The lottery of birth
The lottery of birth

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Free course

The lottery of birth

Week 1: The lottery of birth


Everyone has experienced a childhood and a family life of some kind. This is profoundly influenced by the society and culture into which you are born, and the society and culture into which others are born. While these are widely diverse, they will always reflect gender, ethnic, class and religious assumptions. And early lives will reflect the very mixed, complex and sometimes contradictory concerns of their place and time.

Start your work on this course by watching the following video.

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One of these people will travel far to sing to small children in a forgotten community. One of these people will recruit a team of grandmothers to bring love to the poorest orphans. One of these people will fight for a safe haven for children in a dangerous town.
One of these people will plant a garden to bring nutrition to preschoolers in need. One of these people will bury two of their children on the same day. One of these mothers will leave her children alone to fend for themselves while she works in a factory. One of these people will give their children the love, care, and attention they never received themselves.
One of these mothers will be forced to send her child to a school with no books, no toys, and no sanitation. One of these mothers will raise two children on her own while she is still in high school. One of these mothers will overcome maternal depression to look into her child's eyes for the very first time.
Some of these children will receive proper nutrition, care, and stimulation to develop in their early years, giving them the opportunity to thrive at school, have a chance for employment, and to break the cycle of poverty. Many will not.
Early childhood development is both a moral and financial issue of our times. Can we afford to ignore it? What can be done? These are the faces at the heart of the issue.


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Big picture, small picture

This free course will look, simultaneously, at the big picture of the lottery of birth and the smaller, human stories of the lottery of birth. In the first week, you’ll consider the concept of the lottery of birth, inequalities both between countries and within countries and the effects of the lottery of birth on human well-being, particularly their income, health and education (looking at the Millennium Development Goals (MDG)).

In the second week, you will use the perspective of time to question whether this is a good time to be born and you’ll look at the lottery of choice as it relates to becoming a parent, as an example.

The third week looks at being born around the world. You’ll look again at the Millennium Development Goals (MDG) and at the post-2015 global inequalities agenda as seen in the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG). You’ll examine, in particular, the lottery of being born female in different places today.

In the fourth and final week, you’ll focus primarily on the relationship between demography (the study of the structure and dynamics of human populations) and the lottery of birth, examining how individual countries and global organisations have responded to demographic changes and demographic predictions. Inequalities across countries are still larger than inequalities within most countries, so, you’ll also consider whether, in the future, children’s futures should still depend strongly on the income and wealth of their families or that of their place of residence.

Life chances at birth, the choices people and their governments have or don’t have, and make or don’t make, and the complex challenges that the lottery of birth presents, provide the structure of each week’s learning on this course, with chances, choices and challenges being addressed each week.

An interdisciplinary issue

The complexities and breadth of the lottery of birth means it has to be treated as an interdisciplinary issue and you will be using a variety of disciplines as you study this course. These will include demography, development studies, health studies, family studies, sociology, comparative social policy, history, political science and economics.

Using these disciplines brings together different perspectives to focus on an issue, providing fresh insight and framing different questions. These methods can accelerate the ability to solve problems and provide a bridge for different ideas to feed into social and political change and perhaps inform policies that have the potential to address the lottery of birth.

Dr Pam Foley is the author of this course. She is a Senior Lecturer in Health and Social Care (Children and Families) at The Open University. Her teaching and research focuses on child and family social policy and on European models of children’s services.

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