The Lottery of Life

What does justice have to do with inequality, and what must be done to create a world that is more just? Robert Bosch Foundation experts Atje Drexler and Ellen Ehmke explore these questions and explain the contribution the Robert Bosch Foundation is making.

Atje Drexler & Ellen Ehmke
Doro Spiro
January 30, 2024
Reading time
5 minutes

According to estimates from the United Nations, roughly 385,000 children are born every day. Imagine two children, who happened to be born on the same day ten years ago. What did they draw in the lottery of life? Asha was born in a mountainous region of northern India. She has a physical disability and requires a walking aid. Her family lives in a small home rented to them by the owner of the tea plantation on which her parents work. Without support, Asha cannot go to school, but there are no such services. Ben, who is the same age, lives in a German city and his parents are both employed on permanent contracts. The apartment they live in was bought by his parents a few years ago. Ben goes to basketball practice twice a week and, since he has been struggling at school, also has a private tutor.

The lottery of life has obviously given Asha and Ben very different starting points and opportunities. But where is the injustice? It certainly isn’t in the bodies in which they were born, as differences between individuals are good, desirable, a fact of life, and an evolutionary necessity. In other words, it is not a problem that Asha and Ben have different characteristics but, rather, what societies make of these differences, for example, if they give Asha poorer educational opportunities.

It is, therefore, not only a person’s family background that is part of the luck of the draw (good or bad), but also overarching contexts, structures, norms, and institutions. Wealth is very unequally distributed in both India and Germany, and the legacy of colonialism still has an impact on the global distribution of wealth between countries.



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We support research and practices to reduce inequalities and discrimination. We connect with and promote parties with systemic approaches.

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Inequality and injustice – what’s the difference?

When most people think of inequality, they first think of the distribution of money, income, and wealth. Indeed, both income and wealth are very unequally distributed worldwide, including in Germany, where the richest 10 percent of households own over 60 percent of the country's wealth, while the poorest half of the population collectively owns just 2 percent. Globally, the number of billionaires and the wealth of the very richest is increasing at the same time as the number of people living in absolute poverty, which is back on the rise.

10%of all households in Germany own
60%of net wealth

How much money someone has is of great importance for access to other goods such as healthcare, education, and housing. An individual’s financial situation is decisive for how well they can participate in social life overall.

However, a person's financial status is not the only dimension of inequality. Inequalities are also characterized by the fact that not all (groups of) people in a society are recognized as having equal rights, so that some voices are not heard to an equal extent. In many contexts, this applies to women, ethnic minorities, indigenous people, and people with disabilities - this list could go on and on. Their experiences and needs are given less consideration in many societies, and therefore play a lesser role in social decision-making. This is exacerbated by the fact that those who experience less recognition in society are also often underrepresented in political processes.

"When people are systematically excluded from opportunities, resources, and self-determination due to personal characteristics or their heritage, differences become societally generated inequalities."

Quote fromEllen Ehmke, Senior Expert

When people are systematically excluded from opportunities, resources, and opportunities for participation due to personal characteristics or family backgrounds, differences become socially generated inequalities. First of all, the word "inequality" describes distributional relationships as they are. However, if we consider inequalities to be the result of exclusion, one quickly begins to wonder how things should be - and that is a question of justice.

The Three R’s of Social Justice

But what is justice? It is a question that has been debated since ancient times and has been answered differently time and again. Today, most would probably agree that it is unfair for many people to have little or no opportunities to participate in society and live a good life. It is not only personal perceptions of justice that play a role but also norms that claim global validity, such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. After all, access to education, healthcare, cultural and social life, and social security are human rights.

In order to achieve a fairer world, changes are needed across three dimensions: the recognition of disadvantaged groups; their representation and participation; and the just redistribution of resources and opportunities. Outlined by philosopher Nancy Fraser, these cornerstones are often referred to as the "Three Rs of Social Justice".

Several people on different levels help another person to climb onto a ball

Reducing inequality is a social balancing act

So, what is justice?

There is no universal answer to the question of whether and how much inequality is fair, partly because the answers differ depending on the scale. Recognition is about recognising those impacted by inequalities as having equal rights. The goal here is equality, for example before the law. Representation is generally about proportionality, for example, through parity laws that aim to ensure the representation of women in legislative bodies in proportion to their share of the total population. In the eyes of the vast majority of people, redistribution, on the other hand does not concern establishing universal equality of income and wealth, but rather a fair measure. The question of what constitutes a “fair measure” is, however, a constant source of contention. In Germany, and many other countries, most people consider the current divide between rich and poor to be too wide and - therefore - unjust.

As a foundation, we support the participation of many people in the social debate about how much inequality is too much, for example in the Fight Inequality Alliance. We also promote new findings that provide arguments and data for this debate, such as the study on wealth inequality by the Forum New Economy.

""We are certain that a multifaceted approach is vital to combat inequality and, ultimately, create more justice." 

Quote fromAtje Drexler, Senior Vice President

The Robert Bosch Foundation also collaborates with partner organizations on all three levels of social justice (i.e., recognition, representation, and distribution). The Disability Rights Advocacy Fund, for example, supports people with disabilities in countries of the Global South in asserting their rights. The slogan "Nothing about us without us!" comes from the movement of people with disabilities. When decisions are made about the interests of people with disabilities, they must have a seat at the table to be heard. This work is therefore about recognition and representation. Rez Gardi and Mustafa Alio from the "R-SEAT" initiative make a similar argument: Their organization aims to give refugees a voice and consider their experiences when shaping migration policy measures. The "Economy is Care" network is concerned with the unequal distribution of care work, which is also about recognition, as the achievements of those who often care for other people for free are rarely recognized by society. The distribution aspect plays a major role here, as those who perform unpaid care work have fewer opportunities to pursue paid employment and provide for their own old age.

One thing is certain: Inequality and injustice are not the same thing. It is also clear that there can be no justice without a massive reduction in inequalities. We therefore need a multifaceted approach to fight inequality and ultimately achieve more justice.

many people at a demonstration, a woman in the foreground holds up a cardboard sign
The dossier of the topic


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We are faced with urgent problems relating to the concept of justice: the wealth divide, global inequality, access to education, and climate justice. These require a fair distribution of resources, intergenerational justice, equal opportunities, and a fair distribution of environmental burdens. Justice shapes us and influences our decisions. Read here how we promote projects to achieve societal justice.

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