“The true measure of a nation’s standing is how well it attends to its children – their health and safety, their material security, their education and socialization, and their sense of being loved, valued, and included in the families and societies into which they are born.”
– UNICEF’s report Child Poverty in Perspective: An Overview of Child Well-Being in Rich Countries (pdf)
One day after complaining that modern society is hurting the parent-child relationship, UNICEF comes out with the report mentioned above, though it’s taken me a week to finish this post. Out of industrialized nations, UNICEF deems Britain the worst place for kids to grow up, but the United States places second worst. The best place for kids to grow up overall is the Netherlands.
As you can see, the United States is in second-to-last-place in the Relationship and Behavior categories. More on that in a minute.
And interestingly, the United States does better on the education scorecard than I would have expected. America beats out France, Britain and Switzerland. The best place educationally is Belgium and the best overall place to raise a kid is the Netherlands, according to UNICEF.
But where the United States really fails is in Health and Safety, which is measured by the percentage of kids dying before age 1, percentage of kids who are immunized and the number of children killed in accidents. For example, there are more than 20 deaths from accidents and injuries per 100,000 children under 19 in the United States, which is one of the worst records of economically advanced countries.
Keep in mind, we’re the worst of the best in this category, not the worst of the worst. But it does say something about how this nation allocates its health-care resources.
Perhaps the biggest surprise, to me anyway, is that in our materially-obsessed society we fall into 17th place for “material well being.” This means that most of our kids are being born to and raised by parents that are either out of a job or living below the nation’s median income. About 22 percent of American kids are being raised in families below the national median, more than any other country.
Another measure of kids lacking material well-being: Our kids are being raised in homes with fewer than 10 books! About 21 percent of American kids report having a lack of educational materials. I guess the UNICEF authors don’t count iPods, television and computers as educational.
In a nation where “family values” is a political and social hot potato, it is ironic that UNICEF particularly slams the United States for it’s abject failure in maintaining them. The only nation studied to do worse is the United Kingdom.
America’s family value problem centers on the 21 percent of kids growing up in single-parent families and another 16 percent growing up in stepfamilies. America has the worst score on both of these lists.
American kids aren’t particularly impressed with their peers, either, with just over 50 percent reporting them “kind and helpful.” In Switzerland, the rate is more than 80 percent. I guess I was right in thinking many of my high school classmates were jerks.
The lifestyles of our children are considered risky compared with other nations. In fact, American kids are dead last in this category. Here’s how it breaks down:
- Fewer than half of adolescents report eating breakfast every day.
- Fewer than 30 percent of adolescents report eating fruit every day.
- More than 25 percent of adolescents report they are overweight.
- About 32 percent of adolescents report smoking cannabis in the last 12 months.
- American kids still lead in teenage pregnancies with 45 in every 1,000 becoming pregnant before age 19.
(Note these scores are based on self-reporting and not a statistical analysis.)
Not all news is bad:
- American kids are less likely to smoke cigarettes with only about 7 percent of adolescents smoking once a week.
- American adolescents report being physically active for an hour or more 4.5 days a week, which is better than everyone but Canada and Ireland.
Some other interesting results:
- Almost 20 percent of American adolescents rate their health as fair or poor.
- About 21 percent of American adolescents like school a lot.
- More than 80 percent of American adolescents say there are more happy than not.
I realize that studies like these may be biased or may be employed differently from nation to nation. As a parent though, these results have a certain ring of truth to them especially for children who come from less wealthy homes.
It will be interesting to see if any of our esteemed presidential candidates take note of studies such as this one and use them as campaign tools. After all, the welfare and well-being of our children should take precedent over many of the other issues that are constantly bandied about.
My prediction: The candidates will stick to these themes: Iraq and Afghanistan occupations, the Iranian threat, the economy, oil prices and the environment. What will fall to the wayside? Social issues, medical costs and education.
Yup, my prediction is that our kids will yet again be the losers in the next presidential election. Why? Because solving the latter issues is too difficult politically.