Fact Sheet 4: Disparity vs. Disproportionality


Understanding the differences between “disparities” and “disproportionalities” will help social policy advocates to zoom in on the acts, programs, and processes that contribute to inequality. Without thoughtful examination of the data, disparities can be overlooked and disproportionalities can be misclassified–slowing down the work. 

“Identified disparities are opportunities for the social policy community to work with systems to uncover the processes or factors contributing to disparities and to determine how to close gaps in access to services or outcomes.”


  • The terms disparity and disproportionality are distinct concepts. Although all disproportionalities are disparities,  not all disparities are disproportional.
  • Advocates can encourage regular data analysis identifying eligibility rates for various population groups, rates of utilization disaggregated by race, and service outcomes disaggregated by race.
  • Disparities in the social safety net can be seen in job quality, Head Start, Affordable Care Act, and State Earned Income Tax Credits.