What Is Equity Theory in Social Psychology?


Vincent White

Equity theory is a social psychology concept that explains how people perceive fairness in their relationships. According to this theory, individuals are constantly evaluating the fairness of their relationships based on the inputs and outputs of each party involved. The inputs refer to the contributions made by each individual, while the outputs refer to what each person receives in return.

Inputs and Outputs in Equity Theory

In any relationship, inputs may include things like time, effort, skills, knowledge, and resources contributed by each person. Outputs may include rewards such as salary, recognition, praise, affection, or any other benefits that an individual receives from the relationship.

For instance, if two employees work for the same company and put in equal effort and time into their work but one is paid more than the other person for no apparent reason; it would lead to a perceived inequity.

Perceptions of Inequity

If someone feels that they are not receiving equitable treatment in a relationship or situation (where inputs do not match outputs), they may feel angry or resentful towards the other party involved. They could also take actions like reducing their own inputs or increasing demands from the other person involved.

On the other hand, if someone feels that they are receiving more than what they have contributed compared to others in a similar situation; they could feel guilty or uncomfortable with this perceived advantage.

Impact on Relationships

Equity theory has significant implications for relationships – personal or professional. For instance, if an employee perceives that his/her workload is greater than another employee who is getting paid significantly more for doing less work; it could lead to resentment and dissatisfaction at work.

Similarly, if a spouse perceives that he/she is contributing more towards household chores but isn’t appreciated enough by his/her partner; it could lead to conflict and resentment between them.

Strategies for Maintaining Equity

To maintain equity in relationships or situations, people may adopt different strategies:

  • Changing inputs – an individual could increase or decrease their own contributions to the relationship. For instance, an employee could work fewer hours if he/she feels that they are not being paid fairly.
  • Changing outputs – an individual could demand more rewards/benefits from the other party involved.

    For example, a spouse might demand more appreciation or affection from his/her partner.

  • Distorting perceptions – an individual may change how they perceive the situation to maintain a sense of equity. For instance, someone who is underpaid might convince themselves that their work is fulfilling enough to compensate for the lack of pay.


Equity theory is a crucial concept in social psychology that explains how people perceive fairness in their relationships. It can have significant implications for personal and professional relationships, leading to conflict and dissatisfaction if perceived equity is not maintained.

As such, it’s important to be aware of this theory and take steps to maintain equity in our relationships by adopting strategies like changing inputs/outputs or distorting perceptions when necessary.