Our Greatest Asset Children. Faces of Children from Around the World

Health, education, safety, and financial stability are, in our modern world, all elements that determine well-being and a balanced life – central to happiness and general peace of mind. It goes without saying that a major part of the inexorable responsibility of a nation is to secure the well-being of its children.

Children make up 27 percent of the earth’s total population. With the numerous horrors unleashed on our most defenseless of citizens, the question as to where in the world our children are best off is one of interest. The answer, of course, it useful to those hoping to start a family and considering relocating for the good of their kids.

Naturally, we think of rich countries where resources abound opportunities for children to learn, grow, and prosper. A study conducted by the UNICEF Office of Research determines which of the top 29 most developed countries rank highest for overall child well being. The study spans 5 dimensions used to determine the welfare of children: material well being, referring to monetary deprivation as determined by the country’s child poverty rate and poverty gap; health and safety; education; behaviors and risks, such as being overweight, bullying, and drug and alcohol use among children; and finally, housing and environment, which takes into account such things as the number of family members to one household and levels of air pollution in the child’s place of residence.

The study gives a powerful insight into the lives of children around the world. It bears mentioning, however, that a number of countries were excluded from the study due to unreliable data. Notable examples which were excluded are Australia, Bulgaria, Chile, Cyprus, Israel, Japan, Malta, Mexico, New Zealand, the Republic of Korea, and Turkey. But perhaps the biggest eye-opener the research provides is proving that there exists little correlation between a country’s GDP per capita (except, of course, to the point where the country has a developed economy rather than a developing or undeveloped economy) and the level of child well-being. With some of the most affluent countries like the U.S ranking among the lowest of all 29 countries studied (26th place), the numbers show how a comparably impoverished country like Portugal (15th place), for example, ranks higher in overall child well being.

When comparing the child poverty rate in economically struggling developed countries like Italy and Spain to the relatively affluent U.S. we notice that all have a child poverty rate higher than 20 percent – indicating that a country’s economic prosperity does not necessarily secure the economic equality and well-being of its most vulnerable young citizens. The following list elucidates UNICEF’s findings and shows where in the world children are truly the best off.

The league table of child well-being ranks 29 developed countries according to the overall well-being of their children. Each country’s overall rank is based on its average ranking for the five dimensions of child well-being considered in Report Card 11. In total, 26 internationally comparable indicators have been included in the overview.

  • The Netherlands retains its position as the clear leader and is the only country ranked among the top five countries in all dimensions of child well-being.
  • Overall, there does not appear to be a strong relationship between per capita GDP and overall child well-being. The Czech Republic is ranked higher than Austria, Slovenia higher than Canada, and Portugal higher than the United States.
  • Four Nordic countries – Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden – sit just below the Netherlands at the top of the child well-being table.
  • The bottom four places in the table are occupied by three of the poorest countries in the survey, Latvia, Lithuania and Romania, and by one of the richest, the United States.
  • Four southern European countries –Greece, Italy, Portugal and Spain – are placed in the bottom half of the table.
  • There are signs that the countries of Central and Eastern Europe are beginning to close the gap with the more established industrial economies.

The league table of children's material well-being shows each country's performance in relation to the average for the 29 developed countries under review. 

Relative child poverty rates

  • Finland is the only country with a relative child poverty rate of less than 5% and heads the league table by a clear margin of more than two percentage points.
  • The countries in the top half of the league table all have relative child poverty rates of less than 10%.
  • Four southern European countries - Greece, Italy, Portugal and Spain - have child poverty rates higher than 15% (along with Latvia, Lithuania, Romania, and the United States).
Child Poverty Gaps
  • Hungary and Luxembourg have the smallest child poverty gaps.
  • Denmark is an exception among Nordic countries in having a high child poverty gap (almost 30%). Only a small proportion of Danish children (6.3%) fall below the country’s relative poverty line; but those who do fall further below than in most other countries.
  • Several countries have allowed the child poverty gap to widen to more than 30%. They are Bulgaria, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Lithuania, Romania, Slovakia, Spain and the United States.
Child Deprivation Rates
  • The five Nordic countries and the Netherlands claim the smallest proportion of children who are materially deprived.
  • Ireland and Luxembourg are the only other countries with child deprivation rates below 5% (although the United Kingdom comes close at 5.5%).
  • France and Italy have child deprivation rates higher than 10%.
  • Four countries have child deprivation rates of more than 25% - Hungary, Latvia, Portugal and Romania.
Percentage of children reporting low family affluence 
  • The Netherlands and the Nordic countries, along with Luxembourg and Switzerland, have the smallest percentage of children reporting low family affluence.
  • Low family affluence rates are most severe in eight Central and Eastern European countries – the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Romania and Slovakia.

Children’s Voices

This section looks at what children say about their own well-being and consists of two
tables: ‘Children’s relationships with parents and peers’ and ‘The league table of
children’s life satisfaction.’
The first assesses well-being according to the quality of close relationships in the child’s
life (mothers, fathers, peers).
The second presents an overview of children's subjective well-being in 29 developed
countries and shows the proportion of children aged 11, 13 and 15 who answered '6 or
more' when asked to rate their overall life satisfaction on a scale of 0 to 10 (where '0' 
represents 'the worst possible life for me' and '10' represents 'the best possible life for
Measured by the average rating for the three relationships, the Netherlands again
heads the rankings.

  • Denmark, Iceland, the Netherlands and Sweden are the only countries ranked in the top group for all three relationships.
  • Canada, France and the United States are the only countries ranked in the bottom group for all three relationships.
  • In every country, children found it more difficult to talk to their fathers than to their mothers – and the gap between the two measures is, on average, 16 percentage points.
  • Only in Iceland does the difference narrow to less than 10 percentage points.
  • Over 85% of children in the developed nations have a high level of overall life satisfaction; even in the countries at the bottom of the league, more than 75% of children placed themselves above the mid-point of the life satisfaction ladder.
  • The Netherlands heads the league table of children’s subjective well-being with 95% of its children reporting a high level of life satisfaction.
  • In the top five countries – Finland, Greece, Iceland, the Netherlands and Spain – approximately 90% of children reported a high level of life satisfaction in 2009/2010.
  • Only in Poland and Romania does the ‘high life satisfaction’ rate fall below 80%.
  • Children in Canada, Germany, Portugal and the United States find themselves in the bottom third of the Children’s Life Satisfaction League Table – along with Hungary, Lithuania, Poland, Romania and Slovakia.

Gaps on the Well-Being of Australia's Children

UNICEF releases its annual report card on child well-being in rich countries today, with Australia once again excluded from global comparison due to a lack of concrete data about our children.

Report Card 11 compares 29 of the world’s most advanced economies across a variety of league tables on education, child mortality, child deprivation, risk behaviors and health.
The report is compiled by UNICEF’s Office of Research and has been released annually since 2007.

Australia is not among the listed countries because its comparable data on children and young people is fragmented. 

However, where Australian data is sufficient for comparison, it has been included in the report and highlights strengths and weaknesses in meeting the needs of Australian children.

One of Australia’s greatest strengths is its progress, alongside Canada, in reporting standards of early childhood development. The Australian Early Development Index (AEDI) has been held up by UNICEF globally as one of the best tools to monitor and measure children’s progress from a young age

“Without such a measure, policy is blind, expenditure difficult to justify, goals impossible to set and progress incapable of being monitored,” the report stated of Australia’s index.
However, the same measure being applauded by UNICEF globally has highlighted Australia’s failings in supporting child development and children’s preparedness for school, in particular.

The AEDI findings point to the 25 per cent of Australia’s children who are not developmentally ready for school and that boys are twice as developmentally vulnerable than girls.
Outside of findings offered by the AEDI, Report Card 11 found Australia’s record on meeting the development needs of children were on average among developed nations.

  • Australia is ranked fifth of 32 developed countries for overall educational achievement.
  • Australia falls behind the average of OECD countries when it comes to the number of young people entering tertiary education.
  • Australia’s fertility rate, at 15 births per 1,000 girls, is higher than many other developed countries including Canada, Spain, Greece, France, Germany and Italy.
  • Australia’s rate of infant mortality, at 4.2 deaths per 1,000 live births, is average among developed nations.
  • Australia’s child poverty rate is average among developed nations. 11 per cent of Australia’s children live in a household where income is below 50 per cent of the national median.

“This UNICEF report card does not deliver a comprehensive picture for the well-being of Australian children due to a failure in collecting internationally comparable data,” UNICEF Australia chief executive officer Norman Gillespie said.
“Without the data organisations like UNICEF cannot drive the policy change that will improve the development needs, standards of living and well-being of Australia’s children and young people.”

Report Card 11 was released by the UNICEF Office of Research as part of a series to monitor and compare the performance of economically-advanced countries in securing the rights of their children.