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Children in high income countries

Children in high income countries

In keeping with UNICEF's universal mandate for children in every country, the Innocenti Report Card series focuses on the well-being of children in high income countries. Each Report Card publication includes league tables ranking OECD and EU countries according to the latest available comparative data. Report Cards are designed to appeal to a wide audience while maintaining academic rigour.

Innocenti Report Cards are valuable advocacy tools for bringing the well-being of children and their families in industrialized countries to the attention of the public, policy decision makers and the news media. UNICEF Innocenti's Report Card 15, An Unfair Start: Inequality in Children’s Education in Rich Countries, presents a comprehensive assessment of current levels of inequalities of educational opportunity in rich countries, using the best and most up-to-date data available. It also discusses what can be done to reduce these inequalities.  The report establishes a point of departure for reviewing progress towards minimising educational inequality for children in rich countries. It compares 41 countries of the European Union (EU) and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).

Established in 2000, the Innocenti Report Card series has analyzed a wide variety of themes in the living conditions of children and adolescents. The series constitutes one of UNICEF’s major efforts to provide a set of child well-being monitoring instruments focused on rich economies. It has also provided a regular high-profile platform for improved evidence based efforts for the most deprived children in these countries.

Publications

Worlds of Influence: Understanding What Shapes Child Well-being in Rich Countries
Publication Publication

Worlds of Influence: Understanding What Shapes Child Well-being in Rich Countries

A new look at children from the world’s richest countries offers a mixed picture of their health, skills and happiness. For far too many, issues such as poverty, exclusion and pollution threaten their mental well-being, physical health and opportunities to develop skills. Even countries with good social, economic and environmental conditions are a long way from meeting the targets set in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. Focused and accelerated action is needed if these goals are to be met. The evidence from 41 Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) and European Union (EU) countries tells its own story: from children’s chances of survival, growth and protection, to whether they are learning and feel listened to, to whether their parents have the support and resources to give their children the best chance for a healthy, happy childhood. This report reveals children’s experiences against the backdrop of their country’s policies and social, educational, economic and environmental contexts.
2018 Results Report
Publication Publication

2018 Results Report

In 2018, significant gains were made in generating evidence to improve the lives of the most disadvantaged children, build organizational capacity to conduct and use quality, ethical research on children, and set a foundation as an important convening centre for expert consultation on next-generation ideas on children. 2018 marks the first year the UNICEF Office of Research - Innocenti is reporting on the progress of research under the new UNICEF Strategic Plan (2018-2021). This plan is the first to clearly delineate the role of research and evidence as one of the eight priority change strategies for children. This report therefore is an account of the first year of work to generate critical evidence to inform programmes, policies and advocacy for children and young people around the world
Are the world’s richest countries family friendly? Policy in the OECD and EU
Publication Publication

Are the world’s richest countries family friendly? Policy in the OECD and EU

Children get a better start in life and parents are better able to balance work and home commitments in countries that have family-friendly policies. These include paid parental leave, support for breastfeeding and affordable, high-quality childcare and preschool education. This report looks at family-friendly policies in 41 high- and middle-income countries using four country-level indicators: the duration of paid leave available to mothers; the duration of paid leave reserved specifically for fathers; the share of children below the age of three in childcare centres; and the share of children between the age of three and compulsory school age in childcare or preschool centres. Sweden, Norway and Iceland are the three most family-friendly countries for which we have complete data. Cyprus, Greece and Switzerland occupy the bottom three places. Ten of the 41 countries do not have sufficient data on childcare enrolment to be ranked in our league table. There is not enough up-to-date information available for us to compare across countries the quality of childcare centres or breastfeeding rates and policies. There is scope for the world’s richest countries to improve their family policies and collect better data.

Journal Articles

Comparing inequality in adolescents’ reading achievement across 37 countries and over time: outcomes versus opportunities
Journal Article Journal Article

Comparing inequality in adolescents’ reading achievement across 37 countries and over time: outcomes versus opportunities

This paper assesses two approaches to the measurement of educational inequality in international comparisons between countries and over time. We analyse reading literacy performance of 15-year-old students using data from PISA 2009 and 2015 for 37 EU and OECD countries. We show that inequality of outcome and inequality of opportunity do not necessarily co-vary; they can go in opposite directions both across countries and over time. Our results suggest that indicators of variation in educational outcomes are more suitable to the types of problems that affect international comparisons of educational achievement than the more common approach of measuring of inequality of opportunity.
Household income and sticky floors in children’s cognitive development: Evidence from the United Kingdom Millennium Cohort Study
Journal Article Journal Article

Household income and sticky floors in children’s cognitive development: Evidence from the United Kingdom Millennium Cohort Study

While there is a rich literature on the socio-economic gaps in children’s average cognitive test scores in the United Kingdom, there is less evidence on the differences in children’s transitions along the ability distribution. Using data from five sweeps of the UK Millennium Cohort Study at the ages of 9 months, 3 years, 5 years, 7 years and 11 years, this paper analyses the role of household income, relative to other socio-economic factors, in influencing children’s chances of moving up or down the age-specific cognitive ability distribution as they grow older. Descriptive findings indicate a high level of variability between ages 3 and 11, but children from income-poor households are more likely to get trapped in the bottom of the age-specific cognitive ability distribution. Event history analysis shows that household income protects children from falling into the lowest-performing group without necessarily helping existing low performers improve. In contrast, parental education both protects children from slipping into low performance and helps them move up if they fall into it. While this is, perhaps, disheartening because household income is more amenable to policy than parental education, there is potential for income-enhancing policies to protect children from scoring poorly in the first place.
The outcomes of the crisis for pensioners and children
Journal Article Journal Article

The outcomes of the crisis for pensioners and children

When the final review is written on the impact of the global financial crisis that began in 2007 it will conclude that the main beneficiaries were pensioners and the main victims have been children. That final review is still some way off: economic growth is still tentative; most European Union countries are mired in deficit; austerity (or in the words preferred by the European Commission “fiscal consolidation”) rules. We are not the first to point to this phenomenon. A study of the short-term impact of the Great Recession (up to 2011) on household incomes by Jenkins et al (2013) using six country case studies (Germany, Ireland, Italy, Sweden, the UK and the USA) found greater increases or slower declines in poverty among children than among the elderly. Hills et al. (2014) analysed the distributional impact of tax and benefit reforms over the period 2001-2011 in seven diverse EU countries: (Hills et al., 2014). The study showed that, on the whole, policy changes tended to be more favourable to pensioners than children. But it is worth pointing out that very little attention has been paid to this evident unfairness. Analysts of social policy seem reluctant to trade the interest of children against the interest of pensioners. After all, they might argue, both groups are vulnerable and may take the view that more important than horizontal equity is vertical equity – inequality has also been increasing. Even NGOs with interests in children and child poverty seem reluctant to draw the contrast. An honourable exception was the UNICEF (2014) Innocenti Report Card 12 which compared changes in the under 18 and 65-plus anchored poverty rates 2008-2012 and found that the difference in difference had moved in favour of pensioners in every country of the EU except Poland, Switzerland and Germany. We shall repeat and update that analysis. It is particularly surprising that the European Commission has not paid more attention to this trend given its emphasis on social investment. Protecting pensioners more than children seems the reverse of what one might expect from a social investment strategy, especially given the proven costs of child poverty (Hirsch 2014).

News & Commentary

The why and how of measuring sustainable development goals for children in high income countries
Article Article

The why and how of measuring sustainable development goals for children in high income countries

(15 June 2017) For the 14th edition of the Innocenti Report Card – a nearly annual publication ranking the high income countries of the world on a topical aspect of child well-being – our research team has chosen to take on a set of sizable challenges. We are publishing here, in full, the introduction of the Report to provide an accessible explanation of how this edition came to be. (Download the full report in English, French, Spanish or Italian here)This Report Card offers an assessment of child well-being in the context of sustainable development across 41 countries of the European Union (EU) and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). This group includes both high- and middle-income economies, but here we refer to them all as ‘high-income countries’ – or ‘rich countries’, for convenience. The concept of child well-being is rooted in the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) but the Agenda for Sustainable Development adds new dimensions. Progress across all these dimensions will be vital to children, and advanced economies will therefore need to monitor the situation of children and young people both nationally and globally. The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) agreed by the international community in 2015 represent an ambitious effort to set a global agenda for development that is both equitable and sustainable, in social, economic and environmental terms. The earlier Millennium development Goals (MDGs) prioritized the reduction of poverty, as well as progress in related social indicators. The 17 goals of the SDGs add to this a series of outcomes associated with inequality, economic development, the environment and climate change, as well as peace and security. In contrast to the MDGs, which primarily applied to low- and middle income countries, the ambitious agenda of the SDGs is of necessity universal; it thus applies to rich countries, as well as poor.The stronger focus of the SDGs on equitable development and on leaving no one behind also demands attention to inequalities along multiple dimensions – of income and wealth, health and educational opportunity, as well as voice and political participation – both within and between countries. Addressing rising inequality and its related problems requires a focus not just on the conditions of the poorest, but also on the consequences of wealth accumulation by the richest. As countries seek to meet the SDGs, so the changing political landscape will require new approaches to ensure inclusive and sustainable outcomes. Long-term, inclusive and sustainable social goals are best met through attention to the needs of children. Ensuring the well-being and realizing the rights of all children (including migrants and refugees) is not only a commitment made by those states that have signed the CRC, but is also an essential condition for achieving long-term development goals. Every high-income country invests in its children: healthy, educated children are better able to fulfil their potential and contribute to society. By contrast, problems of child development often carry through into adulthood, with the resulting social costs accruing to the next generation, too. Indeed, achieving the SDGs is about ensuring that future generations have the opportunities enjoyed by the present generation: successful outcomes for today’s children will build the foundations for the wellbeing of our societies tomorrow. Commitments to the SDGs made by governments now need to be translated into programmes and public investments that can deliver on this wide-ranging set of goals and their 169 accompanying targets. While many goals require commitment at the global or multilateral action level if they are to be achieved (particularly those associated with climate change and the global economy), they also demand national action. If countries are to be held to account for their progress towards these goals, appropriate indicators for monitoring that progress are necessary. UNICEF has long been at the forefront of global efforts to monitor life outcomes and social progress for children, and it now plays a leading role in monitoring child-related SDG indicators (see Box 2: UNICEF’s global role in SDG monitoring, page 6). Many of the SDG indicators proposed by the global community are most appropriate for lower income contexts. Report Card 14 proposes an adapted set of indicators to assess countries’ performance against the promise of “leaving no one behind” when national circumstances, ambitions and existing levels of social progress are already well advanced (see Box on the right: How have Report Card 14 indicators been selected?). Specifically, this report seeks to bring the SDG targets for children in high-income countries into meaningful operation (while staying true to the ambitions of the global agenda) and to establish a point of departure for reviewing the SDG framework in these contexts. It focuses on those goals and targets with most direct relevance to the well-being of children in high-income settings. Where appropriate, it adapts the agreed SDG indicator, the better to reflect the problems facing children in such countries (see Table 1 pages 4-5).Although limited by the lack of comparable data in some domains, this report compares 41 countries across 25 indicators. As in other Report Cards, countries are ranked on their achievements in well-being for children according to the selected indicators. The Report Card cannot provide an in-depth analysis of the reasons behind differences, nor of the policy options available for making progress on selected indicators. Nonetheless, by illustrating variation along key dimensions of child well-being related to the SDGs – from ending poverty to promoting peaceful and inclusive societies – it suggests areas where policy efforts or public investment may be targeted to improve outcomes, and reveals where data inadequacies still need to be addressed. 
Global launch of Innocenti Report Card 14 on children and SDGs in rich countries
Article Article

Global launch of Innocenti Report Card 14 on children and SDGs in rich countries

Sarah Cook, Director of UNICEF’s Office of Research-Innocenti in Florence, Italy. (22 June 2017) The global launch of Innocenti Report Card 14, Building the Future: Children and the Sustainable Development Goals in Rich Countries, was held 15 June at the Royal Society in London. Each year the report is launched at an international event designed to promote discussion and exchange of views on policy implications for child well-being that can be drawn from the Report Card findings.Dr. Sarah Cook, Director of UNICEF Innocenti, delivered the keynote presentation. She stressed the universality of the SDG’s which are applicable to all countries regardless of income level, and provided details of how a high level of national income is not a guarantee of sustainable development. “The SDGs give us an opportunity to identify the gaps in global monitoring of child well-being. How do we measure that? Where are the gaps? Where we may need new data, or we need better policies to improve trends?” said Cook in her keynote remarks. (View presentation below)Innocenti Report Card 14: Children and the Sustainable Development Goals in Rich Countries from UNICEF Office of Research - Innocenti “The report helps to put children firmly in the centre of achieving the sustainable development goals, achieving equity and sustainability for all children, leaving no child behind, recognizing that meeting the sustainable development goals requires a focus on every child, in order for us to achieve sustainability in the future, but also to improve their well-being today.”Jan Vandemoortele, Independent expert, PhD in Development Economics, served in various capacities with the United Nations for over 30 years. Following the keynote presentation an expert panel discussion was organized and moderated by UK social affairs journalist and writer Louise Tickle. Panelist Jan Vandemoortele, independent expert, observed: “I think the value of this report is that is shows the member states of the OECD and the EU that these SDGs are truly universal in the sense that they apply as much to rich countries as they apply to poor countries, in different ways of course. It’s not only an agenda about development assistance.”Panelist Romina Boarini, adviser and researcher with OECD noted: “When you start looking at the details of the performance, let’s say the less traditional categories brought up by the SDGs, we start learning very interesting and surprising results. Norway, that actually tops the league, does poorly on goals such as peace, justice and institutions… And there are opposite examples, because you have countries that are classified at the bottom of the table, countries like Mexico and Portugal, that actually do pretty well in some of the dimensions.”Romina Boarini, Senior Advisor to Secretary General and Coordinator of the Inclusive Growth Initiative, OECD. Portugal’s average rank was 1st among all countries in health and Mexico’s average was 4th in education in the Report Card 14 League Table. Norway’s average rank in peace, justice and strong institutions was 30th out of the 41 countries measured.“If you were to look at the 41 countries in the Report and if you were to look at their newspaper headlines during their most recent election campaigns, just to see the number of times that children were in the newspaper… I think you would find that it was very rare that children made the headlines,” said panelist Richard Morgan, Global Director for child poverty at Save the Children. “The most practical thing is to get children at the centre of our policy concerns in each of our countries, in the rich world as well as the less fortunate societies around the world," said panelist Richard Morgan, Global Director for child poverty with Save the Children. “It’s only by making children, and the complexity of the problems they face, visible, that we are going to get public policy to address them through government spending, through legislation, through data collection… I think the starting point is that we make sure children are not getting poorer, that we have policies that don’t make children poorer.”Lily Caprani, Deputy Executive Director, UNICEF UK. Lily Caprani, Deputy Executive Director of UNICEF UK highlighted the significance of the Report Card findings for the United Kingdom. “The positive news in here is that the UK, as you would hope, does find itself, overall, in the upper third…I’m not, unfortunately, surprised to see across the OECD countries there are really big stresses and strains on adolescent mental health. …That’s storing up huge problems for the future. That is, in my view, an emergency, and I don’t mean than in terms of a UN emergency, it is an urgent policy priority.” The UK average ranking on the Report Card league table was 16th in poverty, 34th in hunger and 6th in reduced inequalities.Panelist Richard Morgan highlighted the significance of findings in the Report Card on the effectiveness of social transfers in reducing child poverty: “The report also shows that where you have effective, adequate social protection transfers to the poorest households then you make a big dent in child poverty…I think it is very important that we subject every policy measure including on the economic front, every big economic decision to a test: is it going to harm children? And if it is we need to modify it.”On the alarming data in Report Card 14 showing that 1 in 5 children live in poverty, combined with the widening gap in income inequality across most high income countries, Lily Caprani reflected: “This is based on an understanding of children’s lived experience, and when they tell us they are missing out, when they’re in relative poverty it’s not about whether they’ve got this pound or not, it’s about whether they can be involved in the life they expect to be involved in, it’s about 'do they have the same kind of opportunities to be involved in'…It’s about being able to fulfill their potential.”Finally, when asked if the SDGs were realistic given the recent climate of retreat in many countries from the international order where sustainable development goals were unquestioned, Jan Vandemoortele sounded an optimistic note: “We live in a world where nationalism is resurgent, all over the world. The US is the best example. We saw it recently, they walked away from an international agreement on climate change, the Paris Accord. The good news is: What did the others do? Did the others run away? They stayed with it and actually they probably bonded stronger… We all know, deep down, that this is serious, that the situation calls for us to act. We have no choice but to deliver on the sustainable development agenda.”
New Innocenti Report Card offers blueprint for progress on SDGs in rich countries
Article Article

New Innocenti Report Card offers blueprint for progress on SDGs in rich countries

The first report to assess the status of children in 41 high-income countries in relation to SDGs reveals surprising facts and figures.

Events

Worlds of Influence: Shaping policies for child well-being in rich countries
Event Event

Worlds of Influence: Shaping policies for child well-being in rich countries

UNICEF Innocenti’s Report Card 16 – Worlds of Influence: Understanding what shapes child well-being in rich countries – offers a mixed picture of children’s health, skills and happiness. For far too many children, issues such as poverty, exclusion and pollution threaten their mental well-being, physical health and opportunities to develop skills. The evidence from 41 OECD and EU countries tells a comprehensive story: from children’s chances of survival, growth and protection, to whether they are learning and feel listened to, to whether their parents have the support and resources to give their children the best chance for a healthy, happy childhood. This report reveals children’s experiences against the backdrop of their country’s policies and social, educational, economic and environmental contexts.This panel discussion, timed with the global launch of Report Card 16, comes at a moment when policy makers are asking deep questions about how to ensure child well-being in the light of one of the worst global pandemics in many decades. In it, we delve deeply into the findings of Report Card 16 to better understand how its findings may shape the increasingly uncertain world children are living in. And we examine how the comparative data in this and previous editions of Report Card can support policies for child well-being, looking at previous outcome-based indicators as well as newer context and conditions indicators which are presented in the latest edition of Report Card.Confirmed panelists:Senator Rosemary Moodie, CanadaMr. Nicolas Schmit, European Commissioner for Jobs and Social RightsMs. Denitsa Sacheva, Minister of Labour and Social Policy, BulgariaMr. Fayaz King, Deputy Executive Director,  Field Results and Innovation, UNICEFMr. Dominic Richardson, Chief of Social and Economic Policy, UNICEF Office of Research – Innocenti

Project team

Dominic Richardson

UNICEF Innocenti

Anna Gromada

UNICEF Innocenti

Gwyther Rees

UNICEF Innocenti

Videos

Related

Innocenti Project(s) 2014-2015:

Report Card 12

Innocenti Project(s) 2013:

Report Card 11

Innocenti Project(s) 2010-2012:

Child well-being, poverty and overlapping deprivation analysis in rich countries (Report Card 10)

Innocenti Project(s) 2006-2009:

Understanding child poverty and wellbeing

PROJECTS ARCHIVE

Topics

Child Poverty

Campaigns

An Unfair Start. Inequality in Children’s Education in Rich Countries

Blogs

What drives changes in inequality in child well-being in rich countries?

EU youth: not in employment, education or training

Children of the recession. The great leap backwards

Journal articles

Comparing inequality in adolescents’ reading achievement across 37 countries and over time: outcomes versus opportunities

Household income and sticky floors in children’s cognitive development: Evidence from the United Kingdom Millennium Cohort Study

Unemployment, social protection spending and child poverty in the European Union during the Great Recession

Child Poverty in the European Union: the Multiple Overlapping Deprivation Analysis Approach (EU-MODA)

Perceptions of the Economic Crisis in Europe: Do Adults in Households with Children Feel a Greater Impact?

Related external links

Why is “anchoring” the best way to monitor child poverty during an economic crisis?

Child poverty vs. pensioner poverty in the EU