>From today's LA Times. Thought it worth sharing.
U.S., Britain fare poorly in children report
By Maggie Farley, Times Staff Writer
UNITED NATIONS -- The United States and Britain ranked as the worst places to
be a child among 21 wealthy nations, according to a report by UNICEF released
Wednesday. The Netherlands was the best, it said, followed by Sweden and
UNICEF's Innocenti Research Centre in Italy ranked the countries in material
well-being, health, education, relationships, behaviors and risks, and young
people's sense of happiness.
The finding that the children in the richest countries are not necessarily the
best-off surprised many, said Marta Santos Pais, the study director. The Czech
Republic, for example, ranked above countries with a higher per capita income,
such as Austria, France, U.S. and Britain, in part because of a more equal
distribution of wealth and higher relative investment in education and public
Some of the wealthier countries' lower rankings were a result of less spending
on social programs and "dog eat dog" competition in jobs that led to adults
spending less time with their children and heightened alienation among peers,
said one of the report's authors, Jonathan Bradshaw, at a televised news
conference in London.
"The findings that we got today are a consequence of long-term underinvestment
in children," said Bradshaw, who is a professor of social policy at York
University in England.
The highest ranking for the United States was for education, where it placed
12th. But the U.S. and U.K. landed in the lowest third for five of the six
The United States was at the bottom in health and safety, mostly because of
its high rates of child mortality and accidental deaths. It was next to last
in family and peer relationships and risk-taking behavior. The U.S. has the
highest proportion of children living in single-family homes, which the study
defined as an indicator for increased risk of poverty and poor health, though
it "may seem unfair and insensitive," it said. The U.S. was close to the
bottom of the scale for children who eat and talk frequently with their
Britain had the highest rate of children involved in activities that
endangered their welfare: 31 percent of those studied said they had been drunk
at least twice by the age of 15, and 38 percent had had sexual intercourse by
that age. Canada had the highest rate of children who had smoked marijuana by
age 15 -- 40.4 percent. Japan ranked the worst on "subjective well being,"
with 30 percent of children agreeing with the statement, "I am lonely."
Children in the Netherlands, Spain and Greece said they were the happiest, and
those in Spain, Portugal and the Netherlands spent the most time with their
families and friends.
Because of a lack of internationally comparable data, the study did not
address children's exposure to domestic violence, both as victims and as
witnesses, and children's mental and emotional health.
The report acknowledges that some assessment scales have "weak spots."
The study, for example, measured relative affluence by asking if a family
owned a vehicle, a computer, if children had their own bedroom and how often
the family traveled on holiday. Some answers might depend on the quality of
public transportation and real estate prices, making the average child in New
York's affluent areas seem equal to one in a less developed country because of
the constraints of city living.
The authors acknowledge the study is "a work in progress in need of improved
definitions and better data." But they say it is a first step in providing
benchmarks for comparing countries and highlighting poor performance in
otherwise rich nations.
"All countries have weaknesses to be addressed," Santos Pais said.
-- David D. Preiss Ph.D. Profesor Auxiliar / Assistant Professor Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile Escuela de Psicología. Av. Vicuña Mackenna 4860. Macul, Santiago de Chile. Chile
Teléfono: (56-2) 354-4605 Fax: (56-2) 354-4844. Web: http://web.mac.com/ddpreiss/
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