Is Child Wellbeing Better in More Equal Rich Countries?

“I made this image in Hickman Park in the post-industrial town of Bilston in the West Midlands. The park itself was built in honour of a local businessman and politician who played a huge part in making the town one of the engine rooms of the Industrial Revolution. It made me think of legacy and future generations.” The well-being and behaviour of young people get a lot of attention in the media, with a constant stream of reports on youth violence, drunkenness, antisocial behaviour, obesity, self harm, and teenage sex. A recent UNICEF report, which put together 40 indicators of child well-being in rich countries, concluded that while children in Britain fared less well than in any other country, those in the United States hardly did better.

The UNICEF index measured six different aspects of child well-being. Material well-being included such things as living in a home with few books, or where no adult was employed. Health and safety included items like immunization rates and deaths from accidents. Educational well-being included scores on performance tests and the proportion of children going into further education. Peer and family relationships were measured by such things as whether or not children viewed their peers as kind, and the numbers of children living in single parent and step-parent families. Behaviours and risks included smoking and drinking, how many children had sex by age 15, etc. Subjective well-being included self-rated health and other measures of how children felt about themselves. Better child well-being will come not from more accumulation of individual wealth but instead from better relationships within families and communities.