Lottery of birth
Lottery of birth

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Lottery of birth

5 Looking into the future

Throughout the course you have been considering the issues around the lottery of birth in a variety of ways, drawing on a range of disciplines.

When sociologists talk to demographers, and both talk with economists, political scientists and human geographers, they can begin to join the dots. Different questions and different answers can emerge.

Activity 2

Find media coverage of a particular political, socio-cultural or scientific change or breakthrough that is directly related to inequality. This could be gender, disability, income, wealth, or geographical inequality.

As an example, watch Hans Rosling explain how the washing machine helped to push back gender inequality.

Download this video clip.Video player: hans_rosling_2010w_480p.mp4
Skip transcript

Transcript

[MUSIC PLAYING]

[APPLAUSE]

HANS ROSLING:
I was only four years old when I saw my mother load the washing machine for the very first time in her life. That was a great day for my mother. My mother and father had been saving money for years to be able to buy that machine. And the first day it was going to be used, even Grandma was invited to see the machine. And grandma was even more excited. Throughout her life, she had been heating water with firewood. And she had hand-washed laundry for seven children. And now, she was going to watch electricity do that work.
My mother carefully opened the door. And she loaded the laundry into the machine like this. And then when she closed the door, Grandma said, no, no, no, no, let me. Let me push the button. And Grandma pushed the button. And she said, oh! Fantastic. I want to see this. Give me a chair. Give me a chair. I want to see it. And she sat down in front of the machine. And she watched the entire washing programme. She was mesmerised. To my grandmother, the washing machine was a miracle.
Today, in Sweden and other rich countries, people are using so many different machines. Look. Their homes are full of machines. I can't even name them all, you know. And they also-- when they want to travel, they use flying machines that can take them to remote destinations.
And yet, in the world, there are so many people who still heat the water on fire, and they cook their food on fire. Sometimes they don't even have enough food. And they live below the poverty line. There are 2 billion fellow human beings who live on less than $2 a day. And the richest people over there, that's 1 billion people. And they live above what I call the air line because they spend more than $80 a day on their consumption.
But this is just 1, 2, 3 billion people. And obviously, there are 7 billion people in the world. So there must be 1, 2, 3 4 billion people more who live in between the poverty line and the air line. They have electricity. But the question is, how many have washing machines?
I've done the scrutiny of market data. And I found that, indeed, the washing machine has penetrated below the air line. And today, there is an additional 1 billion people up there who live above the wash line.

[LAUGHTER]

And they consume for more than $40 per day. So 2 billions have access to washing machine. And the remaining 5 billion, how do they wash? Or to be more precise, how do most of the women in the world wash? Because it remains the hard work for women to wash.
They wash like this, by hand. It's a hard, time-consuming labour, which they have to do for hours every week. And sometimes, they also have to bring water from far away to do the laundry at home. Or they have to bring the laundry away to a stream far off. And they want the washing machine. They don't want to spend such a large part of their life doing this hard work with so relatively low productivity.
And there's nothing different in their wish than it was for my grandma. Look here. Two generations ago in Sweden, picking water from the stream, heating with firewood, and washing like that. They want the washing machine in exactly the same way.
But when I lecture to environmentally concerned students, they tell me, no, everybody in the world cannot have cars and washing machines. How can we tell this woman that she can't have a washing machine?
And then I ask my students. I've asked them. Over the last two years, I have asked, how many of you doesn't use a car? And some of them probably raised their hand, you know, and say, I don't use a car. And then I put the really tough question. How many of you hand wash your jeans and your bed sheet? And no one raised their hand. Even the hardcore in the green movement use washing machines.

And then I ask my students. I've asked them. Over the last two years, I have asked, how many of you doesn't use a car? And some of them probably raised their hand, you know, and say, I don't use a car. And then I put the really tough question. How many of you hand wash your jeans and your bed sheet? And no one raised their hand. Even the hardcore in the green movement use washing machines.

So how come something that everyone used and they think others will not stop it? What is special with this? I had to do an analysis about the energy use in the world. Here we are. Look here.
You see the 7 billion people up there, the air people, the wash people, the bulb people, and the fire people. One unit like this is an energy unit of fossil fuel, oil, coal, or gas. That's what most of the electricity and energy in the world is. And it's 12 units used in the entire world. And the richest 1 billion, they use six of them. Half of the energy is used by 1/7 of the world population.
You see the 7 billion people up there, the air people, the wash people, the bulb people, and the fire people. One unit like this is an energy unit of fossil fuel, oil, coal, or gas. That's what most of the electricity and energy in the world is. And it's 12 units used in the entire world. And the richest 1 billion, they use six of them. Half of the energy is used by 1/7 of the world population.
And these ones who have washing machine but not the house full of other machines, they used two. This group used three, one each. And they also have electricity. And over there, they don't even use one each. That makes 12 of them.
But the main concern for the environmentally interested students-- and they are right-- is about the future. What are the trends. If we just prolong the trends without any really advanced analysis to 2050, there are two things that can increase the energy use. First, population growth. Second, economic growth.
Population growth will mainly occur among the poorest people here because they have high child mortality, and they have many children per woman. And that, you will get two extra. But that won't change the energy use very much.
What will happen is economic growth. The best off here in the emerging economies, I call them the new east. They will jump the air line. Wap, they will say. And they will start to use as much as the old west are doing already.
And these people, they want the washing machine. I told you. They'll go there. And they will double their energy. Use and we hope that the poor people will get into the electric light, and they will get two-child family without a stop in population growth. But the total energy consumption will increase still 22 units. And these 22 units, you know, still, the richest people use most of them.
So what's needed to be done? Because the risk, the high probability of climate change is real. It's real. Of course, they must be more energy efficient. They must change behaviour to some way. They must also start to produce green energy, much more green energy. But until they have the same energy consumption per person, they shouldn't give advice to others what to do and what not to do.

[LAUGHTER]

[APPLAUSE]

Here, we can get more green energy all over. This is what we hope may happen. It's a real challenge in the future.
But I can assure you that this woman in the favela in Rio, she wants the washing machine. She's very happy about her minister of energy that provided electricity to everyone, so happy that she even voted for her, you know? And she became Dilma Rousseff, the president-elect of one of the biggest democracies in the world, moving from minister of energy to president. If you have democracy, people will vote for washing machine. They love them.
And what's the magic with them? My mother explained the magic with this machine, the very, very first day. She said, now, Hans, we have loaded the laundry. The machine will make the work. And now, we can go to the library.
Because this is the magic. You load the laundry. And what do you get out of the machine? You get books out of the machines, children's books. And Mother got time to read for me. She loved this. I got the ABC. This is why I started my career as professor, when my mother had time to read for me.
And she also got books for herself. She managed to study English and learn that as a foreign language. And she read so many novels, so many different novels here, you know? And we really loved this machine.
And what we said, my mother and me? Thank you, industrialization. Thank you, steel mill. Thank you, power station. And thank you, chemical processing industry that gave us time to read books. Thank you very much.

[APPLAUSE, CHEERING]

[MUSIC PLAYING]

End transcript
 
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Now, using your own example, consider the three questions below and write between 300 and 600 words explaining your answers.

  1. Describe the issue (include link to the news story) and explain why you have chosen that example.
  2. Why is this important to the lottery of birth?
  3. What might this mean for the lottery of birth in your country?

Remember that the phrase ‘lottery of birth’ is used to mean that how, when and where you are born, grow up and live is profoundly and widely unequal and that these inequalities will shape your whole life. The important thing here is that the change or breakthrough is new and/or significant in some way.

The issues that you could discuss include:

  • an underlying demographic transition and the issues this will give rise to
  • the economic forces that will alter inequalities, for better or worse
  • social cultural changes that will address inequalities
  • the (lack of) political will to tackle inequalities both within and across nations.
You can type text here, but this facility requires a free OU account. Sign in or register.
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The aim of this activity was to help you to put into action some of what you’ve learned throughout the course. Looking for new developments and assessing their ability to affect change in a country or in the world is important in learning about the lottery of birth. You’ll have used critical analysis, a skill which will help you in any further study.

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