Subjective well-being chart

Family relationships chart
(Pictured: Top = chart showing children’s subjective sense of well-being in OECD countries; Bottom = chart showing the relative quality of “family relationships” in OECD countries. The United Kingdom comes last by a mile in each chart.)

Here is the recent UNICEF report into the well-being of children in developed nations.

The report assesses 21 developed nations – all members of OECD for which sufficient data exists – against six categories: Material well-being; health and safety; educational well-being; family relationships; behaviours and risks; and subjective well-being.

The United Kingdom comes last, with an average ranking of 18 (out of 21). The United States comes in second-to-last, with an average ranking of 18.2. Our nearest “rivals” are Hungary, which had an average ranking of 14.5.

The only category in which the United Kingdon is not in the bottom third is “health and safety” (we are 12th). Otherwise, in no category do we rise above 17th. The position for the United States is just about identical – best result 12th (in “educational well-being”) and otherwise no better than 17th in any category.

Our children are poorer, iller, less well-educated, have worse family relationships, adopt more risky behaviour and feel worse than in any other developed nation that keeps relevant statistics. It is grim. It is sad. It is not surprising.

I mean, how often have you noticed British people being horrible to or about children? How often have you noticed that children in other European countries are made more welcome in, say, restaurants or bars, than they are here or in the United States? How many Spaniards do you know who think babies are icky? How many Swedes do you know who think breasts are for daddies only? How many children in other countries are treated with the same total disrespect that children here are expected to just put up with, as a normal fact of life?

We Anglo-Saxons are amazingly uncool about children. Is it any wonder that they are unhappy when we have marginalised them, oppressed them and ignored their needs and the needs of their families for such a very long time?


A few points are worth stating, although they in no way detract from the points made above:

  • The statistics on “health and safety” are based on a few easy-to-measure criteria: low birthweight, infant mortality, percentage of children receiving immunisations, and number of people under 18 who die accidentally. Obviously this is likely to miss a great deal of hugely important information. It does not measure mental or emotional health. It does not measure either non-fatal accidents or non-accidental deaths. It does not measure child abuse. Nor does it measure any other key health indicators such as breastfeeding rates, or the incidence of disease. In short, it is a very limited measure.
  • The statistics on “family relationships” (pictured above) do measure important things like how often parents spend time just talking to their children, and whether children find their peers (other children) to be “kind and helpful”. But they also measure how many children live in single parent families or step families. Personally I find it deeply offensive that my family is deemed to be less satisfactory from the point of view of my daughter’s family relationships than if her biological father happened to live with us. Frankly, I think we’re both better off without him: yet his absence is assumed to be a strike against us. I have hinted before at my views about this assumption, and have promised a detailed explanation. This will be forthcoming at some point, but for now, I simply wish to register my dissatisfaction. This measure is at best a blunt instrument. It is like trying to measure the number of children who are failed by the school system by seeing how many are educated at home. It is like trying to measure the incidence of mumps by counting the number of days children are absent from school. It is like trying to measure a person’s happiness by looking at their sexual orientation. It is wrong and silly and offensive.