Bad for kids

It’s not much fun being a kid in the U.S., according to a UNICEF survey (pdf) of child well-being, which ranked the U.S. and Britain at the bottom among 21 developed nations. The Netherlands, Sweden, Denmark and Finland topped the ratings.

The study ranked the countries in six categories, based on national statistics: material well-being, health and safety, education, peer and family relationships, behaviors and risks, and young people’s own subjective sense of well-being. Both the U.S. and Britain were in the bottom two-thirds of five of the six categories.

Compared to European countries, U.S. lost points for economic inequality, less government aid to the poor, weaker social services (day care, preventative health care) and more single-parent families. While 90 percent of Greek and Italian children live with both biological parents, only 60 percent of U.S. children are growing up with both parents.

The U.S. finished last in the health and safety category, based on infant mortality, vaccinations for childhood diseases, deaths from injuries and accidents before age 19, and whether children reported fighting in the past year or being bullied in the previous two months.

The U.S. was ranked 12th in education, the highest ranking overall.

Obviously, the report is loaded with assumptions about what contributes to child well-being, but scoffers should look at what children say about their relationships to parents and friends.

About Joanne


  1. Walter E. Wallis says:

    And still they come.

  2. Excellent, witty and concise, Walter.

    Obvious underlying assumption: Socialism = Good for kids.

    Kids who have it made are notorious complainers. I had a storybook childhood (thanks, Mom and Dad!) but I was a terrible whiner. I knew it at the time, too.

  3. But how many come from places that finished higher than we did?

  4. wayne martin says:

    The four countries at the top of the list are very small, as their populations indicate:

    Netherlands:16M, Sweden:9M, Denmark:5M and Finland:5M

    With the world’s population at a little over 6B people, the total of 35M makes a very small percentage of happy people (or kids in this case). Given that all four of these countries are European, with fairly homogeneous populations, there might be some interesting demographic interpretations for these countries ranking towards the top all of the other countries in the world.

  5. Cardinal Fang says:

    The Netherlands, top of the list, doesn’t have a homogeneous population, actually. About 19% of the Dutch population is immigrants. About 6% of the population is Muslim. I couldn’t find numbers for the percent of Dutch children who are Muslim, but it’s probably around 10%, since immigrant families tend to be younger and bigger than native born families.

  6. Miller Smith says:

    Okay, take a look at page 6, figure 1.1. Think about that for a moment. Less than 3% of the children in Denmark are in a home with an income below the median. Think about that. Why would so many in the bottom 50% of incomes just plain not having children? With the wealth that this report seems to imply about Denmark and the other countrys better than the United States, why aren’t people in the bottom half comfortable having children? Hmmmm.

    But the U.S.? Well…what do we see? Why, almost eight times more “poor”(?) are having children. Interesting. What does that say about the climate for the poor in Denmark that they aren’t having children?

    Is this a good thing? Should we do this to our poor as well?

    Really folks, take a good look and read of this report. It is very interesting.

  7. wayne martin says:

    > The Netherlands, top of the list, doesn’t have a
    > homogeneous population, actually.

    The high level of immigration in the Netherlands is a very new phenomenon—20 years or so. These folks, as noted, are heavily Islamic, and can’t have contributed much to the traditional Dutch social model in the short period of time they have lived in Holland. Social tensions which have been noted in previous postings in this Blog attest to isolationism on the part of the Muslim immigrants.

    > Less than 3% of the children in Denmark are in a home
    > with an income below the median

    Which gets back to the point about some detailed demographics needed to understand these comparisons. Using Denmark (which is relatively wealthy because of North Sea Oil) the following data points are available:

    From the CIA Factbook:

    Denmark: GDP Per-Person: $37,000 (2006 est.)
    Fertility Rate: 1.74 children born/woman (2006 est.)

    United States: GDP Per-Person: $43,500 (2006 est.)
    Fertility Rate: 2.09 children born/woman (2006 est.)

    The following is a chapter on Income and Population for a couple of the countries in the list of the “Top Four”:

    Towards the bottom of the 8-page paper are some tables that provide demographic breakdowns which might be helpful understanding population/income issues in Denmark (at least).

  8. Michael Lopez says:

    I could be wrong, but I think the Denmark-median poverty thing is based on the following:

    1) “Median” income is measured as GDP, which is an individual measurement.

    2) Household income is measured by including both adults in a two-adult household.

    3) If most children live in two-adult households, then most children are going to live above the “per capita” poverty line.

    4) If GDP is calculated with consideration for domestic contributions, this will only further decrease the number of kids living “below the poverty line.”

  9. How good for kids can a country that’s having so few of them be?

    As for how almost all the households with kids are above the median income: Most “low income households” aren’t going to be low income forever; they are young singles and young childless couples, still in school or in an entry level job, with a high probability of working their way up to a much better job. That is, they are young people who by the values once held across northern Europe and by most Americans should not be having children yet. Under those values, engagements often lasted a decade until the man had established himself in a good enough job to raise a family and found a home for it, and the woman had accumulated goods and/or money for home furnishings. Under that system, most children will live in above-median income households, since close to half the population isn’t ready to marry and have kids yet.

    The conservative small towns I grew up in in the 1950’s and 1960’s still lived by these values, but starting in the 1960’s the US has lost those values for the most part. Young people from better backgrounds usually are responsible enough not to have kids before they are ready to support them, but they either stretch their childhood into their 30’s as singles, or marry and delay having kids – and in a good many cases, they will be rolling in money and still see children as too big of a sacrifice, until it’s almost too late biologically. I suspect that the middle class is falling far short of reproducing itself. The slack is taken up by the less responsible and less able to get good jobs – the young couples that have two kids when they are barely self-supporting yet, their marriages often breaking up under the stress, and the unmarried girls that have babies and go on welfare.

    The obvious causes for this change:
    –The birth control pill made it practical to loosen the rules about sex. Formerly, the (often broken, but never forgotten) rules were that you didn’t get married until you were ready as a couple to support children, and you didn’t have sex until marriage. Once on the pill, premarital sex became much safer, and intentionally childless marriages became possible. If it had stopped there, things would have been OK, but many people went way beyond that to justifying anything that felt good for the moment. On the one hand, you got your upper middle class narcissists who would rather fill an oversized garage with German luxury cars than raise children, on the other lower class girls making babies in middle school – and we’ve got a huge entertainment industry depicting such behavior, usually without showing the consequences.
    –Welfare makes it possible to have kids you can’t afford and makes financially risky behavior seem safer (teenage sex with birth control absent or carelessly used, getting married and pregnant on the basis of a job your man hasn’t even settled into yet, etc.)
    –Welfare is paid mostly to families with children, so at low incomes it pays to have children (although not very well). It even makes it possible for an adult with poor job skills or too lazy to keep a job to be supported by a child. If you pay for certain behavior, some people will do it, no matter how self-destructive. (Perhaps we should call this the Jackass principle, after the TV show.)
    –It’s far more socially acceptable to have kids you can’t support. In 1960, most women were shamed if they had to accept welfare because their husband had died, let alone because they’d bred with someone who was unwilling or unable to support his progeny. Liberals worked to take the shame out of welfare and succeeded all too well.
    –For the better off, the liberal doctrine of “tolerance” has also made it more acceptable to extend your childhood past middle age, and to be married but childless by choice rather than from a tragic medical condition.
    –Conservatives made their own contribution to the problem: for a couple of decades they imposed rules that took away welfare if there was a man in the house, ignoring that they were therefore paying mothers to get rid of low-earning husbands. The Jackass principle worked again. (Not all the jackasses in Congress are Democrats.) Those rules are gone, but the neighborhoods of single mothers they created still exist, and girls and boys growing up in them often follow the patterns set by their elders of single mothers and men who aren’t much use except as sperm donors.

    If the Danes had a fertility rate near or above replacement, I’d think that they were still holding to the old northern European family pattern, achieving a position to support a family well first, then marrying, mostly in their middle to late 20’s. But with the fertility rate so low, I think their proportion of childless narcissists is much higher, although I have to admire their success in maintaining a welfare state while dissuading their lower class from having children they can’t afford. Perhaps they did it by generous welfare payments to healthy and able young adults without children? (These might be disguised as education grants, enabling those so inclined to stay in college forever without graduating. I knew a Danish exchange student, class of 1970, who was intending to do just that.)

    An alternative theory is that taxes burden the Danish economy so heavily that you’ve got to be above median income to afford kids, but how do they keep the irresponsible from popping out kids irregardless? Free abortions and encouragement towards childless narcissism for all classes? Or the final theory: welfare payments for families with children are as high as the median income. If so, the tax burdens and incentives against working hard are going to be so high that in the long run they’ll destroy their economy.

  10. Walter E. Wallis says:


  11. Catch Thirty Thr33 says:

    Too bad that the Netherlands, Sweden, Denmark and Finland ALL have ONE thing in common:
    They Are Going Nowhere.
    And that is what happens when you focus all of the energy and focus of a society on the lowest common denominator, instead of letting the citizenry do what they wish (including granting the freedom to fall flat on your face as you desire).
    Sure, those four countries are coddling their populations into oblivion. But who cares what they think about anything? It’s not like they can project their power – if they have any – around the world, unlike the United States. (I wonder why THAT is?)

  12. This study reminds me of another study that showed that “happiness” was highest in Cuba and Zimbabwe. The metric used? CO2 emissions!

  13. Frank Zavisca says:

    The “unhappiness” factor no doubt accounts for some of the behavior of “disaffected Muslim youth.

    I wonder if the “Happiness Surveyors” interviewed children in the “no go” areas – where even cops fear to go because “disaffected youth” attack people and burn cars.

    I would strongly suspect the “Happines Surveyors” left out this part of the population.

    PS – Foobarista

    Most Cubans don’t have cars. They hitchhike or walk.
    Cubans don’t pollute with jet fuel, because they are not allowed to leave Cuba.

    Finland has one of the highest pollution rates – because they use so much fuel because it’s so damned cold. No sane person would say that the Finns are “Unhappy”.

  14. What percentage of children in these countries are born out of wedlock? How would people liek to deal with that problem in this country? What are the 3rd world immigration rates in these countries? How would people liek to deal with that problem in this country?