One in Five Children in Rich Countries Lives in Poverty, Study Finds

One in five children in high-income countries lives in poverty, while one in eight faces food insecurity, a report from UNICEF's Office of Research – Innocenti finds.

The report, Building the Future: Children and the Sustainable Development Goals in Rich Countries (58 pages, PDF), examined the status of children in forty-one high-income countries with respect to nine of the United Nations' seventeen Sustainable Development Goals — 1 (no poverty), 2 (zero hunger), 3 (good health and well-being), 4 (quality education), 5 (gender equality), 8 (decent work and economic growth), 10 (reduced inequalities), 11 (sustainable cities and communities), and 16 (peace, justice, and strong institutions). The study found that in 2015, the share of children living in relative income poverty averaged 21 percent, ranging from 9.2 percent in Denmark, to 29.4 percent in the United States, to 39.3 percent in Romania, while an average of 12.7 percent of children were food insecure, ranging from 1.4 percent in Japan, to 19.6 percent in the U.S., to 34.9 percent in Mexico.

The study also found that while rates of neonatal mortality have fallen in most countries since 2005 and adolescent suicide, teen births, and drinking are declining, mental health issues and obesity are becoming more common. Moreover, between one in five and three in five 15-year-olds in rich nations do not achieve baseline educational standards, while an average of 7.1 percent of youth between the ages of 15 and 19 are neither in school nor working and an average of 9 percent of all children live in a household where no one has a paying job. In addition, in two out of three countries analyzed, the gap between the median income of households with children and the income of the poorest households with children has widened since 2008.

In the report's overall ranking across the nine child-relevant SDGs, Norway ranks first, followed by Germany and Denmark, while Chile ranks last, below Bulgaria, Romania, Mexico, and the United States. The report's authors call on governments to put children at the heart of equitable and sustainable progress; do more to address extreme inequalities and structural disadvantages experienced by groups at the bottom of the scale; improve the collection of comparable data; tailor policy responses to SDG targets where a country is falling behind; and honor the commitment to global sustainable development.

"[This report] is a wake-up-call that, even in high-income countries, progress does not benefit all children," said UNICEF Innocenti director Sarah Cook. "Higher incomes do not automatically lead to improved outcomes for all children, and may indeed deepen inequalities. Governments in all countries need to take action to ensure the gaps are reduced and progress is made to reach the SDGs for children." 

For information about philanthropy's engagement in the global development agenda as it relates to the Sustainable Development Goals, check out Foundation Center's SDGFunders.org data portal.