Inequality among Israel’s children worst in developed world — study

Jewish state ranks poorly in poverty, literacy and health gaps between its least well-off kids and the average, says UN research

Sue Surkes is The Times of Israel's environment reporter

Illustrative: Israeli schoolchildren, August 27, 2013. (Yossi Zamir/Flash90/File)
Illustrative: Israeli schoolchildren, August 27, 2013. (Yossi Zamir/Flash90/File)

Israel has the highest level of socioeconomic inequality among its children in a review of 41 developed nations, said a report published by the United Nations on Thursday.

Denmark is at the opposite end of the scale, according to a research unit of UNICEF, the United Nations Children’s Emergency Fund.

The study, Innocenti Report Card 13, ranks countries in the European Union and the 34-member Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) by how far children at the bottom of the scale fall below their peers in the middle of the range, scoring them based on household income, educational achievement, self-reported health and life satisfaction.

“Understanding the differences among countries in how far the most disadvantaged children fall behind their average peers can provide some insight into the conditions or interventions that may help to reduce the gaps,” said the research center director, Sarah Cook.

“The league tables provide a clear reminder that the well-being of children in any country is not an unavoidable outcome of family circumstances or of the level of economic development, but can be shaped by policy choices.”

The report provides five tables that give a snapshot of how far developed countries allow their most disadvantaged children to fall behind the “average” child.

In 37th position out of 41, Israel — where 27.5% of child are below the poverty line — is one of the worst offenders when it comes to allowing the poorest children to fall behind the “average” child on income inequality.

The Jewish state also only ranks above Mexico and Turkey on how far low-achieving students are allowed to fall behind the “average” child in reading, math and science literacy at the age of 15.

Illustrative image of Israeli schoolchildren waiting to cross a street. (photo: Liron Almog / Flash 90)
Illustrative image of Israeli schoolchildren waiting to cross a street. (photo: Liron Almog / Flash 90)

With the exception of Turkey, Israel also has a higher proportion of children (around 30%) who complain about their health at least once a day.

The only bright spot for Israel, where vegetables are a dietary staple, is that socioeconomic status has a limited effect on healthy eating.

“As our understanding of the long term impact of inequality grows, it becomes increasingly clear that governments must place priority on enhancing the well-being of all children today, and give them the opportunity to achieve their potential,” Cook said.

Only Spain and the United States have improved in all four indicators since 2002.

The income equality analysis was based on European Union data or, as in Israel’s case, national household income surveys. Educational profiles came from the OECD, while health and life satisfaction figures were taken from research carried out by HBSC — Health Behavior in School-aged Children — in conjunction with the World Health Organization.

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