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Unicef measures of child well-being are better in more equal societies.
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.
In a paper published in the British Medical Journal, we showed that the Unicef index of child well-being 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.
Pickett, K. E., & Wilkinson, R. G. (2007). Child wellbeing and income inequality in rich societies: ecological cross sectional study. British Medical Journal, 335(7629), 1080-86.
Wilkinson RG, Pickett KE. The Spirit Level. Penguin. 2009. Buy the book from Amazon.