This week there was a little piece in the local newspaper about how New Zealand has been ranked the 6th best country in the world to be a mother according to the Save the Children Fund’s 2011 study.  I wonder if this achievement would have got more coverage if we hadn’t been soundly beaten by Australia who came 2nd. (New Zealanders are desperate to beat Australia in anything, it doesn’t matter what.  I get the general impression that it doesn’t work both ways and Australia isn’t too fussed.)

The study’s results can be found here but some interesting facts:

  • The survey ranks 164 countries.
  • The top three are Norway, Australia and Iceland. 
  • The top ten are all European nations, except the two ANZAC nations.
  • The bottom three are Guinea-Bissau, Niger and Afghanistan.
  • The United States is ranked 31st.

The indicators used to determine the rankings were:

The lifetime risk of maternal death. (The risk that a 15-year-old will die eventually from a maternal cause – which includes the fertility of the population. The more children you have, the more likely you are to die from having one of them. Thus, paradoxically in a motherhood study,  a more fertile country will score less favourably here compared with a less fertile country with otherwise exactly the same healthcare statistics.);

Percentage of women using modern contraception. (Any form of natural family planning is of course not “modern” although it is not clear whether that means NFP is pre- or post-modern… It is also based upon the usage of contraception, not availability. Therefore a country where “modern” contraceptives are compulsory will score more highly here than a country where contraceptives are available but are not often used.  Again, this is perhaps surprising – one would have thought “choice” was an important indicator of a mother’s wellbeing. Apparently only when that choice is exercised in the correct manner…) ;

If there is a skilled attendant at delivery (doctor, nurse, midwife);

The Female life expectancy at birth (average number of years a female can expect to live);

The expected number of years of formal female schooling.  (The number of years at primary, secondary and tertiary education – including repeat years! Thus if you struggle at school you will bring up the national average.);

The ratio of estimated female to male earned income. (A complex estimate that is somehow based upon a mashing together of the ratio of the female non-agricultural wage to the male non-agricultural wage, the female and male shares of the economically active population, the total female and male population and GDP per capita in purchasing power parity terms in US dollars.  It doesn’t seem to take into account the fact that women might earn less due to having time of work to do something else…like become a mother, for example…);

Maternity leave benefits (including both the amount of benefits and the length of time that they are provided for);

The participation of women in national government. (The percentage of women holding seats in the national assembly.  This seems to be a ridiculously crude measure.  Is there any correlation between women numbers in parliament and pro-family or pro-motherhood policies?  Countries without a parliament or assembly score 0 for this measure.);

Under-5 mortality rate (the probability of a baby dying before it reaches the age of 5.);

Gross pre-primary enrolment ratio (the percentage of pre-primary aged children in pre-primary education);

Gross primary enrolment ratio (the percentage of primary aged children in primary education);

Gross secondary enrolment ratio (the percentage of secondary aged children in secondary education);

Gender Parity Index. (The number of girls enrolled in primary school for every 100 boys.  In parts of the world where female foetal abortion is common this must be a much lower number.);

Percentage of population with access to safe water. (The percentage of people living within 1 kilometre of an improved water site – household connections, boreholes etc – with access to 20 litres a day per person.)

A study like this which focuses upon the inherent importance of mothers should be welcomed.  We should do more to make motherhood an attractive and valued vocation in society. However, some of the factors used in this study are questionable as importing certain a priori judgments about what is “good” for mothers.  This is not surprising and is also perhaps unavoidable in such a study.

Nevertheless, it should always be remembered that the whole point of motherhood is to conceive, carry, care-for and nurture children, to raise the future generation of society.  It is the creation and moulding of a separate, distinct and unique human being.  In short, motherhood is the most important job anyone can do in this world. With this in mind, it’s interesting that one factor not included in this survey is fertility rates.  After all, it is little use to be a country where it is great to be a mother if no one is choosing to do so.  This would then prompt some searching questions – why, despite the best environment for motherhood in the world, are women in the west failing to become mothers?

Marcus Roberts was two years out of law school when he decided that practising law was no longer for him. He therefore went back to university and did his LLM while tutoring. He now teaches contract and...