Are Children Negatively Affected by Growing Up in More Unequal Societies?

“I discovered this sign by a social club in Bilston in the West Midlands. Its message conveyed an ironic sense of fantasy that only children could dream up: a meeting of myth and reality interwoven with a poignant message. It speaks of modern conflict far removed from a child’s world, a confusing world with bewildering and unequal priorities.” In a paper published in the British Medical Journal, British epidemiologists Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett showed that the index of child well-being developed by UNICEF was not related to average living standards in different countries.

There were however strong relationships between child well-being and both income inequality and the proportion of children living on less than half the average income in each country. We found the same patterns when looking at different aspects of child well-being in different states of the USA. Improvements in child wellbeing in rich societies will depend more on reductions in inequality than on further economic growth. As well as affecting health and social cohesion, more unequal societies have lower social mobility and more educational failure, offering fewer opportunities for children to realise their hopes and dreams.