Inequality of Child Well-Being

Article 3 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) states that the best interests of children must be the primary concern in all decisions that may affect them, and that State Parties should take action to ensure the protection and care necessary for children’s well-being. Yet, some of the wealthiest nations are falling behind in ensuring children’s right to education, health, and life satisfaction.

The 13th edition of UNICEF’s Office of Research Report Card, Fairness for Children: A league table of inequality in child well-being in rich countries, presents an overview of the growing inequalities among children in 41 countries of the European Union (EU) and the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). The study focuses on "bottom-end inequality," the gap between children at the bottom and those in the middle. It ranks countries according to how far they allow their most disadvantaged children to fall behind in terms of income, education, health, and life satisfaction.

The study shows that countries are failing the most disadvantaged children; in half the countries, more than 10% of children live in households with less than 50% of the average income. Japan and the United States are positioned in the bottom third of the league table for income inequality. Denmark has the lowest income inequality, and tops the overall league table with the lowest inequality among children.

While differences in education achievements narrowed, disparities in child health widened in the majority of the countries. Not a single country saw a narrowing in inequality, while a few countries saw no notable change at all. Social and economic disadvantages in a child’s early years increase the risk of having lower standards of health, lower earnings, and lower skills in adulthood. The consequences of inequalities are very significant for children; childhood experiences have a profound effect not only on children’s lives today, but also on their future opportunities.

For more information:

UNICEF Office of Research. (2016). Fairness for Children: A league table of inequality in child well-being in rich countries, Innocenti Report Card 13, UNICEF Office of Research – Innocenti, Florence.  Download the full report here.

United Nations Human Rights, Office of the High Commissioner, Convention on the Rights of the Child

Anne Bauer