The Kids Are All Right – But Where?

June 14, 2012
Posted by Jay Livingston

Philip Cohen was on NPR’s “Talk of the Nation” last week (listen here) talking about research showing the advantages of two-parent families.
childcare . . . security, health insurance, stable housing. These are among the things that are transferred from married parents to their children in terms of benefits, and those are the things where we should try to focus our energies rather than worrying about the marital status of the parents.
The rate of unmarried parenthood continues to rise despite much government effort to prevent it, not to mention the messages from church, school, and other institutions.  Philip’s point was that rather than try to fix marriage (or non-marriage), we should try to fix the problems that arise from it.  In the US, about 40% of children are born to unmarried mothers.  But in other countries, Scandinavian countries especially,  the rate is even higher – ranging from 46% in Denmark to 66% in Iceland.  Even countries lower down the list have seen an increase.  In Italy, the rate in 1980 was 4%; in 2007, 21%

But if we look at the lives of children in the wealthy countries, the US does not compare favorably.
The website Good News (here) offers the graphic “Where Are the Best (and Worst) Countries to Be a Child?”  It gives the overall rating and the six dimensions that scale is based on. For the full picture, go to their site.  Meanwhile, here are some screen grabs.  Click on an image for a larger view.  [Warning:  if you think of the US (or the UK) as an ideal place for kids, maybe you should stop reading now.]

Here is the overall rating.

These indicators are based on aggregate data for each country.  The US and UK have the greatest degree of economic inequality, and this inequality probably also enters into the data on the welfare of children.  The US may be an excellent place for children in the top ranges of the income distribution, especially on dimensions like material well-being, but children from poor and even middle-income families in the US are worse off than their counterparts in these other countries, so much so that they drag the US average down to the low end of the scale.  In countries like Sweden, with less inequality and more support for families and children, the differences among children are smaller, and consequently, the average outcomes are better. 


Andrew Gelman said...

Them's some ugly graphs. Blurry, too!

Jay Livingston said...

I thought it was my prescription. But screen grabs can be hard with a little laptop screen. Anyway, that top chart should be a better now, especially when you click on it.