Online course

The Lottery of Birth

Birth is a lottery. Where, when and to whom you are born and the society into which you are born will influence your life chances.

Explore the inequalities between rich and poor, female and male

This online course will look at the big picture of the lottery of birth and the smaller, human stories. You will examine key inequalities, such as being born rich or poor, female or male.

You will consider how individual countries and global organisations are responding to demographic changes and predictions, and how this plays out in the lives of individual women and men in different parts of the world.

The course draws on demography, health studies, sociology, comparative social policy, history, political science and economics, to bring new perspectives and fresh insights.

What topics will you cover?

Where and when you are born will influence your chances in life Inequality is predetermined by the situation into which we are born The decisions made by women and men around the world about children, contraception and abortion Countries can adopt either a ‘pro-natalist’ or an ‘anti-natalist’ approach Safe birth is endlessly challenged by political, demographic and economic upheavals The challenge of inequality is one of the biggest issues of our time Changes that could be made and what effect this would have Developments affecting the lottery of birth in your own country

When would you like to start?

Most FutureLearn courses run multiple times. Every run of a course has a set start date but you can join it and work through it after it starts. Find out more

  • Available now
    This course started 18 February 2019

What will you achieve?

By the end of the course, you'll be able to...

  • Discuss inequality and engage with data, arguments and ideas that are circulating at the moment
  • Describe how inequality relates to income and wealth, health and education on a national and international scale
  • Compare the choices faced by individuals and the challenges this creates for countries.
  • Summarise the politics, ideas and history that have shaped the lottery of birth in the past and in the present
  • Assess how parental choices are made by individuals within the wider political, social and cultural contexts that shape their lives
  • Evaluate what is being done worldwide to address birth inequalities
  • Reflect on some of the challenges that women and girls face all over the world simply because they were born female
  • Demonstrate your understanding about the causes and consequences of inequalities, and the lottery of birth

Who is the course for?

The course does not assume any prior knowledge of the issues surrounding birth or inequalities. It is post-graduate level and encourages personal research and data interpretation.

Please note that this course includes some content of a sensitive nature, including discussions around abortion and female genital mutilation (FGM).

Who will you learn with?

Pam Foley

Dr Pam Foley is a Senior Lecturer in the Faculty of Wellbeing, Education and Language Studies at The Open University.

Manik Gopinath

Dr Manik Gopinath is a Lecturer in the Faculty of Wellbeing, Education and Language Studies at The Open University

Who developed the course?

The Open University (OU) is the largest academic institution in the UK and a world leader in flexible distance learning, with a mission to be open to people, places, methods and ideas.

Join this course

Start this course for free, upgrade for extra benefits, or buy Unlimited to access this course and hundreds of other short courses for a year.


Join free and you will get:

  • Access to this course for 6 weeks


Upgrade this course and you will get:

  • Access to this course for as long as it’s on FutureLearn
  • A print and digital Certificate of Achievement once you’re eligible

Unlimited (New!)
$269 $199 for one year

Buy Unlimited and you will get:

  • Access to this course, and hundreds of other FutureLearn short courses and tests for a year
  • A printable digital Certificate of Achievement on all short courses once you’re eligible
  • The freedom to keep the content of any of the courses you've gained a digital Certificate of Achievement on
  • The flexibility to complete your choice of short courses in your own time within the year
Find out more about upgrades or Unlimited.
Introductory offer. Available until 11 May 2019. T&Cs apply.