child poverty


Here is another report on the World Family Map – this time on family socio-economics.

Many of the world’s families are poor, which puts their children at greater risk of social, emotional, behavioral, and physical health problems than those who are not poor. Poverty in turn is linked to factors like parental education, employment, family structure and social benefits. Deficiencies in any of these areas are likely to reduce a family’s income and wellbeing.

The World Bank sets the absolute poverty line at US$1.25 a day, and on that measure the World Family Map study (which does not have data for all countries) finds the highest rates of poverty in Africa, with rates in sub-Saharan Africa ranging from17 percent to 64 percent (in Nigeria).

In other regions rates vary considerably. In Central and South America rates vary from 1 percent to 15 percent (only three countries in the latter category (Bolivia, Colombia and Nicaragua). In Asia they vary from zero in Malaysia to 42 percent in India.

In the richer countries a percentage of families are rated poor, relative to families in general. As a matter of fact, analysts in these countries talk about “child poverty” rather than family poverty — perhaps because most of this relative poverty is linked with incomplete or broken families. According to UNICEF’s Innocenti Report, a household is poor if its income is below half of the national median income. The World Family Map finds that between six and 33 percent of children live in such households.

The North American countries’ relative child poverty rates ranged from 13 to 23 percent. Canada had the lowest levels of relative child poverty, with 13 percent of children living in households with incomes below half of the country’s median income. The United States and Mexico, in contrast, had higher levels of relative child poverty, at 23 and 22 percent, respectively. In fact, the United States has the highest relative child poverty rates of the selected high-income nations.

In Oceania, Australia had a relative child poverty rate of 11 percent, and New Zealand’s was 12 percent.

Western Europe had the lowest rates of relative child poverty of the regions, led by the Netherlands at six percent. Sweden, Ireland, Germany, and France all had rates that were below 10 percent. The United Kingdom, Italy, and Spain had higher rates, ranging from 12 to 17 percent.

At this point you need to look back at the family structure section of the WFM report, where we find that children are most likely to be living with only one or no parents in the Americas, Europe, and Oceania. According to the WFM about one-fifth of children in these regions live in a single-parent household. In the United Kingdom and New Zealand the figure is 24 percent; in the United States 27 percent. (Rates which sound rather low, actually.)

Now compare these rates with government spending on family benefits — which in the richer countries (the OECD) ranges between 0.7 percent and 3.7 percent of GDP (2007 figures). The WFM says:

In North America, spending on family benefits hovered around one percent, ranging from 1.0 percent in Mexico to 1.4 percent in Canada. South American countries, as represented by Chile, had lower levels of spending on families, at 0.8 percent.

Oceanic countries placed more monetary emphasis on family benefits. New Zealand spent 3.1 percent of its GDP in this area and Australia spent 2.8.

Western European countries had the highest levels of government spending on family benefits. France led the selected countries by spending 3.7 percent of its GDP on family benefits. The United Kingdom and Sweden also spent more than 3 percent of their GDP on family benefits.

I think we can conclude from this that child poverty rates linked with single-parent households in the UK and New Zealand (and France and Sweden) are held down by increased government spending. In the US these are less generous, resulting in higher rates of child poverty.

However, no matter how much a country spends on single parents households — and in New Zealand, for example, child poverty advocates are constantly calling for more — it cannot make up for the non-monetary benefits that two married parents provide for a child.

Money isn’t everything — as the next section in the World Family Map will show. Watch this space.

Carolyn Moynihan

Carolyn Moynihan is the former deputy editor of MercatorNet