The United States and Great Britain placed last in UNICEF survey of 21 of the richest Western nations. Here’s the graph that tells it all:
Reaction in Britain:
Today’s findings will be a blow to the government, which has set great store by lifting children out of poverty and improving their education and prospects. Al Aynsley Green, the children’s commissioner for England, acknowledges that the UN has accurately highlighted the troubled lives of children. “There is a crisis at the heart of our society and we must not continue to ignore the impact of our attitudes towards children and young people and the effect that this has on their wellbeing,” he says in a response today.
“I hope this report will prompt us all to look beyond the statistics and to the underlying causes of our failure to nurture happy and healthy children in the UK.”
U.S. officials, on the other hand, have been more defensive, complaining that they weren’t consulted about the study and arguing with its methodology (Administration officials disagree with the way the study measures child poverty, for instance). The study also assumes that children are put at a disadvantage if they live in single-parent homes. This gives a strong advantage to Mediterranean countries, where something like 90% of children do so. Poor Germany — they’re right in the middle, which means nothing to crow or complain about.
Overall, though, the results don’t surprise me. The underlying reality is not that all American children in general have a hard time of it. Rather, it reflects inequality — the fact that (1) there is a large class of children from families in the lower classes who have serious problems; and (2) existing social programs and private initiatives have not remedied the problems. Put another way, it’s not the case that all American children, on average, are 25% less well-off than those luck Swedes, it means that the worst-off American children are much worse off than the Swedes. For instance, 70% of black American mothers give birth out of wedlock, which surely helps drive the "family relationships" statistic.
The study probably won’t spark much debate in the U.S. Studies like this have been coming out for decades, and result mostly in policy tinkering, not ambitious new initiatives. The background facts are wildly different in these countries: Social solidarity, and thus the consensus in favor of social welfare programs, is much higher in countries such as Sweden or the Netherlands, which are smaller, much more centralized, and ethnically and culturally homogeneous than the U.S.