DP10508 How Useful is Inequality of Opportunity as a Policy Construct?

Author(s): Ravi Kanbur, Adam Wagstaff
Publication Date: March 2015
Keyword(s): equality of opportunity, inequality, inequality of opportunity, inequality of outcome
JEL(s): D31, D63
Programme Areas: Public Economics, Development Economics
Link to this Page: www.cepr.org/active/publications/discussion_papers/dp.php?dpno=10508

The academic literature on equality of opportunity has burgeoned. More recently, the concepts and measures have begun to be used by policy institutions, including in specific sectors like health and education. Indeed, it is argued that one advantage of focusing on equality of opportunity is that policy makers are more responsive to that discourse than on equality of outcomes per se. This paper presents a critique of equality of opportunity in the policy context. While the empirical analysis to which the literature has given rise is useful and is to be welcomed, current methods for quantifying and implementing the concept with a view to informing the policy discourse face a series of fundamental questions that remain unanswered. Without a full appreciation of these difficulties, these methods may prove to be misleading in the policy context.