UNICEF: US is one of the worst countries in the world to raise kids

Homework Helper
United States and Britain at the bottom of a list of 21 economically developed nations.
So to be fair it doesn't include Somalia or N Korea.
And at least the US is still regarded as an economically developed nation.
plus they beat the Brits!

Proton Soup
maybe we should lower our drinking age and raise the driving age.

Homework Helper
1. Netherlands
2. Sweden
3. Denmark
4. Finland
5. Spain
6. Switzerland
7. Norway
8. Italy
9. Republic of Ireland
10. Belgium
11. Germany
13. Greece
14. Poland
15. Czech Republic
16. France
17. Portugal
18. Austria
19. Hungary
20. United States
21. United Kingdom

Obviously the problem is English -
Bottom two countries speak English
Ireland and Canada are bilingual and come half way up

We must stamp out English in our schools now.

Mentor
The infant mortality thing really irritates me. The US is among the world leaders in effort in caring for babies at birth and the end result of that is statistically higher infant mortality due to the fact that we count more as live births that died later and many other countries just count them as stillbirths. This is common knowledge and the study should control for it.
The World Health Organization (WHO) defines a live birth as any born human being who demonstrates independent signs of life, including breathing, voluntary muscle movement, or heartbeat. Many countries, however, including certain European states and Japan, only count as live births cases where an infant breathes at birth, which makes their reported IMR numbers somewhat lower and raises their rates of perinatal mortality.[5]

The exclusion of any high-risk infants from the denominator or numerator in reported IMRs can be problematic for comparisons. Many countries, including the United States, Sweden or Germany, count an infant exhibiting any sign of life as alive, no matter the month of gestation or the size, but according to United States Centers for Disease Control researchers,[6] some other countries differ in these practices. All of the countries named adopted the WHO definitions in the late 1980s or early 1990s,[7] which are used throughout the European Union.[8] However, in 2009, the US CDC issued a report which stated that the American rates of infant mortality were affected by the United States' high rates of premature babies compared to European countries and which outlines the differences in reporting requirements between the United States and Europe, noting that France, the Czech Republic, Ireland, the Netherlands, and Poland do not report all live births of babies under 500 g and/or 22 weeks of gestation.[6][9][10] However, the report also concludes that the differences in reporting are unlikely to be the primary explanation for the United States’ relatively low international ranking.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Infant_mortality
Last sentence aside, these are exactly the countries called-out in the NPR article: Poland, Czech Republic, and the Netherlands.

The fact that infant mortality is commonly used as a cherry-picked stat for the purpose of criticizing the US makes me skeptical of studies that put a high value on it.

rootX
1. Netherlands
2. Sweden
3. Denmark
4. Finland
5. Spain
6. Switzerland
7. Norway
8. Italy
9. Republic of Ireland
10. Belgium
11. Germany
13. Greece
14. Poland
15. Czech Republic
16. France
17. Portugal
18. Austria
19. Hungary
20. United States
21. United Kingdom

Obviously the problem is English -
Bottom two countries speak English
Ireland and Canada are bilingual and come half way up

We must stamp out English in our schools now.

Both US and Canada (bit more) are multilingual in aspect that you do not need to know English to perform business/most of the daily life tasks in both countries IMO.

Mentor
They made some awful choices for their criteria, which to me reflect certain predictable biases:

-Their financial well-being is based on 3 criteria, one of which is relative income: fraction of children living in houses below the median income. In other words, a child in the US who'se family makes $27,000 per year is considered less well off than a child in the Czech Republic who'se family makes$20,000 (estimate). Based on inequality it has the lowest poverty rate in Europe at around 9% while ranking 56th in per capita income (note: I couldn't find actual median income stats). The Czec Republic is 7th in this category - the US is last by quite a wide margin.
-The third criteria of the fianancial well being category is self-reported complaints. Being complainers is practically a source of national pride in the US.
-The second on low birth rate makes no mention of the fact that these self-reported stats are difficult to compare across national lines.

I will say this about the bottom line, though: it is unsurprising that the US would rank low. Our system is one that values freedom and mandates personal responsibility. Socialist countries that don't allow either will tend to be more homogenous, have an easier time forcing immunizations, forcing school attendance, propping up the poor, have fewer accidental deaths due to lower freedom and less affluence, etc. Viewed in the proper context, it isn't as much of an indictment of the US as it is made out to be.

Other interesting stats: The US ranks in the middle in educational attainment, near the bottom in educational enrollment and at the top in expectation of getting high skill/paying jobs. That shows a disconnect between effort and expectation.

As I said before, I don't like subjective/self-reported tests. Culture can play a big role in a person's perception of where they stand. One survey that apparently wasn't done on the US measures - essentialy - teen angst. Most countries regesterd 5-12% answering yes to "I feel awkward and out of place" and "I feel lonely". Japan reported 18 and 30%, roughly double and triple the average of each. This is almost certainly cultural and not direcly related to well being.

Gold Member
2021 Award
Regarding infant mortality, it is only one factor of the many that the UNICEF study examined. While it is likely to be weighted fairly highly, I think correctly comparing infant mortality rates would not change the results too much (while the US might not be 2nd to last, it certainly would not rise to near the top). Indeed, Sweden, which was mentioned as counting infant mortality rates in a similar way to the US, is 2nd on the list, indicating that the US's position on the list is due to much more than infant mortality rates. Taken together with the statement that the US's low infant mortality ranking is not primarily due to problems with how infant mortality is counted, I don't think the US's ranking can be so easily discounted.

A larger confounding variable in the analysis is immigration. A much larger proportion of the US's population consists of immigrant from poor countries with very low socioeconomic status, whereas many of the countries on the top of the list likely lack large populations of immigrants from poor countries.

Furthermore, the list may reflect fundamental philosophical differences between the US and most European nations. The US strives to reduce inequality and support the poor via broad social programs much less than most European nations. Instead, the US system focuses much more on providing opportunities for the exceptional individuals, like entreprenuers, to get ahead. This value system seems to be reflected in the quality of education in the US. While US public schools, which serve the entirety of the population (serving slightly more on the lower end), seem to perform more poorly than their European counterparts, the US society maintains the most elite university system in the world.

Thus, the US's performance on the UNICEF list may reflect its differing values from other industrialized nations. While other nations may focus more on improving the average of their society, the US values a system that creates more exceptional individuals over a system where everyone is mediocre even if such a system creates more below average individuals. Because the UNICEF list likely looks at the population as a whole and weights every individual equally, it reflects more of the "average"-centric values. The US might perform better on a list that reflects "exception"-centric values, for example, a list that rates the experience of the top 50 or top 20 percentile of children.

Staff Emeritus
Gold Member
Well, I can say that when I was drinking Bacardi 151 for lunch every day, at age fifteen/sixteen, and ditching school [only 40 days or so per semester] for fear of being killed by some L.A. gangbanger, I was happy as a lark.

Once we left the area and I got into a school that wasn't populated by hardened criminals, I stopped drinking [for good] and made the honor roll. Don't know what to make of that one.

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Staff Emeritus
2021 Award
Their financial well-being is based on 3 criteria, one of which is relative income: fraction of children living in houses below the median income.

That is truly bizarre. That tells you about the demographics of the parents more than anything else.

Personally, I find this unsurprising. I've lived extensively in the US, Sweden, and elsewhere, and for all the good points the US has, there's no way I'd put it anywhere near the top as far as raising a child was concerned.

I mean, to compare to Sweden, right off the bat Sweden has a lower child mortality rate. Followed by 16 months parental leave (out of which the father is expected to take at least a third). Heavily subsidized public day-care. You're allowed to leave from work for caring for a sick child. A huge amount of support if your child happens to be born with a handicap. Generous vacations (at least 6 weeks). Excellent universal health care with completely free dental for kids under 25. Excellent public schools and higher education (which is free and includes generous grants and student loans for all). Lower crime rates. And a generally progressive attitude towards children, where the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child are enshrined in law rather than regarded as a nice suggestion. One of the first countries in the world to ban corporal punishment of kids in schools, and the first country in the world to ban corporal punishment of kids in any circumstance.

This isn't to say the US doesn't have its pros. Its best schools are of course second-to-none in the world. And basically, if what you want is the highest salary possible, while paying the lowest taxes possible, (never mind that you won't have as much free time to spend that money) the US probably is the best. It's not a bad place for a young professional. But personally, I don't view personal income as a particularly good metric of quality-of-life, especially not once you factor in family life.

BTW: Socialist? What does that even mean? It's not like Sweden is, or ever has been, a planned economy. At what tax rate would 'capitalism' become 'socialism'? And it's worth noting the Swedish economy is in some respects less regulated than the US economy. (e.g. They have no legal minimum wage.) It's a useless label.

Mentor
Regarding infant mortality, it is only one factor of the many that the UNICEF study examined. While it is likely to be weighted fairly highly, I think correctly comparing infant mortality rates would not change the results too much (while the US might not be 2nd to last, it certainly would not rise to near the top).
Understood/agreed.

At the same time, though, that's a microcosm of the mindset behind the study. IIRC, study doesn't even attempt to quantify the actual difference between the top and bottom, it just ranks. And how do you apply a score or assign a weighting to something like infant mortality anyway? The study basically says that infant mortality is not substantially different between developed countries - but we're going to pretend it is for the sake of using it in our rankings.

It would have been interesting if they had included in their conclusions an assessment of just what it means to be last (in a group of the 21 best countries - despite the title of the thread). Is the difference between the top and bottom 10% or 80%?
A larger confounding variable in the analysis is immigration. A much larger proportion of the US's population consists of immigrant from poor countries with very low socioeconomic status, whereas many of the countries on the top of the list likely lack large populations of immigrants from poor countries.
Agreed.
Furthermore, the list may reflect fundamental philosophical differences between the US and most European nations.
Agreed - that's something I mentioned.

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Mentor
That is truly bizarre. That tells you about the demographics of the parents more than anything else.
Demographics of the parents informs you about the conditions the kids live under, so that is understandable - it's just using relative poverty as a measure of it that irritates me.

Due to American ideals about the need for achievement in order to achieve, people in their 20s and 30s tend to struggle a little bit due to the fact that they haven't achieved anything yet. The reward/payoff comes when you get to your 40s and 50s and your income goes up a lot. Eurpoeans are more homogenous.

Staff Emeritus
Both US and Canada (bit more) are multilingual in aspect that you do not need to know English to perform business/most of the daily life tasks in both countries IMO.

That's not how multilingual is defined, otherwise the same could be said for any country!

I bet it is all those darn guns those red neck racist Americans have. Teaching their kids how to defend themselves. BLASPHEMY!

Yes thanks, I'm aware of what the word means. But what does it supposedly mean in a context where Sweden & Co are 'socialist' but the USA is not? The European economies are certainly much more similar to the US economy than to that of Communist countries.

So where's the big fundamental difference between, e.g. Sweden and the USA? Both countries have public sectors, and to a large extent it's the same sectors, with just a difference in the extent (number of public schools, number of public hospitals etc) If you want to define the difference between 'socialism' and 'capitalism' as the difference between a 40% top income tax and a 60% top income tax, or the difference between the public sector being 15% of the economy or 30%, you can do so. But I don't think there's some fundamentally different ideology going on in that case.

Edit: Of course, IMO these kinds of discussions tend not to be very enlightening. If you've only lived in one country, you're indoctrinated with a whole bunch of biases from that political environment. Unless you've lived in another country long enough to learn their way of thinking, you'll very likely be unaware of these biases. The result is that you interpret other places through your own tinted glasses, and come up with arguments that are BS, because they're not based on fact or experience but irrational bias and indoctrination. Americans have more "freedom"? "Socialist" countries "force" school attendance? In what way? Less affluence leadds to fewer accidents? That's ridiculous, you're blindly making stuff up.

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zomgwtf
Socialist are evil freedom suckers. Live with it. :rofl:

Homework Helper
I still like Russ's idea that it's because of the freedom and tolerance in US and UK schools compared to the regimented socialism of Amsterdam or Copehagen!

Mentor
Regarding infant mortality, it is only one factor of the many that the UNICEF study examined. While it is likely to be weighted fairly highly, I think correctly comparing infant mortality rates would not change the results too much (while the US might not be 2nd to last, it certainly would not rise to near the top). Indeed, Sweden, which was mentioned as counting infant mortality rates in a similar way to the US, is 2nd on the list, indicating that the US's position on the list is due to much more than infant mortality rates. Taken together with the statement that the US's low infant mortality ranking is not primarily due to problems with how infant mortality is counted, I don't think the US's ranking can be so easily discounted.
It is the extreme measures that are taken in the US to try to bring non-viable pregnancies to term that significantly alter the infant mortality stats for the US. Most of those pregnancies would have spontaneously aborted in other countries, so are never counted. I had posted the article previously, but I don't have the time to do so right now.

leroyjenkens
Those are some good countries on that list, I don't see the problem.

Staff Emeritus
2021 Award
Demographics of the parents informs you about the conditions the kids live under, so that is understandable - it's just using relative poverty as a measure of it that irritates me.

Well, first there is that - the same family is ranked better in Canada than in the US as Canada has a lower per capita income than the US. But I was thinking of something else: single income vs. two-income families. This study says its better to have two working parents than a stay-at-home Mom or Dad. Maybe yes, maybe no, but wouldn't it be better to rank this directly rather than by proxy?

Klockan3
I love the fact that Finland schools do by far the best job in educating the kids but also is by far the least liked of them all. I wonder if it is more important to make the kids like learning or making them actually learn.
Edit:
By the way I have to correct a few things written...
-Their financial well-being is based on 3 criteria, one of which is relative income: fraction of children living in houses below the median income. In other words, a child in the US who'se family makes $27,000 per year is considered less well off than a child in the Czech Republic who'se family makes$20,000 (estimate). Based on inequality it has the lowest poverty rate in Europe at around 9% while ranking 56th in per capita income (note: I couldn't find actual median income stats). The Czec Republic is 7th in this category - the US is last by quite a wide margin.
Actually that should be below 50% of the national median, not just below the national median. But that mostly means that large countries like the USA gets punished since they have more diverse populations. The USA having large differences in income do not mean much for the median income so I wouldn't say that it is the reason, instead just that the population is more diverse compared to for example Denmark.

They should really do the USA one with each states median as the comparison instead. Also relative poverty is a really good tool since no kids do live in actual poverty in any of the developed nations. If you take the poorest 10% of the kids they probably live better than the top 10% kids 100 years ago. Relative poverty measures the perceived poverty which is all that matters in todays world of extreme riches.

Even the "poor" students have enough money to make trips all over the world, eat well, go out and party all the time etc, as long as they manage their money properly and works part time.
-The third criteria of the fianancial well being category is self-reported complaints. Being complainers is practically a source of national pride in the US.
Nope, the third criteria lists a few things and it makes its point based on that:

Does your family own a car, van or truck?
Do you have your own bedroom for yourself?
During the past 12 months, how many times did you travel away on holiday with your family?
How many computers does your family own?

So it isn't subjective at all. Edit: Of course except how you define, car van truck, own room, travel away with your family and computer.

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Jimmy Snyder
The US was the worst country I ever grew up in.

The US was the worst country I ever grew up in.

I see what you did there.

Jimmy Snyder
Did I do that?

Staff Emeritus
Gold Member
Even the "poor" students have enough money to make trips all over the world, eat well, go out and party all the time etc, as long as they manage their money properly and works part time.
Wow! This is pretty astonishing, if it is true somewhere. It certainly is not true in the US.

Klockan3
Wow! This is pretty astonishing, if it is true somewhere. It certainly is not true in the US.
It is true in Sweden at least. I know a lot of students going on holiday trips to Asia etc. Even students who get kids manage to get by economically.

leroyjenkens
It is true in Sweden at least. I know a lot of students going on holiday trips to Asia etc. Even students who get kids manage to get by economically.

I wanted to take a trip to Asia but the plane ticket was almost 2 thousand dollars by itself. I don't know what standard for "poor" you're using. I guess I'm destitute.

Mentor
Yes thanks, I'm aware of what the word means. But what does it supposedly mean in a context where Sweden & Co are 'socialist' but the USA is not? The European economies are certainly much more similar to the US economy than to that of Communist countries.
Look, there is no need to nitpick when I'm sure you know what the reality is: If you lay out the countries in the study on a political spectrum, the US will be to the right of probably every other country studied. Agreed?
Americans have more "freedom"?(1) "Socialist" countries "force" school attendance? In what way?(2) Less affluence leadds to fewer accidents? That's ridiculous, you're blindly making stuff up. (3)
#1 shouldn't need explanation.
#2, I said "have an easier time", not that they forced it and we didn't: all western countries have compulsory education. More socialistic countries do better at keeping kids in school -- they also provide free opportunities for continuing education. That's probably at least as big of a factor here that I didn't think of before.
#3 - The #1 cause of death - by a very wide margin - of older teens in the US is car accidents.

Mentor
Those are some good countries on that list, I don't see the problem.
Actually, the biggest problem is the presentation. The title of the thread and the title of the NPR article are highly misleading about what the study says about the US. One of the worst in a group of 20 is probably actually one of the best of the world's 200+ countries. The NPR article is titled: "U.S. on List of UNICEF's Worst Countries for Kids". No such list exists in that article and worst countries out of what group (perhaps that's the reason for the OP's mischaracterization?) is key to not misunderstanding the study. Those types of things really irritate me.

Mentor
But I was thinking of something else: single income vs. two-income families. This study says its better to have two working parents than a stay-at-home Mom or Dad. Maybe yes, maybe no, but wouldn't it be better to rank this directly rather than by proxy?
Agreed - I didn't think of that.

Gold Member
BTW: Socialist? What does that even mean? It's not like Sweden is, or ever has been, a planned economy.
Eh? Certainly some parts of the Swedish economy are planned, as they are owned and run by the government. Aren't the railroads, the mining company LKAB, and the banks all government owned in Sweden?

And it's worth noting the Swedish economy is in some respects less regulated than the US economy. (e.g. They have no legal minimum wage.)
Agreed. And a lower business tax than the US.

Gold Member
I don't know why anyone bothers any more about this or that UN study. They're agenda driven crap. Show me something from an international journal on pediatrics perhaps, but not some numbers stew thrown together where the numbers have little to do with whatever label the political hacks slapped on it.

Mentor
Actually that should be below 50% of the national median, not just below the national median.
Nope, the third criteria lists a few things and it makes its point based on that:

Does your family own a car, van or truck?
Do you have your own bedroom for yourself?
During the past 12 months, how many times did you travel away on holiday with your family?
How many computers does your family own?
Youre right - I just read the summary, which says:

-percentage of children reporting
low family affluence
– percentage of children reporting
few educational resources
– percentage of children reporting
fewer than 10 books in the
home

...and didn't realize there were specific questions behind those generalities. Still:
So it isn't subjective at all. Edit: Of course except how you define, car van truck, own room, travel away with your family and computer.
That, and I think the "fewer than 10 books" is an odd measure of affluence. The US is in the top 3rd of the first category, middle of the second and near the botom of the last - so that is what drops us well below average in that category which combines the three. They give only a 1 sentence justification of even having the third category:
"Figure 1.3c shows the percentage of children
reporting fewer than 10 books in the
home – a suggested indicator of the
deprivation of cultural resources"