Not Saussure

February 18, 2007

Unicef study on childhood

Filed under: Mental Health — notsaussure @ 7:47 pm

Slightly puzzled by this; can anyone explain the apparent disjunction between the happy childhoods they seem to enjoy in the top five counties in the Unicef survey,  The Netherlands, Sweden, Denmark, Finland and Spain and the likelihood that adults — at least adult males — in those countries will go on to kill themselves?

Male suicide for adult males  per 100,000 (for most recent year available): Netherlands:  13.0; Sweden: 19.7; Denmark 20.9; Finland 34.6; Spain 12.4.

The comparable rates for bottom-ranked countries when it comes to happy childhoods are:  Portugal 8.5; Austria 27.3; Hungary 47.1; USA 17.6; UK 11.8. 

I’d have thought that happier children would tend to grow up to become happy adults and that, by the same token, the stresses and unhappinesses that lead adults to take their own lives would tend to communicate themselves to the children.   But apparently not.   



  1. Perhaps a happy childhood gives an unrealistic standard by which to judge the quality of one’s adult life.

    Comment by Tode — February 19, 2007 @ 8:16 am

  2. There correlation between the top nations and the scandanavian social model so beloved of the left was bound to attract some comment.

    I’m still doing some research but there also seems to be a cerrelation between some of the Southern European largely catholic countries and good scores in the family structure / support category – lending weight to the right’s emphasis on family breakdown.

    Comment by Liam Murray — February 19, 2007 @ 6:27 pm

  3. I didn’t know the Tories were advocating the restoration of the Stuart line as a way to stop family breakdown? Has anyone told Dr. Williams?

    Comment by Tom — February 19, 2007 @ 9:46 pm

  4. I believe he’s been told, Tom, or is about to be.    I’m a bit sceptical about all these correlations, myself.    I don’t really buy the Catholic family structures bit — I’ve not examined the rankings in any detail, but it’s notable that Spain is apparently good for both happy families and suicides, while the Portuguese, next door, apparently have almost as miserable childhoods as do we (and are even less suicidal).    Meanwhile, the Hungarians are mostly Catholic, as I recall, and are apparently miserable both as adults and children.

    My late wife always maintained that having attended a convent school meant that life held few subsequent terrors for her, so maybe that’s got something to do with it, too.   

    As to family breakdown as a cause of problems, I rather suspect the reasons for the breakdown may be worth considering.    As I suggested in another post,  the Criminal Justice System, in which I work, quite frequently removes fathers from their families for years at a time and, not infrequently, that’s clearly not too bad an idea.    

    Comment by notsaussure — February 19, 2007 @ 10:46 pm

  5. Have you lived in one of those countries for a length of time? It’s boring, boring, boring. It’s soulless and the climate and sunlessness also contribute. It’s grim and expensive and that’s reflected in their conversations.

    Comment by jameshigham — February 20, 2007 @ 7:03 am

  6. Suicide rates in countries with very strong social support and/or conventions and the accompanying monitoring tend to be quite high because of the intensity of pressure to conform. Although most will benefit from this safety net, there’ll be some for whom the spotlight will be unbearable. In Britain there are many who live on the fringes of financial and social viability for whom the trade off in discomfort is worth the gain in personal autonomy, however precarious. That, we shouldn’t lose. The UNICEF report relates to very specific areas of child welfare where we are clearly failing. Put crudely, the report is saying Britain, as a whole society, doesn’t care well enough for children, given its means to do so.

    Comment by Noosa Lee — February 20, 2007 @ 9:07 pm

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