Low standards of child wellbeing linked to greater income inequality

Nov 16, 2007

Narrower income differences are more likely than economic growth to improve the wellbeing of children in rich countries, according to a study published on bmj.com.

Poorer children fare less well than richer ones in each society. But a recent UNICEF report detailing 40 indicators of child wellbeing, said children in the UK and the USA fared worse than in any of the other rich countries.

The new research examines whether the damage is done by being poor, or by being poorer than others.

To answer this question, academics at The University of Nottingham and the University of York examined whether measures of child wellbeing were most closely related to average income — material living standards — or to the scale of income differences in each society, ie. inequality.

The authors studied these relationships in two different settings: among 23 rich countries, and then, independently, among the 50 states of the USA and District of Columbia.

Among the 23 rich countries, the UNICEF index of child wellbeing — covering material wellbeing, health and safety, educational wellbeing, family and peer relationships, unhealthy and risky behaviours, and subjective wellbeing — was unrelated to average income, but was strongly related to the size of the income differences between rich and poor within each country.

Findings were similar among the 50 states of the USA. Data were analysed for teenage births, juvenile homicides, infant mortality, low birth weight, educational performance, high school drop-out rate, the proportion of children overweight, and mental health problems. All were more strongly related to the scale of income inequality in each state than to its average income.

Richard Wilkinson, Professor of Social Epidemiology at The University of Nottingham Medical School, co-authored the paper with Dr Kate Pickett of the University of York.

Professor Wilkinson said: “Using data from rich countries as well as from the 50 states of the USA, the research found that standards of child wellbeing are consistently lower in societies — like Britain — with bigger income differences, and consistently higher in more equal societies. There was no tendency for the richest countries and states to do better than the poorer ones.”

The authors used data from various sources, including the United Nations, Organisation for Economic Co-Operation and Development (OECD), UNICEF, World Bank, US Census Bureau, and US National Centre for Health Statistics.

Among the 50 states of the USA and among affluent countries, the results suggest that children's wellbeing is not higher, either among the richest of the 50 US states, or among the richest of the affluent countries. It is instead, significantly better in those countries and states in which income differences are smaller.

In an accompanying BMJ editorial, other researchers wrote: “We know enough to say that inequalities affect child wellbeing and that relative poverty kills as effectively as any disease.” They believe that we need to get better at identifying the programmes that work and much better at getting governments to invest in the wellbeing of children.

Source: University of Nottingham

Explore further: FTC clears Sun Pharma's $4B purchase of competitor Ranbaxy

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Resolve to seek well-being in the new year

Jan 05, 2015

The end of the year is always a time of reflection of what we have done and what we have left undone. And, of course, it's time to start thinking about those resolutions for 2015 and what we will do differently.

Managing reefs to benefit coastal communities

Dec 03, 2014

Coral reefs provide a range of benefits, such as food, opportunities for income and education, but not everyone has the same access to them, according to a new study conducted by the ARC Centre of Excellence ...

Danish DNA could be key to happiness

Jul 17, 2014

(Phys.org) —Economists at the University's Centre for Competitive Advantage in the Global Economy (CAGE) have looked at why certain countries top the world happiness rankings. In particular they have found the closer a ...

Recommended for you

Why aren't there any human doctors in Star Wars?

Jan 30, 2015

Though set "a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away," it isn't hard to see in the Star Wars films a vision of our own not so distant future. But Anthony Jones, a physician with a long background in health ...

Cambodia bans 'virgin surgery' adverts

Jan 29, 2015

The Cambodian government has ordered a hospital to stop advertising so-called virginity restoration procedures, saying it harms the "morality" of society.

What's happening with your donated specimen?

Jan 28, 2015

When donating blood, plasma, human tissue or any other bodily sample for medical research, most people might not think about how it's being used. But if you were told, would you care?

Amgen tops Street 4Q forecasts

Jan 27, 2015

Amgen Inc. cruised to a 27 percent jump in fourth-quarter profit and beat Wall Street expectations, due to higher sales of nearly all its medicines, tight cost controls and a tax benefit.

User comments : 1

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

lengould100
not rated yet Oct 03, 2008
This points to progress, finally.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.