American children are on average worse off than children in Western Europe and barely better off than their counterparts in the Baltic states and the former Yugoslavia, according to a recent report from United Nation's Children's Fund (UNICEF) on the welfare of children in developed countries.
The report, which compares kids in 29 Western countries, measures material well-being, health and safety, behaviors and risks, housing and environment, as well as education.
It ranks the United States in the bottom third on all five measures and particularly low on education and poverty. The United States, at No. 26, is joined at the bottom by "emerging" European economies, while the Scandinavian countries and the Netherlands, at No. 1, come out on top. The report notes that this latter group of countries tends to spend far more per capita on social-welfare programs.
The countries with the best reported child well-being tend to invest in strong social safety nets. Norway, Iceland and Sweden sink nearly 7 percent of their GDP into education. Countries such as Estonia (tie at No. 23), Latvia (28) and Lithuania (27), which until the 1990s had GDPs per capita of less than $5,000, have been able to put less money into such services.
Though U.S. GDP per capita was more than $48,000 in 2012, that money is not spread evenly across the population.
The low U.S. rating, then, does not mean that all American children are worse educated, less healthy and less well-off than all children in, for example, Greece (No. 25) and Slovakia (tie at No. 23).
But the report means that significant numbers of American children are so much worse off than the average Greek or Slovakian child, bringing the overall U.S. average beneath those other, less wealthy and developed countries.
Still, the United States did well in some areas: American kids get more exercise than almost any others studied in the report, but they're still, by far, the most overweight. Americans ages 15 and up have consumed far less alcohol than their counterparts abroad for decades.
Canadian children smoke the most marijuana, with more than one in four reporting they'd lit up in the past year.
Here's something that might surprise you: Kids in high-achieving Finland (No. 4) attend preschool less than anyone else, which seems to buck research linking preschool to later educational and economic success. But preschool begins later in Finland than it does elsewhere, which throws off the numbers.