Tuesday, March 6, 2007

U.S. & UK: "Worst places to be a child"

UNICEF released a study last month that ranked more than 20 developed nations in six categories: material wealth, health, education, relationships, risky behaviors, and children’s subjective well-being. The result? “The United States and Britain ranked as the worst places to be a child,” reported the LA Times. The U.S. and Britain placed in the bottom third in all six categories, except for education, in which the U.S. ranked 12th. The Netherlands ranked highest on an average of all categories, followed by Sweden and Denmark.

Call it hindsight bias, but it wasn’t too shocking to find that America and Britain are not the optimal places to raise children. This study merely lends more support to the conclusion (backed up by lots of research) that money does not buy happiness; that is, although the U.S. and Britain are among the most developed countries in the world, well-being does not automatically result. In fact, it seems that what money is buying actually blinds us from non-material capital, such as friends and kin.

“The findings that we got,” says Jonathan Bradshaw, one of the report’s authors and a professor of social policy at York University in England, “are a consequence of long-term underinvestment in children.” It seems that falling ill to capitalism’s main objective of monetary gain has unfortunately blindsighted parents to the developmental impact of children’s social needs. With the desire to accumulate financial capital comes the obligation to spend more time at work and essentially leave children to occupy their time with activities and toys that do not require parent-child interaction. For example, the U.S. and Britain have higher per capita income than the Czech Republic, but according to the study, the Czech Republic has a more equitable distribution of wealth and higher educational and public health investment.

This report supports the idea that well-being involves more than money. More research should try to provide a better sense of how different developed countries actually do or don't cultivate well-being in their citizens. "All countries have weaknesses to be addressed," says UNICEF's Marta Santos Pais, the study's director.


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