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"All families in OECD countries today are aware that childhood is being reshaped by forces whose mainspring is not necessarily the best interests of the child."
February 15, 2007 7:48 PM   Subscribe

How does your country measure up as a place to raise kids? It turns out that growing up in the UK is a bleaker experience than in any other wealthy country. UNICEF studied all the wealthiest nations (full report PDF here), and the US and UK came in at the bottom on almost all indicators (material wellbeing, health and safety, education, family and peer relationships, behaviours and risks, and the subjective feelings of kids and teens themselves ). Doing best for kids were the Netherlands, Sweden, Denmark and Finland. It turns out that GDP and material wealth alone does not ensure healthier or happier or more well-educated kids--the Czech Republic scored very well despite being one of the poorest nations surveyed.
posted by amberglow (113 comments total) 7 users marked this as a favorite

 
and from SF Chron: Kids in U.S. worse off than in other rich nations, report says (there's relatively little coverage of this here, i've found, compared to overseas)
posted by amberglow at 7:57 PM on February 15, 2007


Hey, teacher, leave those kids alone!
posted by b1tr0t at 7:57 PM on February 15, 2007


this was interesting too: BBC-- Why are Dutch children so happy?
posted by amberglow at 8:02 PM on February 15, 2007


growing up in the UK is a bleaker experience than in any other wealthy country

Gee, ya think that explains punk?
posted by sourwookie at 8:07 PM on February 15, 2007


Dutch children have been rated the most fortunate children in Europe. Their parents go out of their way to please them, and teachers expect less of them than some of their European counterparts.

That's "doing the best for kids"?
posted by null terminated at 8:09 PM on February 15, 2007


I'm surprised Canada is so low, although we are #2 for Educational Well-Being.
posted by Vindaloo at 8:10 PM on February 15, 2007


Ireland Ranking 10.2

Irish kids always seemed really happy and well adjusted to me. Even with the crazy nuns beating the shit out of them all the time. I thought they'd do better.

Kids in U.S. worse off than in other rich nations, report says

Certainly you can't be shocked by that? Let's see. The tax payers won't fund school levies. We shit on teaching as a profession. Most large inner city schools are barely qualified as safe day care facilities let alone as places for kids to learn. We feed kids so much shit they are getting diseases usually reserved for 80 year olds. We coat the rest of kids lives in nerf so they cant think for themselves. And then, right when they enter early adulthood, we send them off to go kill OTHER kids in Iraq so then they can come home with PTSD and no legs.
posted by tkchrist at 8:13 PM on February 15, 2007 [10 favorites]


Netherlands. Don't ever change! I know a guy who as a teen ager got PAID by the government there to train as a kick boxer. He got in trouble street fighting. So rather than send him to jail they just said "fine, you wanna fight... here go in a ring we will pay you to train." So he did. And he turned his life around and went pro and now teaches other kids. How is that NOT a win win?

In America he would have gone to jail - costing the taxpayer 5x what a college education costs. Learned to be a psychopath. Got out. Killed somebody. Rinse. Wash. Repeat.
posted by tkchrist at 8:20 PM on February 15, 2007 [8 favorites]


null, they also have great social services--and wonderful education for all, not just for the rich or those in wealthy suburbs. Plus, they don't have puritanical societal attitudes forcing them to hide or act out simply to experiment with stuff like sex and drugs, like the UK and US does (the UK has pretty much criminalized simply being a poor or minority teen, it seems to me).

Are people from the Netherlands all spoiled brats or simply well-adjusted to their society? Are they growing up to be selfish greedy bastards because of the attention and care paid to them and their needs and freedoms? Are they less creative or risktaking? What are the implications of doing more for kids? (I wouldn't know--i grew up here in the US, where we do as little as possible, societywise). The Guardian has a few very active posts about it all--and many in the UK say that as they become more and more like the US (privatization, greed, materialism, 2 parents working, less family time, less social services, all about money and things, etc) this kind of thing is inevitable.
posted by amberglow at 8:21 PM on February 15, 2007 [1 favorite]


One thing that bothered me was that material well-being is partially assessed relatively to other people in the same country - that is just stupid. A poor family in a rich nation may easily have more wealth than a normal family in a poor nation. This should definitely be something compared on an absolute level. What matters is what the child has access to, not how it compares to the neighbors.

I'm sure there are other questionable rating methods as well.
posted by Mitrovarr at 8:33 PM on February 15, 2007


Their parents go out of their way to please them, and teachers expect less of them than some of their European counterparts.

Sounds like someone is a little jealous.
posted by j-urb at 8:37 PM on February 15, 2007


One thing that bothered me was that material well-being is partially assessed relatively to other people in the same country - that is just stupid.
I don't know that it matters--a poor family in a rich nation has more in common with others in that same rich nation (and others like it) than with 3rd-world kids, no? They have to negotiate the same systems and deal with the same societal problems and educational systems and home prices and job situation/economy, and access to services and daycare, etc...
posted by amberglow at 8:39 PM on February 15, 2007


Isn't relative more important than absolute because of the shared society/structures? And it points out structural inequality and access problems/differences that directly impact families in ways that 3rd to 1st-world comparisons don't.
posted by amberglow at 8:44 PM on February 15, 2007


Wow, the more a society explicitly denies social responsibility the lower the overall wellbeing amongst its citizens. Who'd'a ever thunk it. Oh right: readers of Ayn Rand, "libertarians", and other practitioners of selfishness.

Well we all know how likely they are to pay any attention to actual statistics that bear on their philosophies.

Every Canadian needs to read this before the next election. We need to get back on track. The more we emulate the real civilized world and the less we follow the nation below us the better off we'll be.
posted by lastobelus at 8:47 PM on February 15, 2007 [6 favorites]


I grew up in the US and the Netherlands. When my coworker read this to me and asked me to guess the top of the list, my first answer was "Scandinavia", and my second guess was Holland. I was close.

The corporate machinery that is the US is screwing kids along with every other category of individual that does not, or cannot make monetary profit their goal, and is sucking the UK down the same sinkhole. Many of those making comments at the Guardian are spot on.
posted by trip and a half at 8:48 PM on February 15, 2007


I fear for China and India--that's 2 billion + people also following the US model, no?
posted by amberglow at 8:55 PM on February 15, 2007


Scandinavian kids are so happy because of all the fancy Scandinavian-designed baby products.
posted by cubby at 9:02 PM on February 15, 2007 [1 favorite]


I grew up in the UK. It was bleak.

My kids are growing up in Canada. Not so bleak.
posted by unSane at 9:05 PM on February 15, 2007


Money can't buy happiness! Story at 11.

That being said, it's still shocking to see how low the US is in all the categories. As for the Dutch kids, it never seemed like there were that many around. Perhaps that helps.
posted by Goofyy at 9:08 PM on February 15, 2007


Goofyy, I wondered about that, too. It seems (though I know it's not statistically so) that every other family in the US has seventeen kids. I would think with fewer children per family, the amount of investment in any particular child goes up. Is this actually true?
posted by maxwelton at 9:15 PM on February 15, 2007


On other news from the Netherlands; alcohol poisoning of 12 to 14 yr olds is a major concern. Apparently there's no other country where that problem is that high.

I don't know wether this is a counterpoint or a mainstay.
posted by jouke at 9:15 PM on February 15, 2007


I like how Canada is #2 for education... and has the highest ratio of kids 11-15 smoking marijuana (40%!). Also, #2 for reported physical exercise in kids... and 2nd from worst in childhood obesity (next to the USA).
posted by anthill at 9:15 PM on February 15, 2007


Oh, there are plenty of Dutch kids around. And, by and large (and, admittedly, anecdotally) they seem much happier than a lot of the US kids I see. (But to your point, yes, it helps when there aren't so many around who are not wanted or who are neglected.)
posted by trip and a half at 9:21 PM on February 15, 2007


I grew up in Canada. It was bleak.
My kids are growing up on the moon.

Bleak, but then again, its the fuckin moon!

Astronauts came here to golf (and not to kill each other.)

The clear vote for mankind is moon!
posted by isopraxis at 9:22 PM on February 15, 2007 [1 favorite]


Your favourite way of measuring wellbeing sucks.

The single most important factor in child wellbeing is the immediate presence of surf beaches.
posted by UbuRoivas at 9:29 PM on February 15, 2007


The Warm War!

The US & Russian federation are neck & neck, having broken far clear of the pelleton for teenage fertility rates (births per 1,000 women age 15-19...see figure 5.2f in the report).
posted by UbuRoivas at 9:38 PM on February 15, 2007


tkchrist: you forgot to mention endless barren suburbs with nowhere for a kid to go unless a parent drives them.
posted by George_Spiggott at 9:43 PM on February 15, 2007


Does anyone know why they left Australia (and NZ) out? They don't count as wealthy countries?
posted by amberglow at 9:46 PM on February 15, 2007


(oh, never mind--they're in some of the charts, but not others)
posted by amberglow at 9:47 PM on February 15, 2007


amberglow: I don't know that it matters--a poor family in a rich nation has more in common with others in that same rich nation (and others like it) than with 3rd-world kids, no? They have to negotiate the same systems and deal with the same societal problems and educational systems and home prices and job situation/economy, and access to services and daycare, etc...

I don't know, the costs of a lot of things are fairly constant - especially technological products in general. I'd say a poor person in the US is a lot more likely to have their own computer and internet access than a middle-class Czech, for example (particularly if they thought it was necessary for their kids.) This also goes for other things like vehicles, cell phones, building construction quality, etc.

If you look at their scales, the US and UK are way at the top of the relative poverty scales, but pretty low on the deprivation scales. It's much more important that kids have what they need than it is that their wealth is comparable to others in their society.
posted by Mitrovarr at 9:51 PM on February 15, 2007


From the article"If you take the percentage of young mothers in the labour force, it's not very high in comparison to comparable countries..."

There'd be the thing right there. I know damn few moms (in the U.S.) get to stay home. Back in the 50s it was fairly standard. WTF?

"the tax payers won't fund school levies. We shit on teaching as a profession. Most large inner city schools are barely qualified as safe day care facilities let alone as places for kids to learn. We feed kids so much shit they are getting diseases usually reserved for 80 year olds. We coat the rest of kids lives in nerf so they cant think for themselves. And then, right when they enter early adulthood, we send them off to go kill OTHER kids in Iraq so then they can come home with PTSD and no legs."

Nerf you say? Hmmm....*strokes chin/eyes baby*

(well said)
posted by Smedleyman at 9:58 PM on February 15, 2007


you forgot to mention endless barren suburbs with nowhere for a kid to go unless a parent drives them.

That might explain why they are apparently all fucking.
posted by UbuRoivas at 9:59 PM on February 15, 2007


it would be silly to say we don't have problems just to here in the US.

But it's at least as silly to put any stock whatsoever in this absurd report. To say that we rank below Greece and just barely above Hungary in "material well-being"... come on.

Which is also funny, when this thread in its entirety consists of who can trot out the most tired Anti-US cliche. And the biggest anti-US cliche of all time is "rich and spoiled."
posted by drjimmy11 at 9:59 PM on February 15, 2007


But isn't that why comparing within countries (and within similarly developed/rich ones) is so important? Because of the multitude of constants and shared things that don't exist when you compare tinshack kids in some 3rd-world slum to poor kids in the US or EU? Also--the access and availability of things within a country itself is often the biggest factor--how schools are funded, how health care is delivered or not, how home costs and employment opportunities affect families, how social services (and everything, really) differ within a country by neighborhood and income level or conscious underfunding. A poor kid in the US really doesn't have internet nor a computer at home -- only at school or libraries. A vanishingly small percentage of all kids--rich or poor--in 3rd-world countries have internet or computers at home at all.
posted by amberglow at 10:00 PM on February 15, 2007


from 2003: Report: digital divide rooted in home computer ownership ...* Income divide related to digital divide: Only 31 percent of students from families earning less than $20,000 use computers at home, compared to 89 percent of those from families earning more than $75,000. ...
posted by amberglow at 10:10 PM on February 15, 2007


My daughter was born in London last year. Having lived in the UK for a few years before that, we decided long before she was born that the UK was no place to raise a kid. As soon as Emma was old enough to fly, we moved back to Sweden.

In Sweden we have one year (365 days) of parental leave. In the UK, it's six weeks. Parents on parental leave in Sweden receive 90% of their salary. Employers ENCOURAGE fathers to take their parental leave. It is considered bad form not to: a number of companies pay the extra 10% if the father and mother split the time equally.

The schools are excellent here. MY daughter (who is now 8 months) goes to an "open pre-school" once a week to play with other children her same age, sing songs, and generally have fun. It is "free" - paid for by the city (and the high taxes we have.) There are two full time teachers - both well-paid professionals - for a class of about 20 children and parents.

The health care system is incredible. Emma has a pediatric nurse who sees her every 6 weeks and spends one full hour with us each time. Regular doctor visits occur with less frequency, but are available on an as-needed basis. Again, all at no cost and available to EVERYONE.

Of course none of this is free - it's all paid for by a 48% marginal tax rate. Salaries are lower in Sweden than in the UK and no doubt we have less money left over at the end of each month than we would in the UK. But money doesn't motivate us - we have enough - and we wouldn't change anything to have a bit more.

Say what you want about "Swedish socialism" but a society that encourages and makes it possible for parents to spend the first year at home with their kids is doing it right. The "nanny state" makes it possible for us to be parents. You rarely see kids screaming in the stores or melting down in public - like we did in the UK and the US. (My wife and I are American.)

I don't know what the Netherlands are doing more than this, but it's hard to imagine anyplace more chilld friendly than Sweden. It's one of the many, many reasons why we choose to live here.
posted by three blind mice at 10:38 PM on February 15, 2007 [10 favorites]


And one more thought. Remember the story a few years ago about the Danish couple that was arrested in New York for leaving their kid outside of a restaurant in the pram? We live in Stockholm and it is not at all unusual to see babies sleeping outside in their prams. We felt a bit weird about it at first, but people looked at us strangely when we hesitated. "Why not?" they asked. "This is Sweden." "She'll be fine," they added, "everyone will keep an eye on her and sleeping in the cold air is good for babies."

Again, say what you want to about Swedish socialism, but a country where you can feel safe doing this is doing something right.

posted by three blind mice at 10:50 PM on February 15, 2007 [1 favorite]


Which is also funny, when this thread in its entirety consists of who can trot out the most tired Anti-US cliche. And the biggest anti-US cliche of all time is "rich and spoiled."

It saves wealthy people a lot of money to spread the myth that everyone can afford to go to college in America, which is why we end up wasting more talent than the other industrialized nations.
posted by Brian B. at 10:56 PM on February 15, 2007


I like how Canada is #2 for education... and has the highest ratio of kids 11-15 smoking marijuana (40%!). Also, #2 for reported physical exercise in kids... and 2nd from worst in childhood obesity (next to the USA).

Damn poutine.
posted by bobo123 at 11:22 PM on February 15, 2007


To say that we rank below Greece and just barely above Hungary in "material well-being"... come on.

That's your rebuttal?
posted by sklero at 11:56 PM on February 15, 2007


I don't have the stats to hand, but I remember seeing an academic report a few years ago in the UK that claimed British children and young people had much higher rates of lower-level mental health problems than in any other developed country. In other words, there is something we are doing to our kids that is different to other countries. Quite what it is, I don't know.

What makes this and child welfare and wellbeing in general such a difficult public policy issue is that it takes a long time for changes to have any effect. Early intervention initiatives with those on the cusp of offending won't work with many - lots will offend and re-offend. Early years prevention initiatives like SureStart do seem to improve life chances but almost by definition they don't reach the hardest to reach. And as for changing societal attitudes like David Cameron is saying this morning - well, I'm not holding my breath. But I agree there is a limit to what the state can do. So many of the UK Goverment's apparently child-friendly policies could be pretty destructive - like the emphasis on getting both parents back to work to tackle child poverty. Perhaps that's right in economic terms but I think there is a hell of a social cost if a child is in childcare from the year dot and the parents aren't able at least to spend some time at home.

It's often said that British adults have a conflicted attitude to children - we treat them like mini-adults by assessing them to death at school, treating them as a future economic unit or taxpayer, and we are certainly attracted by youth, and yet we're scared shitless of it too. A kid only has to get on my bus to work with his Ipod turned up too loud and half the adults tut and stare him down. No wonder some of them reject the adult world for a world with a different set of rules. But Government policies do this too - Every Child Matters, we are told... apart from some of them.

Rant over - the fact that I tried to come to a conclusion but didn't is I suspect indicative of the fact that solutions here are pretty hard to come by.
posted by greycap at 12:31 AM on February 16, 2007 [1 favorite]


Hmmm, having grown up, studied, and worked in the Netherlands, I think it's a mixed blessing.

Many of those happy kids grow up to be rather unmotivated students because of the lack of competition and a feeling that it's not really necessary and the right thing to actually study while in college. Then when you go to job interviews, the same attitude continues to prevail: if we like your character and we can have fun talking about random stuff we'll hire you for this high tech programming position. Fun, but not the kind of company atmosphere that gets anything done on a global level.

There seems to be also quite a difference in attitude between locals and immigrants, and I'm still out on the pros and cons of the different approaches to for example family planning, community participation and taking initiative in starting your own company.
posted by Icestorm at 12:44 AM on February 16, 2007 [1 favorite]


MeFites may care to look here for an examination of the many ways that the UNICEF report is misleading.
posted by No Mutant Enemy at 12:48 AM on February 16, 2007


One thing that bothered me was that material well-being is partially assessed relatively to other people in the same country - that is just stupid. A poor family in a rich nation may easily have more wealth than a normal family in a poor nation. This should definitely be something compared on an absolute level. What matters is what the child has access to, not how it compares to the neighbors.

Happiness is related to relative material success. Being one of the poorest kids in an American town feels bad, and is bad for you, even if you are richer than most of the kids in some faraway country with a lower GDP. America is bad for many kids because of the wide disparities between neighbors.

In a country where most schools are good, everyone has good health care, and social programs work aggressively to keep things evened out a bit better, kids will be healthier and happier, even if none of them has as many electronic toys as the richest ten percent of American kids.

Material well-being was judged as follows:
1. percentage of children living in homes with equivalent incomes below 50% of the national median
2. percentage of children in families without an employed adult
3. percentage of children reporting low family affluence
4. percentage of children reporting few educational resources
5. percentage of children reporting fewer than 10 books in the home

Note that the last three are "children reporting" -- it is partly how poor the children feel. In those terms, the US and UK (countries that, more than others, submit their children to market-driven, sink-or-swim upbringings?) rank near the bottom in terms of the material well-being of their children:
1. Sweden
2. Norway
3. Finland
4. Denmark
5. Switzerland
6. Canada
7. Belgium
8. Austria
9. France
10. Netherlands
11. Czech Republic
12. Spain
13. Australia
14. Germany
15. Italy
16. New Zealand
17. Greece
18. Japan
19. Portugal
20. United States
21. United Kingdom
22. Ireland
23. Hungary
24. Poland
posted by pracowity at 12:51 AM on February 16, 2007


I think the press and government have done a lot to drive a wedge between 'adult' and 'child' in the UK, speaking as a ukist. I find myself uncomfortable around kids, even the kids of close friends. As an adult, I am constantly reminded of the 'abuse' I can perpetrate on a child, or more frighteningly, be accused of (devil worshipping trials, questionable 'infant death' trials, et al). Kids are massively segregated. I was taking some architectural photographs and was asked by a group of kids whether I was taking photographs *of them* - apparently, kids are being taught this in school - to assume adults are predatory first, and that the world revolves around them. We are passing on the egocentrism of years of privatisation and Thatcherism. At the same time, I have been robbed and assaulted by untouchable kids. This polarises my opinion of kids. They are taught not to trust adults, and in return, most adult experiences of kids are of theft and violence, (I live in London, but I think most inner cities in the UK are like this) breeding further mistrust.

Is this what the rest of the world is like? Am I the only brit who thinks like this?

First mefi post! Hi everyone!
posted by davemee at 1:58 AM on February 16, 2007 [4 favorites]


amberglow: "this was interesting too: BBC-- Why are Dutch children so happy?"

Legal weed.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 2:16 AM on February 16, 2007


pracowity: Happiness is related to relative material success. Being one of the poorest kids in an American town feels bad, and is bad for you, even if you are richer than most of the kids in some faraway country with a lower GDP. America is bad for many kids because of the wide disparities between neighbors.

I don't know about that. It's true that disparity does bother people, but I don't know if lessening the disparity does much to improve that - it's a natural result of people's competitive natures, and every country has people wealthier than you.

Furthermore, wealth isn't just important to happiness, it influences many things - health care, education, food, what you can do, and more. Those benefits carry over regardless of where one fits into society.
posted by Mitrovarr at 2:32 AM on February 16, 2007


Boy is this the perfect storm of leftism. Bad statistics, Anglo-bashing, an open and shut case of what is not seen, and all wrapped up in Won't somebody please think of the children?
posted by hoverboards don't work on water at 2:41 AM on February 16, 2007


God bless the Netherlands.
posted by Meatbomb at 2:54 AM on February 16, 2007


Brian B.-It saves wealthy people a lot of money to spread the myth that everyone can afford to go to college in America, which is why we end up wasting more talent than the other industrialized nations.

Can you help me dispel this myth? I went to college on pell grants and loans, zero college savings and minimal support from parents. All this at a 4-year, public university, in the recent past (1998-2002). I could have gotten by with zero family support if I had gone an extra 10k in the whole (graduated with about $24k debt), or went without two semesters in Europe. So I'm trying to figure out how a high school graduate who actually wants to go to college in America couldn't afford it.

And don't puss out and argue for some slight variation on your premise. How can a high school graduate who is qualified and wants to go to college not afford it?

I'll go ahead and stipulate that I agree, we waste a lot of talent because of crappy primary and secondary education, that more grants and very low-interest loans should be available (a whole lot more) and that we do a horrible job of preparing poor and minority students for higher education, probably even making many perceive that they can't afford college. But I don't see how you can say that it's not available.
posted by bluejayk at 3:32 AM on February 16, 2007


bluejayk...I don't understand that argument either. It is my belief that if you want to go to college, you can. And how exactly does the US crap on its teachers? In my county, teachers start at $35K a year. That is a pretty decent salary considering they get nearly 3 months of vacation in a year. If they want to work the summer, they get a bonus.
posted by toddbass10 at 4:56 AM on February 16, 2007


Commioe claptrap...we are still number one!!! love it or leave it
posted by Postroad at 5:03 AM on February 16, 2007


Bluejayk: I notice that you had to take on about $14K in loans to get through college - for many people this could make it impossible. Expecting people to take on that much debt is ludicrous. In France, citizens who pass the entrance exam go to the Sorbonne or any other college for free.

toddbass: Start at $35K, but even with decades of experience teacher salaries tend to top out around $50-70K. Raising a family on that kind of salary can be difficult or impossible depending on where in the country you live. Plus, teachers working in our many underfunded schools often have to shell out their own money for school supplies (they get to write off something like $200 of those costs on their taxes - but many teachers spend more than that). Teachers grade papers and prep lessons on unpaid time. Even for the many teachers with masters degrees in education, salaries are often not much better. The profession in general does not reward experience, dedication, and professional development with the same kind of money you can find in other professions. Your garbage collectors may be making more money than your teachers. I'm all for well paid garbage collectors, but teachers need to get paid more, man.
posted by cubby at 5:26 AM on February 16, 2007


That is a pretty decent salary considering they get nearly 3 months of vacation in a year. If they want to work the summer, they get a bonus.

And then there's the civil service pension- reason why as many women as I know are aiming at teaching as a profession, more indeed than can get in. Granted, we're talking the leafy suburbs, but still...
posted by IndigoJones at 5:33 AM on February 16, 2007


Can you help me dispel this myth?

I'll take a crack at this, from personal experience. I went directly to college just after graduating high school. My mother was a single parent with two children and a $7.50/hour job, so she couldn't offer any monetary support toward my education. Because of her financial status, she was unwilling to cosign any loans for me, meaning that I could only get some $2000 or so, which was barely enough to cover classes. I was able to receive a grant which covered my on campus housing, but I couldn't afford books at all, so I spent most of my time reading over the texts in the library.

I couldn't get that same grant the next semester, so I had to drop out for lack of money.

(I actually just started back at college last month, 10 years after my first attempt! Woo!

I'm gonna be a high school math teacher.)
posted by The Great Big Mulp at 5:34 AM on February 16, 2007


we are still number one!!!

At some things, yes. But not at all things. No country can have it all, not even the US. It's fundamentally impossible to avoid compromise, to somehow escape making trade-offs or choices and emphasizing one thing over another.
posted by scheptech at 5:43 AM on February 16, 2007


Cubby - Bluejayk: I notice that you had to take on about $14K in loans to get through college - for many people this could make it impossible. Expecting people to take on that much debt is ludicrous. In France, citizens who pass the entrance exam go to the Sorbonne or any other college for free.

How does 14k in loans make it impossible to get through college? I'm talking about federally subsidized loans that are interest free while in college, can be deferred or forbeared (whatever) for years. I was a philosophy major, for god's sake, and my BA has upped my earnings potential greatly, making even 25k (to be paid back over as much as 15 years if I choose) pretty easy. So again, how is it impossible? It's not even that hard.

Yay for France, yay for Europe, they have free University. I'm not arguing against increased subsididies, but I don't think that's where the real inequalities lie. Primary and secondary education is where we need to focus our efforts to redistribute wealth. Asking an adult to contribute $20k toward the cost of his own education is not unreasonable. Your typical BA/BS holder can make that back in just a couple years in increased wages.
posted by bluejayk at 5:43 AM on February 16, 2007


Happiness is related to relative material success. ...
I don't know about that. It's true that disparity does bother people, but I don't know if lessening the disparity does much to improve that - it's a natural result of people's competitive natures, and every country has people wealthier than you.


It's been soldily shown that in so far as wealth or poverty effects happiness, it's relative wealth and poverty, how you are doing relative to others in your society. (See Richard Layard etc.) So where nations have a wide dispersion of incomes (hello UK, USA), there's greater disatisfaction at the bottom end of the income scale. In retrospect, this makes sense. You get jealous over the things you see every day and can't have, that could plausibly have been yours, rather than happy that you don't live in Ethiopia.
posted by outlier at 5:49 AM on February 16, 2007


My mother was a single parent with two children and a $7.50/hour job, so she couldn't offer any monetary support toward my education. Because of her financial status, she was unwilling to cosign any loans for me, meaning that I could only get some $2000 or so, which was barely enough to cover classes.

Something about this does not compute. Were you applying for federal student loans? Typically students are elligible for up to $10,000 in subsidized loans per year (up to 4 years?). Its been a long time, and I don't remember specifically, but I am sure my parents weren't my co-signers. I came from a foodstamp, ADC household. No car, no colateral. So, without doing a lot of research I can't back this up, the federal gov't is the guarantor of your Stafford or Perkins loans. Perhaps you are remembering a private, unsubsidized loan that you were unable to get a co-signer for?
posted by bluejayk at 5:51 AM on February 16, 2007


Thanks for posting this, amberglow. It was obviously all over the papers here yesterday but it didn't occur to me to FPP it.
posted by goodnewsfortheinsane at 6:30 AM on February 16, 2007


As a UK resident this confirms what I have suspected for a long time - the parents of today's kids were raised during the Thatcher era, the era of 'me', 'there is no such thing as society', don't give a fuck about anyone else and now those chickens are coming home to roost.

The Guardian letter page yesterday echoed this opinion (c'mon, it is the Guardian !!) and many salient points were also made of our so called current heroes - vacuous, untalented 'celebritites', absurdly overpaid, violent sportsmen etc etc. Makes your heart swell with pride.

When you eventually snuffs it, I and my friends have a standing arrangment to meet up and drink heavily to the death of the worst thing that ever happened to this country.
posted by Mintyblonde at 6:31 AM on February 16, 2007


Sorry, when SHE eventually snuffs it, I and my friends have a standing arrangment to meet up and drink heavily to the death of the worst thing that ever happened to this country.
posted by Mintyblonde at 6:32 AM on February 16, 2007


Asking an adult to contribute $20k toward the cost of his own education is not unreasonable. Your typical BA/BS holder can make that back in just a couple years in increased wages.

Yup. That ends up being only about $100/month in loan payments at the current rates, a little more if you want to pay it off faster.
posted by footnote at 6:38 AM on February 16, 2007


I actually just started back at college last month, 10 years after my first attempt! Woo!
It took me almost 10 years--i went entirely at night, after work, and still had to get loans for CUNY. Knock em dead, TGBM!

I think thinking it's normal to start your adult life with debt at all (let alone $10,000 and up) is just one of our problems here. Most starting salaries are not enough to cover rent, food, etc--and debt repayments, i don't think.

Icestorm, i find that's it's true all over Europe--not as much drive and competitiveness and striving as us, but then we don't have any safety net to catch us should we fall or fail. I think it pays off in quality of life there tho--just the existence of national health for you guys makes job selection, and staying or not in a bad job, etc, an entirely different experience with very different repercussions.
posted by amberglow at 7:04 AM on February 16, 2007


Asking an adult to contribute $20k toward the cost of his own education is not unreasonable. Your typical BA/BS holder can make that back in just a couple years in increased wages.
Yup. That ends up being only about $100/month in loan payments at the current rates


does not follow: $20k / 24mo = $833 / mo, which is significantly more burdensome. (I know, I'm doing it)
posted by Popular Ethics at 7:10 AM on February 16, 2007


What's up with Finland's high placement? I thought that Finland was supposed to be the suicide capitol of the world or something.
posted by Afroblanco at 7:16 AM on February 16, 2007


Also, I think it's worth noting that the Netherlands is #1 for child well-being. You know, the same Netherlands that has legal pot and mushrooms?

Think about that next time some prohibition advocate tells you that we need to keep soft drugs illegal "for the sake of the children."
posted by Afroblanco at 7:20 AM on February 16, 2007


MeFites may care to look here for an examination of the many ways that the UNICEF report is misleading.
The report clearly and repeatedly states it's gathered all sorts of data to paint a general overall picture, and that there isn't objective data for every single element they include to make up their rankings--and that website itself is all about not spending tax money and less govt, so they're obviously spinning too.

I personally think they left out many relevant stats--income distribution levels, and the distribution of health facilities/doctors/recreation areas/parks and places per income/neighborhood within countries, and even the school funding methods/inequalities of and within each country, etc.)

It's simply a fact that some countries make kids and families a priority. That costs a lot of money, and it makes the UK, for instance, look even worse, since they have a relatively high tax rate, but don't get those services/support the other countries do (Netherlands actually taxes their poor at very low rates, with the wealthier paying what we would consider more than just their share). We in the US at least have one very lame excuse--we don't value it or pour money into it or raise taxes for it, while the UK does take more in taxes and apparently provides much less on the ground.
posted by amberglow at 7:24 AM on February 16, 2007


Popular Ethics,

You've misunderstood. The point is that the $833 represents increased wages (difference in salary between collge grad and not) which is approximately $10k/year. With a loan payment of 1/4 of that, it is clearly advantageous to take the loan and go to college, and it is eminently doable. Why not get a head start on being an adult? Invest in yourself, and have a responsibility to pay back.

To me, its less realistic to think that college should be free or paid by the government. (We KNOW its not 'free')
posted by sfts2 at 7:41 AM on February 16, 2007


on Dutch taxation
posted by amberglow at 7:43 AM on February 16, 2007




But if we didn't have miserable childhoods, how on earth would we justify our bleak, maudlin first novels, our inability to forgive our parents, our teenaged rebellion, our "You think you had it bad?" one-upmanship, our therapy bills, and our substance abuse problems . . . Everybody knows that having a happy childhoods insures that you will never be cool.
posted by thivaia at 8:10 AM on February 16, 2007


three blind mice: How do I do what you did? (Emigrate to Sweden?)
Just curious - I lived in Japan for a few years, but lifestyle-wise it's not that different than the US. I keep hearing all these nice things about the Scandinavian countries (and the Netherlands) and I'm starting to think it might be worth trying to move.
posted by bashos_frog at 8:16 AM on February 16, 2007


Emigrating to northern Europe
posted by pracowity at 8:32 AM on February 16, 2007


amberglow, those numbers are misleading at best. See here for a more detailed breakdown. Or do you really think that people would accept if a €1 annual raise would result in them having their wages tax quadrupled? :)
posted by goodnewsfortheinsane at 8:35 AM on February 16, 2007


Learned to be a psychopath.

That's not possible.
posted by oaf at 9:46 AM on February 16, 2007


I noticed this about Dutch kids before. Perhaps some of it is because they don't have the 'glorification of children' culture that we do.
posted by drstein at 1:47 PM on February 16, 2007



It's absolutely possible to learn to be a psychopath: lock a normal baby in a closet for the first few years of life and don't touch him other than to feed and change him and beat him randomly through adolescence and you have a pretty good chance. Ideally, you should force him to harm younger, smaller children during this. Of course, if you don't teach him some social skills, he'll probably appear outwardly more like someone with autism-- but training a child to be violent and unempathetic is unfortunately not hard to do.

Regarding relative v. absolute poverty: there's a huge body of research that shows that relative poverty is what matters and that the greater income inequality a country has, no matter how wealthy, the worse the health outcomes are in terms of both mental and physical illnesses. Even countries with an NHS like the UK show this pattern. And it cannot be explained by poor health behaviors like smoking amongst the lower classes.
posted by Maias at 3:11 PM on February 16, 2007


amberglow, those numbers are misleading at best. See here for a more detailed breakdown. Or do you really think that people would accept if a €1 annual raise would result in them having their wages tax quadrupled? :)

I think they got it from this page at your link

We have it here for a 10% jump if you make a dollar more--from $30,650 taxed at 15% to $30,651 taxed at 25%
posted by amberglow at 3:32 PM on February 16, 2007


My wife and I are seriously considering moving to Stockholm after we finish our respective professional school courses. We visited last month, and I've been studying Swedish. We're planning to take language classes together soon. Some people get very offended that we would even consider leaving the US, but I don't care to spend my life in frustration trying to mend a country that doesn't seem to want healing. We found the Swedes to be friendly, well-informed, and exceptionally civilized. Seems like a fantastic environment to raise a family, and this survey helps confirm that.
posted by 1adam12 at 4:10 PM on February 16, 2007


Bluejayk wrote:
I went to college on pell grants and loans, zero college savings and minimal support from parents. All this at a 4-year, public university, in the recent past (1998-2002). I could have gotten by with zero family support if I had gone an extra 10k in the whole (graduated with about $24k debt), or went without two semesters in Europe. So I'm trying to figure out how a high school graduate who actually wants to go to college in America couldn't afford it.

Here's one response.
posted by Brian B. at 4:17 PM on February 16, 2007


To me, its less realistic to think that college should be free or paid by the government. (We KNOW its not 'free')

What is the point in a government lending money to its citizens, for college, through a federally insured bank, at any interest rate?
posted by Brian B. at 4:33 PM on February 16, 2007


We have it here for a 10% jump if you make a dollar more--from $30,650 taxed at 15% to $30,651 taxed at 25%

Those are marginal tax rates. If your taxable income increases from $30650 to $30651, you pay $0.25 more in taxes. Marginal tax rates are the tax rates you pay only on dollars in that bracket -- they do not reach back and tax you again on your "earlier" dollars.

If the Dutch tax brackets you quoted were not also marginal tax rates, I will eat my own liver.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 5:25 PM on February 16, 2007


Boy those Scandanavians sure have a deal. The government takes most of your money in exchange for letting you raise your children in the way the government thinks best. Give me Alabama any day of the week.

(My corner of New Jersey, alas, seems to partake equally from the worst of bost systems: the government takes only a little bit less of your money and you're still are out of pocket if you want to raise your children the way you see fit.)
posted by MattD at 5:30 PM on February 16, 2007


Here are the income and property taxes for the richest country in the world per capita. Americans generally ignore their health insurance costs when comparing Scandavian tax rates because they are usually shamed when they find out they pay more and get less.
posted by Brian B. at 5:43 PM on February 16, 2007 [1 favorite]


ScandaNAvian.
posted by Brian B. at 5:45 PM on February 16, 2007


Er, Scandinavian.
posted by Brian B. at 5:46 PM on February 16, 2007


If the Dutch tax brackets you quoted were not also marginal tax rates, I will eat my own liver.

I seriously wouldn't know--it was a comment at the Guardian and i linked to the original page), but i suggest chopped, with a little onion and carrot (and maybe some bagels to smear it on). : >
posted by amberglow at 6:20 PM on February 16, 2007


Boy those Scandanavians sure have a deal. The government takes most of your money in exchange for letting you raise your children in the way the government thinks best. Give me Alabama any day of the week.

Yep. It's really sinister that babies get to see the doctor when they need to, that the public health nurses check to see that they are growing and developing properly and that the parents aren't overwhelmed, that the parents get to stay home with a new baby for a year, and that once a week young children get to go and hang out with other young children and sing songs and play with toys and get eased into the idea of education. Textbook example of an evil commie conspiracy to me. For all their parents know, they could be being taught such Socialist concepts as sharing, caring, and how to enjoy learning. Thank God that Alabama is free from such Leninist indoctrination.
posted by jokeefe at 6:33 PM on February 16, 2007 [2 favorites]



What is the point in a government lending money to its citizens, for college, through a federally insured bank, at any interest rate?


User fees are much more efficient way of collecting money and allocating resources than income tax. Not that I'm saying we should require students to foot the entire bill of their education (society benefits from a more educated workforce, so I think it's okay to ask society to help pay). Asking students to take low interest loans in order to be personally responsible for this huge benefit allows for greater flexibility in our educational system and allows us to use scarce resources in other areas that need it more (primary and secondary education? Okay, probably more bombs and superhighways, but that's besides the point)

Just about anyone can afford college, in that anyone can take loans and go to a highly subsidized, high quality public school and benefit from highly increased wage-earning potential that easily offsets the typical debt load, (about $18,000 according to a quick google search).

If I'm wrong, tell me how I'm overestimating the resources available.
posted by bluejayk at 8:42 PM on February 16, 2007


That increased wage doesn't actually happen for years--isn't it a lifetime average or an overall differential? Meanwhile, loans start coming due (unless you become a nurse or teacher or something exempted) almost immediately.

And things like Pell Grants and other non-loan options have been disappearing fast. The explosion of the middle class was in part fueled by things like the GI Bill, which gave college educations to millions--those weren't loans. Society and Government gave that generation so many things, and it paid off handsomely--that standard has been falling for decades now (since the 70s i hear), and won't return without massive investment and/or redirection of existing resources. When i read that 10 billion is missing and/or overcharged in Iraq (almost 3 billion to Halliburton alone), you know our priorities are beyond screwed up--how many kids could go to college on even 100 million bucks, let alone a billion? How many public schools could be made better? How many communities could get all their kids (and adults) free health care? How many teachers could be trained? ...
posted by amberglow at 9:03 PM on February 16, 2007


bluejayk, this has nothing to do with "user fees." College is a social benefit, it doesn't need a sin tax. Your angle on this is opposed to public education as something that doesn't fit into your model. I think you operate from the assumption of rationing education, making it for the select few, not believing that it integral to all economic success and international competition.

As for your information about college loans, I think your information is misleadingly vague. Pell grants don't go to everyone, and they are usually a few hundred dollars per student. The Stafford and Perkins loans aren't low interest when compared to a mortgage, usually somewhere between 6 and 9 percent. And paying them back is a challenge to someone who doesn't major in science or computers because the meter starts almost immediately after graduation, and most graduates work in school and stick with hourly wages.

Also, spending on foreign war is the point, not beside the point. It's a priority issue with public funds, and by spending it on college, we don't waste it on war. I think conservatives fear education, especially higher education.

Finally, I still don't see the ethics in charging a US student citizen any interest rate on a federal loan, coming through an insured bank, with money from the federal treasury, which is printed, guaranteed, and issued by the American people.
posted by Brian B. at 9:14 PM on February 16, 2007


I think you operate from the assumption of rationing education, making it for the select few, not believing that it integral to all economic success and international competition.

Higher education is still mostly for the select few in places where it's free to students. It's just that everyone pays to send mostly well-off kids to university.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 10:15 PM on February 16, 2007


College completion (see tables in left column)

Japan 26%
Portugal 25%
U.K. 24%
Australia 23%
Switzerland 23%
Denmark 23%
Ireland 21%
New Zealand 21%
France 20%
Iceland 19%
Korea 18%
Belgium 18%
Sweden 18%
Slovak Rep. 18%
Poland 17%
USA 17%
Spain 17%
Netherlands 16%
Hungary 16%
Czech Rep. 15%
Mexico 14%
Norway 14%
Finland 13%
Turkey 13%
Austria 13%
Germany 13%
Italy 12%
posted by Brian B. at 10:25 PM on February 16, 2007


Brian B., I don't believe you are arguing against my position, but positions you associate with mine. Calling loans 'sin taxes' is a cynical attempt to make me look like an oil-baron fundamentalist trying to dismantle the atheist secular education system.

This is my point: anyone who is qualified to go to college in America can go. If I am wrong, tell me why. We have community college, public state universities, federally guaranteed loans and limited grants. Average debt load for a new graduate is about $20k. Average at public universities was significantly less (according to national center for education statistics, a US gov't agency). That's easily affordable, paying over 10 years for a college graduate. So anyone can afford it right?

You and I may disagree on what level tertiary education should be funded, but I don't see how you can assert that it's not affordable at the current level of subsidy.

If I am wrong that anyone can afford to go, then show me.

If you just think it should Uni should be free for everyone, I think you're trying to fix a problem that's not broken. The US has world class universities. We have crappy primary and secondary schools. As far as education goes, we should fix the problems, not dramatically rearrange the parts that are working well.
posted by bluejayk at 11:10 PM on February 16, 2007


This is my point: anyone who is qualified to go to college in America can go. If I am wrong, tell me why.

Don't they say that about walking on water too?

We have community college, public state universities, federally guaranteed loans and limited grants. Average debt load for a new graduate is about $20k. Average at public universities was significantly less (according to national center for education statistics, a US gov't agency). That's easily affordable, paying over 10 years for a college graduate. So anyone can afford it right?


And anyone can thus afford higher taxes to pay for it.

If I am wrong that anyone can afford to go, then show me.

Because you can't show it?
posted by Brian B. at 11:33 PM on February 16, 2007


Just want to say thanks for the great FPP and the many illuminating anecdotes in the comments on the quality of life in the various countries you guys mention.
posted by nihraguk at 8:23 AM on February 17, 2007


Perhaps you are remembering a private, unsubsidized loan that you were unable to get a co-signer for?

I had both a Stafford and Perkins loan, and that's it. Well, those and some kinda grant, which I don't quite remember. I could be recalling it all poorly, myself. But there seems to be something in my memory about not being able to get more money unless I had someone cosign these loans.

Come to think of it, it might have also had something to do with my mother divorcing her husband the year before I went to college. He was doing pretty well, financially.
posted by The Great Big Mulp at 8:50 AM on February 17, 2007


College completion (see tables in left column)

Yes, exactly. 10--25% is the select few, not the teeming masses. Under free-to-students university system, everyone pays to send 10--25% of students through university. 10--25% drawn very disproportionately from wealthier families. Everyone pays to send upper-middle-class and up kids to college.

If you want poor kids to get to college, you shouldn't favor free college for everyone, since that primarily favors the well-off. Instead, you should favor relatively expensive nominal tuition and much larger scale financial aid, which creates what amounts to a progressive scheme.

Mulp, that's the classic way to get fucked by financial aid: have at least one parent who can afford to send you to university but just won't.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 10:09 AM on February 17, 2007


Xenophobe, the select few can be whatever you want it to be, it is meaningless. At least I used it in the context of less than, where you used it to denote equal amounts, which is not the case. The point of the charts shows that Americans leave more than anyone else. I don't argue for loan-free college at all, merely a guarantee that nobody profits and thereby discourages you from making the effort.

We already subsidize higher education directly, straight to the university in most cases in order to further the public good. It would be inconsistent for a banker to profit from this scheme. I obviously think the loans should be free, or else it discourages learning and discourages people from reaching their earning potential, which is the honest way to get it back in taxes. Speaking of which, people should only pay off the loans when they can afford to be taxed. Presently, an hourly wage earner is expected to pay regardless or they sic bill collectors on them.
posted by Brian B. at 10:26 AM on February 17, 2007


you should favor relatively expensive nominal tuition and much larger scale financial aid, which creates what amounts to a progressive scheme.


But why should the majority of that aid be in loan form and not grants or other non-repaying methods? Why should it require a decade minimum and usually much longer to erase the large debts you've already accrued even before graduation? Why set people off on adult life with such a burden on top of the usual struggles to get a good job, apt, etc?
posted by amberglow at 10:30 AM on February 17, 2007


I rather like the loan concept, direct from the treasury for services that can't be abused by their demand. It might work for healthcare too. Loan people the money for their surgery. This puts them in the mode to seek efficient options, while not needing to be paid until they enter a sufficient tax bracket. If one argues that they will never be able to pay it back, then such an argument justified the gift of the loan.
posted by Brian B. at 10:58 AM on February 17, 2007


Xenophobe, the select few can be whatever you want it to be, it is meaningless.

Then why did you bring it up?

At least I used it in the context of less than, where you used it to denote equal amounts, which is not the case.

I used it in no such way. I used it because 10--25% is much less than 50%, and much, much less than 100%. Higher education remains tightly rationed even when it is free to students, and largely the same people end up going who would have gone under a student-pays tuition scheme.

But why should the majority of that aid be in loan form and not grants or other non-repaying methods?

It shouldn't. I don't recall saying otherwise.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 11:09 AM on February 17, 2007


Then why did you bring it up?

Because in my context it denoted an imposed filter based on afforability, not the natural phenomenon based on educational interest or the ability to learn. Obviously. You tried to equate the two.
posted by Brian B. at 12:07 PM on February 17, 2007


This is my point: anyone who is qualified to go to college in America can go. If I am wrong, tell me why.
It's really a meaningless statement, and untrue precisely because of finances more than anything else. I believe it's only true for Native Americans who are members of a recognized tribe actually--in reality, that is. It's like saying "anyone who is qualified can be President" when you know that atheists and gays and lesbians and most minorities can't realistically be, even tho they might be American and 35 or older.

The mindset is very deeply ingrained in all of us from birth--we're consumers, everything costs and value is often determined by a higher cost, and doing for others to help all of us is not worth having to pay extra for especially if there's no direct personal payoff, etc.
posted by amberglow at 1:06 PM on February 17, 2007


Even our primary and HS funding is geared towards that mindset--by basing school funding mostly on local property taxes instead of overall national or state funding, the payoff is seen--and local only. We don't have to worry "our beautiful minds" about other families and kids elsewhere. We see what our taxes give us directly. We only have to care about it locally, even tho all of society is benefited by good education everywhere.
posted by amberglow at 1:10 PM on February 17, 2007


If your dad is a plumber or semiskilled factory worker, you're unlikely to attend university even if it's free to students.

If you think this is just because plumber's kids don't care about education, or can't learn very well, and not because the larger political and cultural system and particularly the primary education system skew their children inexorably away from higher education, you are fooling yourself.

If you want to increase access to higher education, great. But making it free to students won't do that. All that that will do is force everyone to pitch in to help send well-off kids, since it's still overwhelmingly well-off kids who go for a whole host of reasons unrelated to cost. If you want to increase access, focus on how the tracking system in primary schools works, and where the opportunities to switch tracks are, and on the availability of subsidies to those who need them. Not on subsidizing people who can afford to go, and who were going to go even if it was unsubsidized. That's just wasting tax revenue that could have gone towards actually helping less-well-off people.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 1:12 PM on February 17, 2007


If your dad is a plumber or semiskilled factory worker, you're unlikely to attend university even if it's free to students.

Most plumbers with kids are probably working to send their kids to college. Making public college free to kids from "well off" families is not a crime if their taxes are paying for it. Private schools are always there to take their extra money.
posted by Brian B. at 2:58 PM on February 17, 2007


Most plumbers with kids are probably working to send their kids to college.

That's a nice assertion. Can you back that up with anything other than your feeling or wild-assed guess?

Making public college free to kids from "well off" families is not a crime if their taxes are paying for it.

No, but it would be more sensible to use that tax revenue for something that actually helps badly-off people than to just hand it back to the well-off kid so that he can do something he would do anyway.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 3:35 PM on February 17, 2007


Most plumbers with kids are probably working to send their kids to college. Making public college free to kids from "well off" families is not a crime if their taxes are paying for it.

Bingo. And City and Community Colleges used to be free in many areas. My mother went to CUNY entirely for free (everyone did til 1975), and besides not being free i saw my tuition more than double just in the years i was there.
posted by amberglow at 3:44 PM on February 17, 2007




Xenophobe wrote: "If your dad is a plumber or semiskilled factory worker, you're unlikely to attend university even if it's free to students."

Brian B. responded: "Most plumbers with kids are probably working to send their kids to college."

Xenophobe responded: That's a nice assertion. Can you back that up with anything other than your feeling or wild-assed guess?

Brian B. responds: So then you just made it up about the plumbers?
posted by Brian B. at 4:29 PM on February 17, 2007




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