original declaration of equality, though they have evolved significantly.

Equality is sometimes used synonymously with fair treatment, and popular notions of equality do not necessarily require equal outcomes. The fact that one person is a manager while another is a CEO does not necessarily indicate unequal treatment, but refusing to promote a manager due to his or her race, sex, or religion would be an example of inequality. Similarly, institutional policies that make it difficult for people who are members of historically oppressed groups to advance are commonly used as indices of inequality.

Common definitions of equality include:

  • Presuming that all people are equal
  • Treating people as equals
  • Providing equal access to opportunities
  • Combating stereotypes and prejudicial treatment
  • Compensating for the losses associated with inequality – for example, by using affirmative action measures

Equality in Psychology

The presumption of equality is of major importance in contemporary mental health settings. Measures designed to increase cultural competence, for example, increase the likelihood that people from minority groups will be treated fairly and equally. Many mental health advocates have pushed for equal treatment of people diagnosed with mental conditions, and this includes participation in treatment decisions as well as an end to discrimination against those with mental health conditions. Some mental health professionals have worked to be aware of the ways in which subtle biases can affect treatment. For example, a therapist engaged in marriage counseling might be influenced by gender stereotypes when counseling a couple.


  1. Equality. (n.d.). Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Retrieved from http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/equality/
  2. Wilkinson, R. G., & Pickett, K. (2011). The spirit level: Why greater equality makes societies stronger. New York, NY: Bloomsbury Press.

Last Updated: 08-7-2015

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