It’s not Australia, although we came 10th. Finland, of course!
And, we are told, the scores of the top ten are closely clustered, so we are right up there.
Every year the Save the Children put out a State of the World’s Mothers report. That site has a lot of useful information, but if you are after the full report, honestly you’ll do better with this pdf. I think the summary at Shine from Yahoo! Canada is a good place to start.
The Mothers Index is based on five categories:
1. Lifetime risk of maternal death
2. Under-five mortality rate
3. Expected years of formal schooling
4. Gross national income per capita
5. Participation of women in national government
Here we have the top 25:
Here are the bottom ten:
From this we can readily see that only three countries outside Europe, namely Australia, Singapore and New Zealand, rate in the top 20. Sub-Saharan Africa monopolises the bottom places with 26 of the bottom 30.
If you go to the full Index by country you’ll find the United states at 30, behind most of the other industrialised countries.
The report comments that Finland is not best in any single category, but does well in all. It says that the top and bottom countries are closely clustered on the actual scores. The report comments on why the USA lags most other industrialised countries.
In the US women face a 1 in 2400 risk of mortality from childbirth, which is ten times more likely than in Estonia, Greece or Singapore. In Finland it’s 1 in 12,200. In the Democratic Republic of the Congo its 1 in 30.
Child mortality under 5 in the US at 7.5 per 1000 births is three times the rate of Iceland. In Finland it’s 2.9 whereas DR Congo has 167.7.
Women hold only 18% of seats in Congress. Half the countries of the world do better than that.
The US does well on income, but I looked at the Gini index where the US comes in at 45. The only European country close is the UK at 40, with most of the European countries clustered at the bottom. So the high per capita income in the US is not well shared around.
If you look at tax as a proportion of GDP the US is remarkably low at 15.7%, whereas the European countries gravitate towards the top around the 40 to 50% mark, but behind DR Congo, ironically.
The Doctors Health Press points out that the US has the highest first-day death rate in the industrialized world. Newborn babies are better off in some developing world countries, like Egypt and Turkey.
The US has fewer planned pregnancies than most industrialised countries and the most teenage births. It has a higher pre-term birth rate than 130 other countries.
The report targets birthing as an intervention point as the first day is the most dangerous day. Some 43% of child deaths occur in the first month.
The differences across the world are staggering. In Chad 1 woman in 15 dies in childbirth, In Greece, Estonia and Singapore it’s 1 in 25,000. In Sierra Leone 1 child in 5 does not reach his or her fifth birthday. In Iceland it’s 1 in 400.
In the 10 worst countries 8 out of 10 women will suffer the loss of a child in their lifetime
ABC News has an item on the report, but not in depth. Like the USA Australia gets a lift in the index courtesy of its high per capita Gross National Income and also scores well on years of schooling and in women in government. There are plenty of countries ahead of us in child mortality and maternal death risk. Which led me to wonder about the design and composition of the index.
The example of the United States seems to indicate that how income is distributed in society may be more important than average wealth, once wealth reaches a stage where a comprehensive range of public services can be provided. Those who study happiness tell us that little if anything is gained after average GDP reaches $17,000.
Epidemiologists Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett in 2009 published The Spirit Level: Why More Equal Societies Almost Always Do Better. The Guardian has an excellent review, there is another in Times Higher Education. Wilkinson and Pickett have also written an article, pdf available here.
They found that:
Population health tends to be better in societies where income is more equally distributed. Recent evidence suggests that many other social problems, including mental illness, violence, imprisonment, lack of trust, teenage births, obesity, drug abuse, and poor educational performance of schoolchildren, are also more common in more unequal societies.
Within unequal societies these problems extend to the whole population, not just the poor.
Lynsey Hanley at The Guardian is troubled to find:
Around a quarter of British people, and more than a quarter of Americans, experience mental [health] problems in any given year, compared with fewer than 10 per cent in Japan, Germany, Sweden and Italy.
The US is richer but more unequal than any of those countries.
Wilkinson and Pickett’s work only covers the rich countries.
So too does Unicef’s annual report An overview of child well-being in rich countries (pdf). Australia didn’t supply enough information to get an overall score, but its data was included where available in the many categories covered. A scan through the charts shows that Australia has no reason to be complacent.
Of the 21 countries ranked only the US and Canada were from outside Europe. Again northern European countries occupied the top spots. The US and the UK trailed the field.
The US teenage fertility rate (see figure 5.2f is more than 50% higher than the next country (NZ).
I found this one interesting:
There’s a massive difference between Switzerland and the UK.
Oddly Finland adolescents didn’t like school very much contrasting strongly with Norway.
The strength of the State of the Worlds Mothers report is that it covers 176 counties and is very focussed on what needs to be done.
Nevertheless there is much to contemplate on how we should organise ourselves as a society in the rich countries and how the dignity and worth of each person might be recognised. In this regard I found Axel Honneth’s Patterns of Intersubjective Recognition: Love, Rights, and Solidarity long, a bit difficult, but thought-provoking and highly relevant. Perhaps more of that another day, but it’s clear that the Left in politics need a radical rethink.
Elsewhere Wikipedia has useful information on the Mothers report.