Opportunities belong to agents. However, when we are concerned with equality of opportunity we may be concerned that each individual has the same opportunities or that certain groups (classified by race, gender, socio-economic class, sexuality or religion) have the same opportunities. In other words, our concern may be that people’s opportunities are not effected by their membership of some disadvantaged group rather than being concerned that each individual has equal opportunity within that group. We can illustrate the difference between these two positions by considering the following example, involving equality of opportunity for college places.
A study shows that members of each group are equally likely to secure a college place, but within those groups likelihood is very unequally (but apparently randomly) distributed.
What we think about this case, and the arguments that can be offered in support of those thoughts, determine whether we ought to be concerned only with inequality of opportunity between groups or also inequality between each individual. Debates about this aspect of Equality of Opportunity have focused on the question of which groups are significant as well as why and whether within group inequality of opportunity is problematic. Historically, of course, greater injustices are evidenced by inequality between groups, including race, class and gender. Some argue that systematic inequality of opportunity along the lines of race, for instance, is more pernicious than somewhat random inequality of opportunity that does not affect one race more than another. Moreover, if we care about integration and diversity at the level of certain social positions, such as political positions, then we may support Equality of Opportunity for groups, but not for individuals. This argument appeals to Equal of Opportunity as an instrument used to promote justice rather than a constitutive element of it.