The Standard has a good post on how well we’re doing in providing for mothers in New Zealand. (note: The Standard is a partisan blog for the Labour movement, so the post is not politically neutral) Steve notes that New Zealand is ranked the 4th best place to be a mother by the report, (Sweden, Noway, and Iceland take out the top three spots in that order, and Niger is worst) and we’re rated as the second best place to be a woman in general. (Sweden beats us again) The report is fascinating reading, and shows that while New Zealand is doing incredibly compared to other countries in key indicators of female welfare, we have a lot of room for improvement, and we should be worried about backsliding in some areas such as female representation.
Worth noting is that in terms of children we fall down all the way to 20th. While New Zealand has a long history of being on the forefront of women’s rights, we haven’t yet afforded the same respect to children, and it shows in more than the recent s59 debate, which largely ignored the issue of children themselves and focused on parents.
Some other statistics: New Zealand is 6th-equal in terms of adoption of modern contraceptive methods, with 72% of women using modern contraceptives. The top country in this metric is the United Kingdom, with 80% of women using modern contraceptives. New Zealand and Australia have the best-educated women, having an expected 21 and 20 years of education respectively. We also do well in the ratio of female income to male income- women earn 70% of what men earn in New Zealand and in Australia. We pull in 3rd-equal here, with Norwegian women earning 77% as much as men, and Swedish women earning 81%. Finally, Sweden is the only country with anything near politcal parity for women, where 47% of elected representatives are female. New Zealand is 7th, tied with Australia and Ireland, with only 33% of elected representatives being female. It’s worth noting that most of our female MPs come from party lists, not electorates, so if we were to ditch MMP, political representation for women would likely be set back even further.
There are also some very good international summaries regarding the United States’ poor showing. It comes out as one of the worst developed countries to be a mother, and has key similarities to many of the poverty-stricken nations which could provide statistics for the report.
Why doesn’t the United States do better in the rankings?
The United States ranked 27th this year based on several factors:
• One of the key indicators used to calculate well-being for mothers is lifetime risk of maternal mortality. The United States’ rate for maternal mortality is 1 in 4,800 – one of the highest in the developed world. Thirty-five out of 43 countries performed better than the United States on this indicator, including nearly all the Western, Northern and Southern European countries and Australia, Bulgaria, Canada, Czech Republic, Hungary, Japan, New Zealand, Poland, Slovakia and Ukraine.
• Similarly, the United States did not do as well as many other countries with regard to under-5 mortality. The U.S. under-5 mortality rate is 8 per 1,000 births – up from 7 in last year’s Index. Twenty-nine countries performed better than the U.S. on this indicator.
• Only 61 percent of children in the United States are enrolled in preschool – making it the ninth lowest country in the developed world on this indicator.
• Next to Australia, the United States has the least generous maternity leave policies of any wealthy nation.
• The United States is also lagging behind with regard to the political status of women. Only 17 percent of seats in the U.S. Congress are held by women, compared to 47 percent in Sweden and 42 percent in Finland.
Basically, the United States did terribly in this report because it is politcally rife with sexism, and in an extremely conservative political culture dominated by old white men, it is difficult to implement comprehensive and effective healthcare or education policies. There’s also a very sinister side to the poor health statistics:
Maternal mortality rates in the United States outstrip those of all other developed countries largely due to the mortality rates among women of color. The maternal mortality rate among black women (36.1 per 100,000 live births) is about 4 times the rate among white women (9.8 per 100,000 live births). This gap has widened since 2000.
So poverty driven by racial inequality has a large impact on the US statistics. The report says that racial inequality in the US compares to inequality in some of the worst African regimes, with roughly double infant mortality rates for black children in every state that provided regional statistics.
While the United States’ situation is certainly interesting, (I’ll need to follow this up to explain why) it is far less urgent than the poor and undeveloped nations who have sweeping inequality, poverty, and even economically-driven starvation.
note: This report cleverly groups countries into tiers based on how developed they are and how reliable and accurate available statistics are. I only compare New Zealand to countries in the same tier when I quote statistics in this post.