UNICEF Report Finds Netherlands Best Place to be a Child

A study ranking developed countries in terms of child well-being, launched today by UNICEF’s Office of Research, finds interesting discoveries.

United States and Ireland top list of developed countries where kids exercise the most

NEW YORK (April 10, 2013) – A study ranking developed countries in terms of child well-being, launched today by UNICEF’s Office of Research, finds that the Netherlands and four Nordic countries—Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden—top the list, while four southern European countries—Greece, Italy, Portugal and Spain—are at the bottom.

Report Card 11, from UNICEF’s Office of Research, examines the state of children across the industrialized world. As austerity measures and social spending cuts continue to generate debate, Report Card 11 charts the achievements of 29 of the world’s advanced economies in ensuring the well-being of their children during the first decade of this century. The report shows that child poverty in these countries is not inevitable; rather, some countries are doing much better than others at protecting their most vulnerable children.

“Whether in time of economic crisis, or in better financial periods, UNICEF urges governments and social partners to place children and young people at the heart of their decision-making processes,” said Gordon Alexander, director of UNICEF’s Office of Research. “For every new policy measure considered or introduced, governments explicitly have to explore the impact and effects on children, families with children, adolescents and young adults. These groups do not have a voice in the political processes or their voices are too seldom heard.”

Report Card 11: Child well-being in rich countries measures development according to five dimensions of children’s lives—material wellbeing, health and safety, education, behaviors and risks, and housing and environment.

The study does not find a strong relationship between per capita GDP and overall child well-being. For instance, Slovenia ranks higher than Canada, the Czech Republic higher than Austria, and Portugal higher than the United States. The report also finds that countries in Central and Eastern Europe are beginning to close the gap with more established industrial economies.

Despite setbacks in some countries, the overall story of the 2000s is one of steady improvement in various aspects of child well-being in the industrialized world. Every country where data are available saw reductions in infant mortality. The rate of school enrolment has also increased.

There is good news across the board when it comes to child behaviors and risks. Among 11-15 year olds in the 29 countries assessed in the report, only eight percent say they smoke cigarettes at least once a week, just 15 percent report having been drunk at least twice in their life, and about two-thirds are neither bullied nor involved in fighting. However, exercise levels are low. The United States and Ireland are the only countries where more than 25 percent of children report exercising for at least an hour a day.

Report Card 11 also includes the views of the children themselves on their own life satisfaction. These findings are generally in line with the measurement of child well-being, with some notable exceptions: children in Estonia, Greece and Spain gave their countries a much higher ranking than the data, while Germany, Luxembourg and Poland rank lower.

“We need to know more about how children see and evaluate their own lives and do this in a more systematic way. Children's voices, even at a very young age, are vital,” said Alexander. “They reiterate the message that governments need to guide policies in a way that will safeguard the long-term futures of their children and economies. This has never been more urgent than in today’s climate.”

Given the absence of up-to-date internationally comparative data on children’s lives, Report Card 11 reflects the outcome of government decisions in the period before the economic crisis. The report states that the past three years of economic hardship do not bode well for the present or near future. Most data in the report is from 2010, the latest comparative information available.

Despite this, for the most part the report’s data track long-term trends and reflect the results of long-term investments in children’s lives. For example, average levels of school achievement, immunization rates, and the prevalence of risk behaviors are not likely to be significantly changed in the short term by the recent economic recession.


The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) works in 190 countries and territories to save and improve children’s lives, providing health care and immunizations, clean water and sanitation, nutrition, education, emergency relief and more. The U.S. Fund for UNICEF supports UNICEF's work through fundraising, advocacy and education in the United States. Together, we are working toward the day when ZERO children die from preventable causes and every child has a safe and healthy childhood. For more information, visit www.unicefusa.org.

For additional information, please contact:
Susannah Masur, U.S. Fund for UNICEF, 212.880.9146, smasur@unicefusa.org
Kiní Schoop, U.S. Fund for UNICEF, 212.922.2634, kschoop@unicefusa.org