New Indexes of Children’s Well-being: Unicef and USA

Recent years have witnessed a spurt of development of monitoring indexes of the well-being of children. Some are coordinated internationally; some are developed without much reference to international measures, often in order to provide information of special interest to the organization doing the work. A lot of effort goes into developing these measures, and their usefulness depends largely on how widespread the interested audience is, how rigorously and how regularly the measures are taken and reported, and how much attention is paid to the analysis of results. We begin in this issue to look at some of these measures.

The UNICEF Innocenti Report Card 11 (April 2013)

This report compares rich countries on an extensive list of indicators. The descriptions below show how the overview of child well-being is constructed and set out the indicators used. The score for each dimension has been calculated by a non-weighted average of the scores for each component. Similarly, component scores are arrived at by averaging the scores for each indicator.
Dimension 1 Material well-being
The Components are Monetary deprivation and Material deprivation
The Indicators are Relative child poverty rate, Relative child poverty gap,
Child deprivation rate, and Low family affluence rate

Dimension 2 Health and safety
The Components are Health at birth, Preventive health services and Childhood mortality
The Indicators are Infant mortality rate, Low birthweight rate,
Overall immunization rate, and Child death rate, age 1 to 19

Dimension 3 Education
The Components are Participation, and Achievement
The Indicators are Participation rate: further education, age 15–19
Participation rate: early childhood education
NEET rate (% age 15–19 not in education, employment or training)
Average PISA scores in reading, maths and science

Dimension 4 Behaviours and Risks
The Components are Health Behaviours, Risk Behaviours, and Exposure to Violence
The Indicators are Being Overweight, Eating Breakfast, Eating Fruit,
Taking Exercise, Teenage Fertility Rate, Smoking,
Alcohol, Cannabis, Fighting, Being Bullied

Dimension 5 Housing and Environment
The Components are Housing and Environmental Safety
The Indicators are Rooms per person, Multiple Housing Problems,
Homicide Rate and Air Pollution

These indicators were developed with extensive international consultation, and although they are surely imperfect, they bring an immense benefit of being measurable based on data collection in most of the richer countries, and with such data measures being consistent for international comparison. Indeed the Innocenti Report Card has been published regularly, Report Card 11 published in 2013.

Averaging the indicator scores across all dimensions, UNICEF was able to rank the 29 countries included in the analysis, in relation to overall child well-being:
The top ten countries were (in rank order) Netherlands, Norway, Iceland, Finland, Sweden, Luxembourg, Switzerland, Belgium, and Ireland.
The middle ten countries were Denmark, Slovenia, France, Czech Republic, Portugal, United Kingdom, Canada (no 17) Austria, Spain and Hungary.
The nine countries where child well-being is the lowest are Poland, Italy, Estonia, Slovakia, Greece, USA (no 26), Lithuania, Latvia, and Romania

The detailed scores and explanations can be viewed on the UNICEF website at, click or search Innocenti Report Card 11

Broad international measures do not satisfy all of the needs of in-country research organizations, which often seek smaller geographic area data, and may look for more detailed or differentiated indicators. However, research organizations in individual countries would do well to coordinate their data collection with international benchmark indicators such as these, in order to provide important historical and comparative perspective, as well as to benefit from the methodological work already done. The new US index, summarized below, does not seem to be developed with that consistency in mind.


Index of US Child Well-being
Population Reference Bureau (PRB) and the Casey Foundation

This index focuses much attention on differential achievement and conditions associated with race. The PRB worked with the foundation to select 12 key indicators that have been linked to the likelihood of becoming middle class by middle age, and that reflect the importance of supportive families and communities to child well-being:

Babies born at normal birth weight.
Children ages 3 to 5 enrolled in nursery school, preschool, or kindergarten.
Fourth graders who scored at or above proficient in reading.
Eighth graders who scored at or above proficient in math.
Females ages 15 to 19 who delay childbearing until adulthood.
High school students graduating on time.
Young adults ages 19 to 26 who are in school or working.
Young adults ages 25 to 29 who have completed an associate’s degree or higher.
Children who live with a householder who has at least a high school diploma.
Children who live in two-parent families.
Children who live in families with incomes at or above 200 percent of poverty.
Children who live in low-poverty areas (poverty <20 percent).

What does the index show?
Only 17 percent of African American and 19 percent of Latino fourth graders scored at or above proficient in reading, compared to a poor national average of 34 percent.
Only 14 percent of African American and 21 percent of Latino and American Indian eighth graders scored at or above proficient in math, compared to a poor national average of 34 percent.
Only 65 percent of American Indian young adults ages 19 to 26 are in school or working, compared to the national average of 83 percent.
Only 63 percent of Latino children live in a household with someone who has at least a high school degree, compared to the national average of 85 percent.

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