Child Well-Being in America and Abroad

How Do American Children Fare in Comparison to Children in Other Countries?


At the New America event, hosted by the Workforce and Family Program, Duke University researcher Dr. Kenneth Land presented the results of this new international comparison. Among the key findings:

  • The percent of households without an employed adult is lower in the United States than in all comparison countries. However, poverty rates are higher in the United States than in all comparison countries.
  • Canada, Australia, New Zealand and the United Kingdom have better outcomes than the United States in the Health domain. Relatively high rates of infant mortality and children who are overweight and obese disadvantage the United States in this domain.
  • Teen birth rates in Canada, the United Kingdom, Australia and New Zealand are lower than in the United States. This indicator is a key figure in the Safety/Behavioral Concerns domain.
  • The United States has a relatively high proportion of young adults who complete high school and obtain baccalaureate degrees. However, the proportion of children who attend preschool is lower in the United States than in all countries except the United Kingdom.
  • 15-year old American students scored lower in mathematics and reading than their counterparts in all comparison countries on internationally administered standardized tests, leading to a last place finish in the Educational Attainment domain.

Following Land's presentation, Rev. David Gray, director of the Workforce and Family Program, moderated a distinguished panel of experts in a discussion that explored the survey results and their implications.

Dr. Ruby Takanishi, President of the Foundation for Child Development, gave introductory remarks for the event. Dr. Takanishi remarked that the Child Well-Being Index provides a starting point for deeper debates among policymakers and the public about how best to serve the children of this country. The treatment and care for our children are an essential part of the negotiation of the social contract between individual and social responsibility. According to Dr. Takanishi, we are in a period of transition within our social contract, and our efforts to shape the life prospects of all children are a critical part of that conversation.

Dr. Janet Gornick, Director of the Luxembourg Income Study, presented an in-depth look at cross-national employment policies and explored the links between those policies, parental and child well-being. Dr. Gornick’s research shows that the United States, and the Anglophone countries involved in the international comparison, generally takes a different approach to employment policy than do their continental European counterparts.

Doug Steiger gave an in-depth policy and political analysis of the program to eliminate child poverty in the United Kingdom. Mr. Steiger contrasted the differing approaches of the United States and the United Kingdom to measuring and combating poverty, as well as highlighting instances in which the two countries have learned from and emulated one another. Mr. Steiger concluded that much the United Kingdom’s recent success in reducing childhood poverty comes from tactics used in the United States in the 1990’s but that the United States has allowed its effort in those areas to lag.

Adam Carasso of the New America Foundation drew highlights from his work on the Urban Institute’s “2007 Kid’s Share” report. Mr. Carasso presented research on the historic and projected future share of the federal budget dedicated to children’s programs. Mr. Carasso highlighted the decline of tax code contributions and the rise of in-kind programs. Mr. Carasso also highlighted the rising proportion of the federal budget that is dedicated to programs that primarily serve the elderly and predicted that rising cost would push aside the possibility of new investments in children’s programs.

Also released at this latest event was a new Workforce and Family Issue Brief, entitled "Why Not More Focus on Children?" Video of the complete presentation and discussion is available at right; an MP3 audio recording will be available in the near future.

About the Child Welfare Index

The CWI is commissioned by the Foundation for Child Development and provides policymakers and the public with a tool to monitor the well-being of children. The new international comparison tracks quantifiable indicators including childhood obesity, the poverty rate, suicide rates, and violent crime rates. Its release is intended to spark public discussion about the lives of American children and youth and the factors that contribute to their quality of life; including where American children are advantaged and disadvantaged on comparisons of international outcomes in physical health, educational attainment, social relationships and spiritual and emotional well-being. For more on the CWI's findings in the United States, please see the April 17, 2007, event the Workforce and Family Program hosted on that topic.


07/17/2007 - 10:30am
07/17/2007 - 12:00pm
New America Foundation
1630 Connecticut Ave, NW 7th Floor

Washington, DC, 20009

United States

See map: Google Maps


  • Dr. Kenneth Land
    Coordinator, Child and Youth Well-Being Index Project
    Duke University
  • Dr. Ruby Takanishi
    Foundation for Child Development
  • Rev. David Gray
    Director, Workforce and Family Program
    New America Foundation
  • Dr. Janet Gornick
    Luxembourg Income Study
  • Doug Steiger
    British Council Atlantic Fellow, 2003-2004
  • Adam Carasso
    Research Director, Fiscal Policy Program, New America Foundation
    Co-Author, “Kids’ Share 2007”

Related Links


Child povery in perspective

The Unicef Innocenti Research center conducted a similar study which was published in February of this year under the title: Child povery in perspective: An overview of child well-being in rich countries. Unlike the study of The Foundation for Child Development's study Unicef does not primarily focus on the anglo-saxon countries, but includes many western, southern and eastern European countries.

American's forget...

In the whole scheme of things, despite world politics, dollars and cents, we are still ONE country.  We do NOT rule the world.  Our leaders only seem to think/forget we do.

That needs to be said and written a few hundred times, especially when it comes to the placement of children, donchya think?


Pound Pup Legacy