A Paradise for Children?

by Ingrid Robeyns on February 15, 2007

UNICEF has released a study on the well-being of children in 21 OECD countries. The countries are ranked according to their average child well-being. The top four are the Netherlands, Sweden, Denmark, and Finland, and the bottom two are the United States and the United Kingdom. Ranking countries always attracts the attention of the media, with the Dutch media proudly announcing that children are nowhere as happy as in the Netherlands, and the BBC reporting on reactions in the UK.

Here are some thoughts about this report from a Dutch perspective—I’ll leave it to others to comment on the problems the UK, USA or other countries are facing. What follows are just some thoughts for discussion and not a full explanation of why the Dutch are so high in this ranking (for other discussions of the report, see here, here and here)

The UNICEF report looks at 6 dimensions: material well-being, health and safety, educational well-being, family and peer relationships, behaviours and risks, and subjective well-being. The Netherlands ranks in the top three for all except education (6th place) and material well-being (10th place). I am not surprised by these findings: this country is very child-centered indeed. The comparative data in the report (pp. 42 to 45) show that the Netherlands scores especially well on a number of indicators that have in part an explanation rooted in the particularities of the Dutch welfare state, and perhaps in Dutch culture too. The low percentage of children reporting low family affluence is due to the income redistribution policies, and to my mind it’s no surprise that the ranking is topped by countries that have high levels of income redistribution. The low percentage of children with low birth weight is probably explained by the high-quality pre-natal system. The high levels of immunization are not surprising either, since immunizations are free and given during compulsory visits to the child health center – parents have to explicitly opt out, and very few do so. The low percentage of deaths from accidents and injuries (only Sweden does better) may well be due to the Dutch expertise in spatial planning – and this is not just protecting children, but adults too. Dutch children score high on family relations, which are measured by low numbers living in single parent households or in step families, the high percentage eating their main meal with their parents around a table several times a week, their parents spending time just talking to them, and their peers being kind and helpful. Other remarkable figures are the low teenage pregnancy rates (not surprsing since sex is no taboo in this country and hence all youngsters are informed about contraceptive strategies), and the good results on the subjective survey questions- few Dutch children feel awkward, an outsider, or lonely.

How can we explain these good results? In the Netherlands, children are taken extremely seriously, and few families have hierarchical structures: children are considered the equals of their parents. In an interview with the BBC, Paul Vangeert, a developmental psychologist, argues that “less pressure is put on them at school”. He is also right in pointing out that Dutch parents spend lots of time with their children: the Dutch have relatively many holidays and short annual working hours, which is in large part due to the fact that most mothers work very few hours. Other factors that may explain this good result for the Netherlands are that public spaces are quite child-friendly, with lots of open playgrounds and parks in the cities. In addition, school hours are short, and most children do not go to after-school activities where they are creatively, intellectually, or physically challenged, but rather go home to play with the other kids in the street. There are lots of opportunities for children to play and socialise in a non-competitive, cosy and friendly setting.

Of course, these results are fantastic, and this study confirms my own intuition that, on average, the Netherlands is a better place to raise a child than the UK or the USA – which is my standard response if people ask me why I don’t want to work (for the time being) at a British or American university. But rather than joining the chorus of applause, let me raise some critical comments. If the reasons I listed of why Dutch children are so happy are correct, then I have two concerns.

First, Dutch children may be happy at schools, but what do they learn? In the UNICEF-study, the percentage of children who report “liking school a lot” is 34.4%, with only Norway (38.9%) and Austria (36,1%) doing better. Of course, the more children like going to school, the better – but schools should not be organised in such a way as to make it as fun as possible for students. This view that children can be considered to be autonomous and should have a good time, has only been reinforced by educational reforms in the last decades which have propagated the so-called “New Learning”, whereby children have been given more autonomy in deciding what to learn, and in learning to collect information and present information and opinions, rather than actually learning knowledge. Are French and German too difficult? Then why bother learning it, no-one forces you to do so. Why study history or geography if you can find all information in Wikipedia? In the Dutch debate, there is a consensus emerging that the educational reforms and this ‘New Learning’ have done more harm than good, and that children are increasingly lacking sufficient knowledge and skills in mathematics, sciences, and writing skills. In short, I think that these anti-hierarchical views on children’s education, whereby children are seen as equals to their parents and teachers, have harmed the children educational capital in the long run.

I may be too pessimistic here, since the results for writing, mathematics and science literacy in the report are not alarming (yet). But this may be underreported in the UNICEF report, since the data used are already a few years old. I take the facts that the Dutch Parliament has just decided to start an investigation about the problems caused by the educational reforms, and that universities report that first-year law students are no longer able to write decently, or that first year engineer students no longer have the necessary basics in mathematics, as more than worrisome.

Second, the BBC reports Vangeert saying that “Dutch children almost rule the family.” This is not just in terms of voicing their will, but also in the time that they claim from their parents – that is, mainly their mothers. The Dutch child-centered culture puts enormous demands on parents (read: mothers). 93% of the Dutch population finds that the ideal working week of mothers with pre-school children is three days or less, whereas 84% finds that fathers should ideally work 4 or 5 days (Emancipatiemonitor 2006, p. 124). Parents (read: especially mothers) are expected to be actively involved in the schools of their kids, and good mothers bake the birthday cakes of their kids themselves. The fact that the rights of part-time workers are very well protected in the Netherlands probably is part of the explanation of why so many mothers work part time, and hence why children spend so much time with their parents. (This shows that the politics of time should become much more central to thinking about the well-being effects of the welfare state in an international comparative perspective).

It seems to me that in the Netherlands, the price of children’s well-being is being paid by the taxpayers, who are funding a rather generous system of welfare state provisions, and by mothers, who are cutting back on time in the labour market or on other activities in order to spend more time with their children. In so far as the latter is caused by fathers’ refusal to cut back on their working hours, or by strong motherhood ideology, this should be a concern. To me it is also no surprise that 20% of the women aged between 26 and 30 voluntarily choose not to have children (Emancipatiemonitor p. 30). In another survey among women aged between 27 and 42, 44% reported not to want children, and 72% believes that a demanding job cannot be combined with having children. I am all in favour of a child-centred welfare state where we spend lots of money on all children (especially the worst-off), by generously funding education and the health care system. And I also support the social norms that parents should be willing to cut back on their own personal projects (such as developing a career) for the sake of their children. You can’t have children and pretend as if nothing has changed and you can still work more than full-time on the labour market. But if these ‘personal costs’ are not shared fairly between fathers and mothers, then the price of children’s well-being is disproportionately paid by mothers, and more and more will simply stop having babies (or try having them when it’s too late). The question is how we can develop a children’s paradise that will avoid these problems.

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{ 42 comments }

1

harry b 02.15.07 at 1:37 pm

Thanks ingrid. I’ve downloaded but not yet looked at the whole report, and will try to do something on the UK/US if I ever get to read it properly. I want to take issue, though, with some of the thoughts about education. The comments you make are right enough, but I think that almost everyone believes that their education system is pretty terrible, whatever country they are in, and there is a point at which you have to ask “compared with what?”. Certainly not compared with the past, compared with which most OECD education systems are pretty good, perhaps not in terms of what they do for the very brightest, but certainly in terms of what they do for everyone else (and I’m not convinced about the very brightest either). Compared with each other? Well, if we’re all complaining what’s going on? The PISA and TIMMS data are not brilliant bases of comparison (they should be used with extreme caution) and we have very little else by way of international comparisons. Relatively poor kids do badly in every system we know — the reason that redistributive countries have much higher low end scores is that they have much fewer relatively poor kids. But even they do better, educationally, than in the past when no-one tried to educate them anyway. There is a golden age of the 40’s-70’s in some couontries, but that was not a golden age of high achievement among poor kids, it was a golden age of relatively good employment opportunities for people who hadn’t been educated.

I think the thing to do when addressing a particular country’s education system is to note those things that could be changed for the better within the system — that we know do work better elsewhere, rather than confidently making all-things-considered comparisons. The main thing the UK and US could do to close the achievement gap would be to close the income and wealth gaps — and, in fact, I think progress on that is what could explain improvement at the low end in the UK.

2

Chris Bertram 02.15.07 at 2:29 pm

I was amused to see that one reason the UK did badly was that teenagers apparently get to have a lot of sex and have easy access to alcohol. Whilst this may disrecommend the UK in the eyes of UNICEF researchers, the teenagers themselves may not share their values.

I’m sure UK house prices are a big factor. When our kids were small we both had to work full-time to pay the mortgage on a tiny flat in east London, and that meant long hours for the children at childminders and nurseries (and later at after-school clubs). Looking back, I think that there might have been better options, but it didn’t seem so at the time (and I’m sure that lots of people in the UK are under the same pressures).

3

harry b 02.15.07 at 2:35 pm

I would be more on your side about this (the first para) Chris, if the issue was access. But in fact in many of the higher ranked countries attitudes to sex and alcohol are more liberal than in the US and UK. I especially doubt that early sexual activity is something which contributes to wellbeing in a culture where that is strongly disapproved of.
puritanically yours….

4

Chris Bertram 02.15.07 at 2:42 pm

Harry, I wasn’t being altogether serious (as I hoped you realised).

5

harry b 02.15.07 at 2:48 pm

No, I realised. But it did crystallise the thought above, that had been inchaotely sitting there since I heard about it yesterday. I wonder how they deal with that (or rather, how they would deal with it if it were the case that societies with more liberal attitudes about teen sex and drinking had more, rather than less, teen sex and drinking).

6

Uncle Kvetch 02.15.07 at 2:50 pm

But in fact in many of the higher ranked countries attitudes to sex and alcohol are more liberal than in the US and UK.

In a BBC News story on the study, it’s pointed out that liberal Dutch attitudes about things like marijuana, alcohol and premarital sex serve to take away much of their allure for teenagers. Take away the “rebellion” and “forbidden fruit” factors and the result is that kids end up acting more responsibly.

If only some tiny bit of that message could seep into the “zero tolerance,” “abstinence-only” culture here in the US…but I’m not holding my breath.

7

JR 02.15.07 at 2:52 pm

“low percentage of children with low birth rate”
Did you mean to write “low birth weight”?

8

harry b 02.15.07 at 2:54 pm

uncle kvetch — I’m sure the BBC is right, but you’d need a good study to determine the direction of causation. Could it be rather that when you have lower rates of teen sex and drinking adults feel more relaxed about it?

9

Matt 02.15.07 at 3:42 pm

I’m curious about the accident rate bit. Do you really think the “Dutch expertise in spatial planning” is the explination? Never having been to the Netherlands I can’t say much about it but it sounds like a dubious explination to me. I’d want to know more about safty inspecition and building code regiems before I even considered other explanations. Russia, for example, has one of (perhaps the) highest rates of death and injury due to accidents in the world and this is pretty clearly due to buidling codes and safety inspections being nothing but opportunities to take bribes. Also, at least until very recently there was little penalty for having people hurt on your property even due to negligence in Russia and finally the massive amount of alcholism is thought to contribute quite a bit to the problem. I’d guess that differences like these explain nearly all the difference without having to get into anything as esoteric as “Dutch expertiese in spacial planning”.

10

eweininger 02.15.07 at 3:45 pm

In so far as the latter is caused by fathers’ refusal to cut back on their working hours, or by strong motherhood ideology, this should be a concern.

On the basis of my (partial) familiarity with lit on the allocation of childrearing and household responsibilities in U.S., I would not be at all surprised if evidence could be adduced establishing that this division of labor between mothers and fathers has a cultural basis. Nevertheless, you just can’t ignore the obvious market-based explanation–i.e. that foregoing market work has a opportunity cost which should be minimized for the family as a unit, leading to the withdrawal of the parent with the lower expected wage rate.

One obvious way to get at this, I guess, would be to follow the behavior of couples in which the woman has a greater earning capacity than her partner prior to childbirth, comparing what happens to these families down the road to outcomes for those in which the male partner had the higher wage rate (etc).

11

eweininger 02.15.07 at 3:54 pm

cont. (didn’t mean to hit post)

This implies that, alongside “ideology,” wage parity is a key issue.

12

Uncle Kvetch 02.15.07 at 4:25 pm

uncle kvetch—I’m sure the BBC is right, but you’d need a good study to determine the direction of causation. Could it be rather that when you have lower rates of teen sex and drinking adults feel more relaxed about it?

Could be, certainly–at least in the case of alcohol and sex. But my hunch is that the easy availability of pot really does remove a lot of its transgressive appeal, and thus results in a far smaller “burnout” subculture among teenagers than in the US. But you’re correct that this is just a hunch on my part (as well as a fairly prevalent cultural narrative in the Netherlands, I believe, as I’ve heard it repeated by any number of Dutch people). I’d be very interested in seeing some solid empirical attempt to sort it out.

13

Ingrid Robeyns 02.15.07 at 4:31 pm

jr (@ #7), thanks, I’ve corrected the error.

matt (@ #9), you may well be right that this is not the most important explanation, and I would be very grateful if some specialists who have real knowledge on this issue would comment; but it seems to me that the Dutch ‘planners’ have given much more thought on how to organise their streets then, say, the Belgians; for example, the way the bicycle lanes are safely integrated in the streets – that’s quite an achievement. Also, there are stringent controls on maximum speed, hence these limits are much better respected than in some other countries. But perhaps there are other more important explanations that I’m overlooking…

The issue of housing prices is very intersting too. The last decade has seen a steep rise in housing prices in the Netherlands, which in part has been explained by the fact that the rise in female labour market participation has increased the earning capacities of couples (especially those without kids), and thus also the willingness to pay for housing. Alledgedly (but this was before I immigrated to the NL) in the past the ‘second’ income of the household was not taken into account when calculating the maxmimum mortage level, since it was assumed that the woman would quite the labour market if she became a mother and hence her income was not considered ‘stable’. Now it has become very difficult for young couples to buy some property if they don’t work both.

14

dearieme 02.15.07 at 4:38 pm

“Spatial planning”: my experience is restricted, but your way of organising cycle lanes is far superior to our British shambles. One other thought: you are giving an account of a society that seems to be much less of a “mass society” than the States, and increasingly Britain, and somewhat conservative. It’s a little reminiscent of my childhood in rural Scotland in the 50s. Which was, indeed, followed by the schools going to the dogs.

15

Brendan 02.15.07 at 4:39 pm

‘I’m curious about the accident rate bit. Do you really think the “Dutch expertise in spatial planning” is the explination? Never having been to the Netherlands I can’t say much about it but it sounds like a dubious explination to me’.

There’s a lot of sociological data that shows that there is a strong class element to accident rates, both in general (i.e in the home etc.) and at work. If you think about this makes sense: people who work in coal mines and iron foundries are more likely to have accidents than people who work in boardrooms. Also: it has been demonstrated that companies that do well (i.e. have more profits) tend to do better in terms of health and safety than companies that are doing badly. Again the reason is simple: when there is a lot of money sloshing around you can afford to splash out on that new gizmo that protects you from boiling water from the kettle (or whatever) when profits are low, or negative, then health and safety budgets are the first to feel the pinch. I would imagine that this is the same in terms of households: if you are rich, you can afford to splash out on fancy new electronic smoke alarms: if you are poor, not so much. (Surprisingly, this seems to apply even to things like being a victim of a car accident. It seems that working class kids are more likely to play in the street (a good thing) than middle class kids (who are more ‘cosetted’) but the corollary is that they are also more likely to be knocked down by a car).

So I suspect there is a link between accident rates and the gap between rich and poor and poverty levels in that country.

16

Bill Gardner 02.15.07 at 4:44 pm

“The low percentage of deaths from accidents and injuries (only Sweden does better) may well be due to the Dutch expertise in spatial planning – and this is not just protecting children, but adults too.”

This is most likely low rates of motor vehicle death (this is the leading cause of unintentional injury deaths for US kids). Perhaps the Dutch are safe drivers, or there are fewer roads that permit you to drive fast. (Don’t know why rates would be lower in Sweden.)

There are also intentional injuries to children. It would speak very well for the Dutch if they had a low rate of child maltreatment.

17

Alex R 02.15.07 at 5:40 pm

Regarding accident rates: The very first thing to look at would be the number of miles of automobile travel per child per year. The US, for example, is much more spread out, and American suburbs are notoriously pedestrian and bicycle unfriendly.

18

Paul Ding 02.15.07 at 5:43 pm

Lemme get this straight.

Dad works himself to death, and Mom stays home and plays with the kids, and that’s putting an unfair burden on the *mothers*?

I’m a great-grandfather now – but where were you when I was being roundly criticized for trying to even up the score a little bit?

19

Slocum 02.15.07 at 6:28 pm

I notice that the ‘material well-being’ in the report is really not that but rather a measure of inequality. It seems that the wealth of the non-poor majority has no influence at all on the number. And even the absolute status of the poor (income, wealth, material possessions) does not affect the poverty measure — since it is defined only relative to the median income. A developing country in which the majority lived in tin-roofed shacks on incomes below the U.S. poverty level could still have a higher measure of ‘material well being’ than the U.S. if the general misery were equally shared.

One wonders how these particular measures of material well-being were chosen rather than more obvious measures like median per-capita income of families with kids, or median net worth, or percentage of families with various possessions — homes, cars, internet access, etc, etc. Something more along these lines:

http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0871564300/bookstorenow700-20

20

PJ 02.15.07 at 6:57 pm

You’ve also got to wonder about a metric based on z-scoring and adding together fairly arbitrary scales so that scoring marginally better on some survey happiness measure ends up counting the same as having your kids several times more likely to die.

21

Tracy W 02.15.07 at 7:33 pm

Also: it has been demonstrated that companies that do well (i.e. have more profits) tend to do better in terms of health and safety than companies that are doing badly. Again the reason is simple: when there is a lot of money sloshing around you can afford to splash out on that new gizmo that protects you from boiling water from the kettle (or whatever) when profits are low, or negative, then health and safety budgets are the first to feel the pinch.

Out of curiousity, has this reason been proved?

If not, it also strikes as possible that a company needs to be well-managed to both have high profits and a good health-and-safety record. Eg the skills and organisation used to make sure the company reliabily meets orders, has a low error rate when manufacturing, etc, would also be applied to making sure that safety guards on machines are regularly checked, hard hats are replaced on schedule, everyone is wearing steel-capped boots, etc.

22

dutchmarbel 02.15.07 at 7:34 pm

My husband switched jobs and now works at a bank because the financial sector (like most government jobs) counts 36 hours as a full time job and allows you to do them in 4 days. Which leaves him one day to take care of the kids.

A factor that has not been mentioned yet, is that the average Dutch mother is much older than for instance her British or American counterpart. Average age to have your first child is 29, and the mother usually has worked a few years before she had her children. When trying to have children becomes such a contious decision, you might want to put more time and effort in doing things with them.

The Dutch schoolsystem is not taking account of working parents either. Our kids’ elementary school starts at approximatly 8.30 and you cannot get in school before 8.20. We have to pick them up at 12 for lunch (lunch at school is possible, but you have to pay additionaly and provide lunch). 13.15h school starts again, till 15.15h when school is out. Wednesday afternoons are free, and for younger children (5-8) so are the Friday afternoons.

Day care facilities and after school facilities are slowly improving, but still have waitinglists and can be quite expensive. When my second child was born I had to pay full daycare for 2 pre-school kids (no helping parents), we didn’t get any tax discounts or low income discounts – and thus we had to pay more than my net salary. If you have to you can come up with solutions (sharing the burden with other mums, neighbours, etc.), but it raises a treshold.

When kids are 11-12 years old they go to highschool, and there are no after-school facilities for that age group. School hours vary, but they can be home as early as 1400h, if that is in their schedule, and having class till 1600h is a heavy day.

23

Maynard Handley 02.15.07 at 8:24 pm

“this country [the Netherlands] is very child-centered indeed”

Except for the child labor being exploited to make cheap coffins!

http://www.metro.co.uk/weird/article.html?in_article_id=37254&in_page_id=2

24

CJColucci 02.15.07 at 8:30 pm

And don’t forget the self-esteem boost to Dutch children because Holland’s most famous hero is a little boy who stuck his finger into a dike.

25

leederick 02.15.07 at 9:04 pm

“But if these ‘personal costs’ are not shared fairly between fathers and mothers, more and more [women] will simply stop having babies”

Why is this a problem? If men are deprived of fatherhood because they’re not willing to take on personal costs, it serves them right. If women conclude they can easier find fulfilment in things other than motherhood, that’s fine.

26

Jacob Christensen 02.15.07 at 9:10 pm

Meanwhile in Sweden, leaders of the organisation BRIS (translates into Children’s Rights in Society) claim that bullying in schools and what in Swedish is known as psychic unhealth (psykisk ohälsa) are on the rise.

This is of cause politics: BRIS want an expansion of the number of psychologists available to schools, etc, etc.

But we shall see how and if the report enters Swedish politics. In many ways, what goes for the Netherlands would go for the Scandinavian countries as well.

PS: I have no idea of how the Swedish word ohälsa should be translated. We’re not talking about psychiatric (or physical) disorders in the stricter sense here. I occasionally have the feeling that a Swedes are struck with ohälsa when they aren’t 100% fit in every respect.

27

dutchmarbel 02.15.07 at 9:51 pm

And don’t forget the self-esteem boost to Dutch children because Holland’s most famous hero is a little boy who stuck his finger into a dike.

Except most Dutch children don’t know the story till they meet Americans ;)

Jacob: I couldn’t translate it either, but I think I know what you mean. In the Netherlands there seems to be an urge to label all non-conformistic behaviour as abnormal. So all kids who are slightly more eccentric, energetic, enterprising, docile will be labelled with PDD-NOS, autistic tendencies, ADHD, etc. etc.
Which is a shame, both for the kids who do NOT have it as for the kids who DO have it (and they do exist of course).

28

radek 02.15.07 at 10:00 pm

I’ve only skimmed the report but I’m with slocum on this one. Choosing a relative poverty statistic rather than absolute poverty statistic doesn’t make much sense.
If you look at absolute poverty for children then, depending on where you pick the poverty threshold (absolute poverty is also somewhat relative or at least subjective) the Dutch end up either at #3 (10.4% abs pov rate) right behind UK and US or at #5 behind UK, US, Canada and Finland (with 17.3%, and in that order). With relative poverty they’re either 5th or 6th so in the middle, like with the report.

UK ends up looking bad whichever stat you’re looking at and US does bad for relative and somewhat better for absolute. Interestingly US and Sweden are the only two nations that have seen decreases in relative poverty overall (not just children) since the mid 80’s. Canada and Finland no change, other countries it’s been increasing.

This is from a Winter 06 JEP article.

29

PJ 02.15.07 at 11:06 pm

There are arguments to be made for both absolute and relative poverty as measures. But the report authors start talking about relativising poverty at the subregional level and you have to wonder quite what their point is when they say:

“In 2000, nationally-based
poverty lines revealed a child poverty rate that was four times higher in the mid-South than in Lombardy, whereas state-based poverty lines showed almost no difference between the two. In other words, it was possible for a family living in Sicily or Calabria to fall below the national poverty line whilst being no worse off than most of their fellow Sicilians and Calabrians”

So is it a good or bad thing? Are people in Sicily poor or not? Whilst there is certainly a psychological aspect to poverty (comparing yourself to those around you, which justifies looking at local relative levels) there is also a real cost of living aspect – while this will differ somewhat by region there are still national aspects that mean people in Sicily really are poor, even if everyone else there is also poor.

30

radek 02.15.07 at 11:29 pm

In a category entitled “material well being” you should be looking at absolute poverty. I guess you could put relative poverty in the category “subjective well being” or somethin’

31

Eli Rabett 02.16.07 at 2:25 am

Let me throw in something that has not been commented on. The Netherlands has excellent public transport and is very bike friendly. This means that about from the age of what? 10 or even earlier kids are not dependent on their parents to get everywhere.

It made a major difference in my life (grew up in NYC) that I could get anywhere I wanted in the city with little effort. (at that time it was also pretty safe to ride my bike through the streets). Must have driven my mom spare.

32

taylor 02.16.07 at 4:26 am

Re. the boy who stuck his finger in the dike: When I lived in Amsterdam, I asked one or two Dutch friends about this story, and they had never heard of it. Internet sources say that the story is an invention of an American writer, Mary Mapes Dodge, and is from her novel “Hans Brinker, or The Silver Skates”, published in 1865.

33

Brendan 02.16.07 at 10:34 am

‘Out of curiousity, has this reason been proved?’

There is a paper (i don’t have the reference at the moment) but which carried out this research on the airline industry in the States. I could hunt it out if you want. I hope it’s accurate because I used it to develop a key argument in my last book.

When you see that it’s airlines (and in one country, moreover, a country where health and safety in the industry is fairly highly regulated) you can see why management is not such an issue. In a very high technology industry, generally speaking, the the more modern the technology, the safer it will be. Firms with high profits can afford to buy all these new gizmos and technologies: firms with low profits or which are running at a loss, cannot.

I am extrapolating wildly to apply this to households, but it might be an interesting topic of research.

34

Brendan 02.16.07 at 10:41 am

Sorry: multiple posting, but from the report: ‘the likelihood of a child being injured or killed is
associated with poverty, single parenthood, low maternal education, low maternal age at birth, poor housing, weak family ties, and parental
drug or alcohol abuse.’

Note, however that this relationship must be complex: after all, the UK has terrible (comparatively) relative poverty rates, and yet, except for Sweden, it is the safest of all countries for childhood injuries and accidents.

35

harry b 02.16.07 at 3:32 pm

The relative/absolute poverty issue is indeed complex. I’d go for absolute poverty if we were comparing developing countries, but relative seems right to me (contra radek et al) if comparing only developed countries, in which relative position has more impact on one’s life chance than in developing countries, and absolute poverty is rare. I’m not interested in defending that yet again (so will not respond to objections). BUT if you grant me that relative poverty is the right metric, might it be hard to give it the same weight across the countries being compared? In a country where the poor are despised (the US) and in which population sparsity is such that it really is much harder for the (relatively) poor to access certain public goods (parks, polling booths, low-ish price grocery stores where non-poor people shop, half-decent quality subsidised public transportation etc) it might be a good deal worse to be relatively poor than in some others where either the poor are not despised or where, even though they are, publicly funded public goods are more readily accessible to them.

36

jasper emmering 02.16.07 at 4:16 pm

Re: low motor vehicle deaths

A possible explanation could be that in the Netherlands relatively few teenagers drive cars.

You can’t get your license until you’re 18, taking the exam is expensive, getting the lessons before you take the exam is very expensive, and finally cars are very expensive (high taxes and strict safety checks).

Then there’s the simple fact that Holland is very well suited for cycling, being both compact and flat. Parking, on the other hand, sucks. Also, public transport is pretty good.

Finally, all Dutch students (used to) have access to free public transport as part of their student grant. The program has been cut back so these days students have to choose between free transport on weekdays or on weekends.

37

harry b 02.16.07 at 4:55 pm

right — and American kids start driving the day they turn 16, if not earlier, and my understanding is that the fatality rate plummets even between the ages of 16 and 18. This really is a case where the kids’ values (they really really want to drive) go against the values of the evaluators. The evaluators are right.

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PJ 02.16.07 at 5:57 pm

If you look at the under 19 mortality for Ireland I would imagine that the excess deaths are almost certainly due to the less than safe roads and odd provisional licence system (ah, your second licence because you couldn’t pass on your first – please feel free to drive anyway).

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amcors 02.16.07 at 10:20 pm

I don’t want to start a debate on relative poverty in this thread, since that has been declared verboten. But I’ve been scratching my head about several of the metrics in the UNICEF report since Wednesday, especially relative poverty, and would love to have answers, or links to answers, or whatever is appropariate.

The specific points that I don’t understand are…
– Doesn’t this imply that if we changed a society’s Gini coefficient while keeping family sizes constant, the relative poverty of its children would be unchanged?
– Isn’t it difficult to interpret this stat without a measure of the family resources available to each child in multi-child households?
– Doesn’t relative poverty lend itself to strange composition and decomposition effects?
– Insofar as family size is partially determined by how much resources a family feels it can devote to raising children, won’t we partially be measuring the resources of below-median families?

Maybe I’m misunderstanding the metric. “Relative child poverty” is the percentage of children who in families with below median income, correct?

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radek 02.16.07 at 11:08 pm

but relative seems right to me (contra radek et al) if comparing only developed countries

Even if absolute poverty and relative poverty are NEGATIVELY related? In developed countries?
(which is the case for 2000 data if you look at just continental Europe w/o EE)

since that has been declared verboten

It has? Anyway there’s no implied relationships between Gini coefficients, relative poverty and absolute poverty. If one of them changes in one way the others may do whatever they want. Furthermore, even if you’re looking at just the Gini and it goes up, you can’t really say that inequality has increased – the Lorenz curves could cross, unless you’re willing to make stronger assuumptions.
On top of that you can monkey around with the absolute and relative poverty measures by switching the threshold. So two absolute poverty measures can be negatively related. All this basically opens the door wide open to data manipulation in order to score ideological points and screams out for sensitivity analysis (which when you do, you get a big mess and no clear answer, but hey, that’s life)

I might hafta write something up about all this.

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magistra 02.17.07 at 9:25 am

Having looked at the whole report, relative poverty is only one aspect of material well-being that’s being measured (which in turn is only one of 6 different factors). The study of this factor also looks at children living in housholds with no-one in employment (on which the US does relatively well), and measures of specific possessions (where the US is dragged down by a relatively large number of households with almost no books). It seems to me that the report authors are therefore trying quite hard to provide an indicator more realistic than either absolute or relative povery on their own.

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Far Away 02.20.07 at 3:02 pm

Relative poverty in this case is the percentage of children living in households with “equivalised income” less than 50% of the median. So to reduce relative poverty you have to increase income at the bottom of the income scale.

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