Congrats, You Won the Birth Lottery!

December 5, 2016 — 4 Comments

If you can read this, you’re part of the select few in the world who was born into a good deal. It means you probably have working electricity and internet, enjoy enough freedom of speech to read crazy blogs, and are allowed opportunities to make money and move ahead in life. You won the birth lottery!

Winning the birth lottery does not guarantee you success or riches, but it does give you a ticket to the dance. If you’re reading this from the US or a western European country, you’re one of the luckier birth lottery winners as you enjoy a higher level of freedom and education than most other countries.

However, there are some clear losers in the birth lottery. If you’re born into a country led by dictators like North Korea, you’re probably on this unlucky list. If you’re born into the poor mountain tribes of Laos, like the beautiful little girl we saw hopping on a river barge with her father to go sell produce, you’re probably also on the losing side. She will hopefully have a great life, but her lack of access to education and basic health care will present some major hurdles.

Most people are born without much of a chance in life to advance beyond basic survival. Nearly half of the world lives in poverty, which means less than $2.5 per day. This is not because they’re savages with lower intellects, but instead they just didn’t win the birth lottery. They were born into countries and conditions where basic survival was the highest aspiration and intellectual enhancement was an afterthought. They definitely didn’t choose this just as I didn’t choose to be born in the US.

Unfortunately, we even have the birth lottery divide within the US. We saw it in New Orleans where a child born into the lower 9th ward (usually minority) is going to have a much harder chance of making it than a child born into a well off family and sent to private school. Is it because the poor kid is dumb and success to him looks like a drug dealer who has a nice car because that’s his only example?

Examples reside along racial boundaries as well as basic socioeconomic differences. I went to a small high school in Oklahoma where roughly 25-35% of the students went to college. I have a friend from the northeast whose class went to college at a ~95% rate and most of them went to Ivy League schools! They were raised from the beginning knowing they were expected to go to college and they were given the support required, but most of the kids in my school weren’t.

You can also look at other minority groups such as Native Americans. I can’t speak with as much experience with the reservations as I’ve only been through them a few times, but many of them live in similar conditions to third world countries. They’re born on the batter’s deck while others are born on second or third base. The birth lottery can be dissected even further by health, natural intelligence and/or ambition, stable family atmospheres or other opportunities.

I can’t stand it when people look down on others who weren’t born into as fortunate circumstance as them. They’ll usually assume all things are equal and say those people are lazy because they didn’t have the drive to go to college or don’t want to “pull themselves up by their bootstraps” and would rather live off of government assistance. That might be the case for some people, but more often that not, it’s due to the circumstance they were born into.

Believe it or not, this is more than a rant. This is a note to whoever needs it, including myself. The world is not an equal place and as we’ve seen over the last few months, we’re as divided as ever. However, this division should not make us forget that while we might be “created equal”,  we aren’t born equal, and we don’t get to choose where we start. There are longstanding belief systems in place that shape our thoughts and identities. There are socioeconomic barriers in place that mean we all start on different levels.

This also doesn’t mean you shouldn’t take advantage of the opportunities you’re born into. Just because I was born in the US to great parents who raised me well, doesn’t mean I’m moving to Myanmar to live in poverty out of my own guilt. No, it means I need to start at my level and continue to grow, to continue to take advantage of the opportunities offered to me – which as a college educated white male are already many levels higher than others.

Kids watching our "slow boat" pass on the Mekong

Kids watching our “slow boat” pass on the Mekong River in Laos. 

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4 responses to Congrats, You Won the Birth Lottery!

  1. I’m absolutely with you on this one Dan. I am from a pure blue collar family, my schools would now be assessed as deprived or failing, probably less than 10% of my cohort ended up with any degree (whether from college or later in life), with a majority starting work at 16, 18 or falling into less desirable income sources. Your background shouldn’t define you – but is definitely a good motivator as you look to decide what you want to do / want you want to be when grow up! For the record- I’m still deciding…and making it up as I go along! As a virtual empty nester, the opportunities continue to evolve- and for that I am grateful.
    I’ll be eternally grateful for a relatively stable family life through my formative years, food on the table and being taught some stellar life skills / core attributes by elderly relatives…and I hope I can do the same thing for others.

    • Rob – great point on your background’s ability to motivate. Ambition seems to be one of the hardest things to teach, but growing up rich can certainly stifle it. I know I never want to be poor in my life, and we certainly enjoy having enough money to do the things we want to do. Continual evolution is a great thing, and you’ve certainly displayed it!

  2. Dan — I couldn’t agree more. I count my blessings all the time that I won the birth lottery by being born in the U.S. I grew up in a lower middle income household, and my brothers and I became self-sufficient at an early age. We attended college, but on our dime. It was great that I had that opportunity in this country.

    It’s terrible when people say bad things about the poor as if the disadvantaged wanted that life for themselves. When the barons of Wall Street stop by the local coffee shop on their way into the office, the servers and dish washers had to get up at 5 am in the morning and take the subway from the Bronx for an hour to reach the downtown financial district so they could have the coffee ready. It really upsets me that there is such fierce opposition to raising the minimum wage. How can a family survive on the minimum federal wage of $8.25 an hour? The reality is that the great majority of people receiving welfare are the working poor.

    • Jeannette – you’ve nailed it, and these same people complain wages are already too high?!? Once you get down in our country it seems to be increasingly harder to get back up, and our future policies seem to be making it even worse.

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