- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 14, 2007

BERLIN — The United States and Britain ranked at the bottom of a U.N. survey of child welfare in 21 wealthy countries that assessed everything from infant mortality to whether children ate dinner with their parents or were bullied at school.

The Netherlands, followed by Sweden, Denmark and Finland, finished at the top of the rankings, while the United States was 20th and Britain 21st, according to the report released yesterday by UNICEF in Germany.

One of the study’s researchers, Jonathan Bradshaw, said children fared worse in the United States and Britain — despite high overall levels of national wealth — because of greater economic inequality and poor levels of public support for families.

“What they have in common are very high levels of inequality, very high levels of child poverty, which is also associated with inequality, and in rather different ways poorly developed services to families with children,” said Mr. Bradshaw, a professor of social policy at the University of York in Britain.

“They don’t invest as much in children as continental European countries do,” he said, citing the lack of day care services in both countries, and poorer health coverage and preventive care for children in the United States.

The study also gave the two countries low marks for their higher incidences of single-parent families and risky behaviors among children, such as drinking alcohol and sexual activity.

Britain was last and the U.S. second from the bottom in the category focusing on relationships, based on the percentage of children who lived in single-parent homes or with stepparents, as well as the percentage who ate the main meal of the day with their families several times per week. That category also counted the proportion of children who said they had “kind” or “helpful” relationships with other children.

On average, 80 percent of the children in the countries surveyed live with both parents. There were wide variations, however, from more than 90 percent in Greece and Italy to less than 70 percent in Britain and 60 percent in the United States, where 16 percent of adolescents lived with stepfamilies.

Both the U.S. and British governments criticized the report.

Wade Horn, an assistant secretary at the Department of Health and Human Services, said the study’s standard of measuring poverty differed from that of the United States.

A family of four is defined by the United States as living in poverty if its combined income is less than $20,650 a year. The poverty threshold used by the report was an income of $35,000 a year for a family of four, he said.

“I think when you try to compare nations in a report like this, you tend to ignore so many other factors specific to those nations that the comparison becomes somewhat meaningless,” Mr. Horn said.

Britain said the report did not take account of recent improvements to education, health and general living standards in the country.

Some of the statistics also went back as far as 2001, it said.

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