Fairness typically refers to impartial treatment of everyone. Through fairness, we can minimize discrimination, favoritism, and bias.
But there is a clear conflict between two conceptualizations of fairness:
Equality – impartiality and lack of favoritism or discrimination.
Equity – intervention in order to achieve an outcome that is considered morally right.
As you can see, fairness itself is a much-disputed and shifting concept that’s hard to pin down. That means some of the following examples might be controversial!
1. Equal Sharing Amongst Siblings
One of the earliest instances in which we learn fairness is at home, when having to share things with our siblings, cousins, or other children.
In these instances, children are faced with this dilemma: they want all of something, but so does everyone else. What’s the best way to distribute this thing in a way that ensures no one gets better outcomes than anyone else?
This is where most parents begin the lesson on fairness – you both get the same! It’s only fair.
John Rawls proposed a great way to achieve fairness – we simply have to be ignorant about the identities of the people we’re making judgements about and for.
For example, use this thought experiment: what if, before you were born, you were told by God to choose how wealth is distributed in society? You don’t know yet if you’ll be born to rich or poor parents. So, you’re incentivized to distribute wealth in a way that will be good for everyone, because you could be anyone once you’re born.
3. The Divide and Choose Method
The Divide and Choose Method is a simple and fair technique for two people to divide something.
The idea is simple: one person divides the item into two halves, striving to make them as equal in value as possible from their perspective. The other person then chooses the half they prefer. This incentivizes the person dividing the halves to ensure they’re perfectly equal – or else, they will get the smaller half!
4. Fair Play in Sports
Fairness in sports requires that the athletes and teams compete under a uniform set of rules. Both teams must follow the exact same rules.
At the same time, there needs to be an impartial referee or umpires who enforces these rules impartially. Both fair rules and fair umpires are required for fairness to reign in sports.
5. Impartial Teachers
Impartiality among teachers ensures fairness. There are several strategies we use to ensure this. For example, one is to anonymize names on tests so teachers don’t know whose work they’re grading. But at the core is the need for professionalism among teachers, which may include constant self-reflection and vigilance against unintentional bias.
6. Equal Pay for Equal Work
Workplace relations is considered a tinderbox for debates over fairness. Working conditions and pay – representing how much of a company’s profits should be passed-down to employees – need to be negotiated to the extent that employees are provided fair compensation for their labor.
Since the latter decades of the 20th Century, a major concern in workplace fairness has been to ensure women are paid equally to men for the same labor. Historically, there have been systemic issues of the underpayment of women which would be widely considered unfair.
Furthermore, since the rise of outsourcing, short-term contract employment, and freelancing, the equal pay debate has turned to how to achieve fair payment to freelancers who are often outside of the purview of employment laws.
7. Merit-Based Advancement
Merit-based advancement (i.e. meritocracy) refers to job promotions and academic admissions based on individual merit, skills, and achievements rather than favoritism or nepotism.
This makes perfect sense.
But sadly, social and cultural factors such as unintentional bias lead to situations where minority groups are often left out of the job market, and people with strong networking skills often get the jobs ahead of the most qualified people.
That’s why some people thing that affirmative action is more fair. Here, we have the classic distinction between procedural fairness versus fairness of outcome.
8. Impartial Judiciary
An impartial judiciary is an example of procedural fairness. It refers to a system where court decisions are based on the law and evidence, not influenced by the judge’s personal beliefs, biases, or external pressures.
Generally, this is an expectation in true democracies, although it’s generally accepted that there are many judges who do apply their own biases and subjective interpretations when passing judgement, so there are always ways to improve our justice system – and our judges – to ensure they objectively follow the rule of law and do not insert their own ideologies, politics, or emotions in the decisions they make.
Another source of unfairness in the judiciary system is the differential access to high-quality lawyers for the poor.
9. Access to Education
Fair access to education refers to all individuals, regardless of their background or financial status, having equal opportunity to receive quality education.
The typical way we attempt to achieve this is free compulsory education, which is common in most societies and also considered a human right according to the universal declaration of human rights.
Still, barriers to education continue to exist, especially for the poor and in some societies, girls. This demonstrates that the march to fairness isn’t over yet.
10. Balanced Media Reporting
Media fairness refers to a situation where news and information is presented in an unbiased manner. This may refer to a situation where we give equal weight to all sides of an issue. But of course, sometimes this isn’t necessarily right because giving equal weight to climate deniers and climate scientists isn’t right. One is correct and one is incorrect.
So, balanced media reporting might simply refer to a situation where a reporter doesn’t apply their own biases in reporting, but tries to remain objective throughout.
11. Equal Voting Rights
This one is more straightforward. It is widely considered fair that all eligible citizens should have one vote. No one gets more than one or less than one chance to vote. This means that each person carries the same weight in influencing election outcomes. Here, we can see that democracy is believed to be a form of government that attempts to achieve maximum fairness.
12. Fair Trade Practices
Fair trade refers not just to free trade, but to ethical trade agreements that promote sustainable practices, equitable pricing, and fair wages for producers in developing countries. The goal is to prevent exploitation of the poor, allowing them to live comfortable lives with wages that are acceptable for living a life within their communities. You may have seen a fair trade logo, for example, on your coffee bag.
13 .Disability Accommodations
Historically, people with disabilities found it very hard to participate in public life because of the barriers in society. For example, a person in a wheelchair might not be able to access an establishment that requires stairs for access. But we can achieve greater access for people with disabilities in order to make a fairer world. Providing reasonable adjustments in workplaces, schools, and public spaces can ensure individuals with disabilities will have equal access and opportunities.
14. Consumer Protection Laws
Consumer protection laws can protect consumers from false advertising and unsafe products, ensuring fair treatment in the marketplace. This ensures capitalism is fairer for consumers and prevents exploitation.
15. Fair Taxation Policies
Tax fairness is a hot topic. Some people believe it’s fair that we implement a progressive tax system. This involves wealthier people contributing a higher percentage of their income than poor. It’s based on ability to pay. But others argue that we should all pay the same percentage, regardless of income. Here, we see differing beliefs about fairness playing out in the economic realm.
Dr. Chris Drew is the founder of the Helpful Professor. He holds a PhD in education and has published over 20 articles in scholarly journals. He is the former editor of the Journal of Learning Development in Higher Education. [Image Descriptor: Photo of Chris]