Improving Equality of Opportunity: Key to a fair society?
The concept of equal opportunities is of great importance for the discussion about the fairness of market results. However, what is meant by this is different: In some cases, it is demanded that framework conditions and career opportunities should be the same, in others material and social starting conditions should be the same. If the principle of performance equity is taken as a basis, equal opportunities are achieved if everyone has the same opportunities to develop their performance potential on their responsibility. This presupposes that no one is discriminated against based on social characteristics such as gender, age, religion or cultural affiliation, a disability, social origin or economic circumstances. Inequality in the distribution of income and wealth resulting as a market result is regarded as legitimate and meaningful: If everyone had equal life chances, then the one who has performed better should also be better off. However, the resulting inequality of income and wealth means that future generations will have unequal opportunities. From this perspective, a balance of outcomes or equality of outcomes would be a prerequisite for establishing equal opportunities in the long term.
In reality, we observe that equal opportunities and equity do not always exist. People, for example, often do not have the same basic conditions and opportunities for advancement due to social characteristics. This has a significant influence on the extent to which they can achieve their goals in comparison to others. For example, cultural belonging plays a major role. For example, if their name reveals foreign roots, applicants have worse chances on the labour market. A recent study from Germany shows that applicants for a student internship with a German name are 14% more likely to receive feedback on their application than applicants with a Turkish name (Kaas and Manger, 2012). Social background also plays an important role. Children who grow up in a household with low income and wealth have a worse chance of obtaining a higher level of education than children from well-off households. Approximately 40% of inequality in individual earned incomes in Germany can be attributed to the family background (Schnitzlein, 2013).
In Germany, social mobility is relatively low in terms of educational opportunities and income in working life – much (economic) potential is lost. Fundamental rights and other legal requirements, as well as redistribution policies, are trying to prevent discrimination and harmonise initial conditions. However, there are many aspects of reality that make it challenging to create equal opportunities for all people and social groups. The question of better equal opportunities has far-reaching implications for education and social policy, but also tax policy, e.g. about inheritance taxes. The question arises in which areas there is scope for improving equal opportunities. Which – possibly simple – changes could have a major impact? The task is to draw up a concrete plan of how individual political or social measures could improve equal opportunities, applying economic considerations. At the same time, political and economic difficulties in implementation should also be taken into account.