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Where's The Best Place To Be A Mother? And Where's The Worst?

By ceridwen |

Save The Children has released this year’s State of the World’s Mothers report which ranks countries according to where it’s best and worst to be a mother.  Number one? Norway. Number two? Australia. The last place you’d want to be a mother? Afghanistan. In fact, women in Afghanistan are 200 times more likely to die giving birth than as the result of gun fire or bombing. The US ranks #31 of 43 developed countries and comes in last place for maternal mortality in the entire developed world. Sigh.

The overall rankings are based on factors such as women’s health and life expectancy,  educational, economic and political status, as well as children’s health and education. Specifically they looked at things like maternal mortality, maternity benefits, percentage of women using modern contraception, under-5 mortality rate and ratio of male to female earnings.

Here’s the list:

These are the 43 Developed Nations included in the report, in order from best to worst:
New Zealand
United Kingdom
Czech Republic
United States (#31)
Russian federation
Moldova, Republic of
Bosnia and Herzegovina

Here are the ten lowest ranking countries in the world:

Central African Republic
DR congo

I want to quote extensively here because it’s important for Americans to understand why we’re so far behind other developed countries. Here’s the FAQ section from the report that addresses the US:

“Why doesn’t the United States do better in the rankings? The United States ranked 31st 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 2,100 – the highest of any industrialized nation. In fact, only three Tier I developed countries – Albania, the Russian Federation and Moldova – performed worse than the United States on this indicator. A woman in the U.S. is more than 7 times as likely as a woman in Italy or Ireland to die from pregnancy-related causes and her risk of maternal death is 15-fold that of a woman in Greece.

Similarly, the United States does not do as well as most other developed countries with regard to under-5 mortality. The U.S. under-5 mortality rate is 8 per 1,000 births. This is on par with rates in Latvia. Forty countries performed better than the U.S. on this indicator. At this rate, a child in the U.S. is more than twice as likely as a child in Finland, Greece, Iceland, Japan, Luxembourg, Nor- way, Slovenia, Singapore or Sweden to die before reaching age 5.

Only 58 percent of children in the United States are enrolled in preschool – making it the fifth lowest country in the developed world on this indicator.

The United States has the least generous maternity leave policy – both in terms of duration and percent of wages paid – of any wealthy nation.

The United States is also lagging behind with regard to the political status of women. Only 17 percent of congressional seats are held by women, compared to 45 percent in Sweden and 43 percent in Iceland.

The report comes out in time for Mother’s Day and in conjunction with a huge, important awareness-raising campaign involving several organizations, including the Gates Foundation and Every Mother Counts, about the risks mothers and children are facing all over the world. Obviously there are many, many countries in far worse shape than America, but given all of our resources it’s disturbing that we rank so low. Maybe this Mother’s Day, after we treat the mothers in our own families to some extra love, we can all donate even a small amount of money to Save The Children or another organization seeking to help conditions for mothers and babies all over the world. This report also shows that countries receiving aid do show improvement. As for how to solve our problems back home, that”ll require another post….or a hundred posts. And a prayer.

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About ceridwen



Ceridwen Morris is a writer, mother, and certified childbirth educator. She is the author of several books and screenplays, including (Three Rivers; 2007). She serves on the board of The Childbirth Education Association of Metropolitan New York and teaches at Tribeca Parenting in New York City. Read bio and latest posts → Read Ceridwen's latest posts →

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10 thoughts on “Where's The Best Place To Be A Mother? And Where's The Worst?

  1. catrin says:

    this is a great post. A scary post, too.

  2. David says:

    As someone who is from the US but living in one of the “top ten” countries I do not doubt that there are many better places to be a mother than in the states. But I don’t get the connection between preschool enrollment and a mother’s well being (it was once thought that having mom and kids at home was a good thing) nor do I get how more opportunites for women on the political front make a country a better place to be a mother.

  3. kiki says:

    @David. Maybe that has to do with career options for mothers. If her child does not go to a pre-school that leaves a mother with less options to seek a part-time or even full-time job. Which will affect her pension in the long run. As for the politicians, I can only see indirect links. Maybe female polititians are more concerned about mothers’ rights. Maybe a woman generally has less chances of a political career in the US, setting a bad example for what their daughters can achieve?

  4. iris1973 says:

    Good article but still leaves me with more questions than answers. Why is the mortality rate for women in the US so high? Are our doctors not taking care of us, or is it that we have more women who are not able to afford pre-natal care (as opposed to the socialized health care in countries such as Finland)? Same with the under-5 mortality rate – is this because we are doing something that leads to our children dying or because we have more disease in this country? Come on Babble. Don’t write an article like this without being more specific. The implication is that we need to move to another country to be safer, when in fact it could be socio-economic factors or a matter of genetics.

  5. ceridwen says:

    Iris– Thanks for your comment. I quoted extensively from the report about why America did not score well according to their analysis. You can certainly read the whole report that I linked to if you’d like to know more about their process/findings. One thing they said is that children are much more likely to die under 5 if their mothers die. We don’t have more disease here. As I mentioned we are low on the *developed nations* list, not the developing countries list. The developing countries have problems with clean water and disease and lack of prenatal care. Our problems are complex. As for maternal mortality, a quick answer shows that it’s due to hypertensive disorders, embolism, hemorrhage and complications of medical conditions. To get deeper into why we have more of these problems requires another post– maybe not 100 ;) but at least one. You are absolutely right that this brings up a lot of questions! Really important questions. I will continue to address these issues on this blog. I hope you’ll stay tuned for more.

  6. Bunnytwenty says:

    “Same with the under-5 mortality rate – is this because we are doing something that leads to our children dying or because we have more disease in this country?”

    We live in a country with 25% child poverty, and rapidly shrinking access to health care. The poor have less access to good food, live in polluted neighborhoods, lack access to adequate prenatal care, and have to jump through ridiculous hoops just to see a doctor, so forget about basic preventative care. So yes, more kids die in America, needlessly.

  7. ceridwen says:

    Bunnytwenty– Yes! Thank you for pointing out. The more I read about this the more it becomes abundantly clear that our poor maternal/child mortality numbers are a product of severe class inequality in this country.

  8. Melissa says:

    I grew up in Cali, USA and now live in Sweden. I have two children and I have be paid to stay home with my children for more than 18 months per child I received 80% of my last wage. I am so happy with the Swidish government If I had been living in The USA I would have receive less than 6 weeks with pay
    It is a very sad state ecpecialy when parent must choose to work because of money Instead of having a choice

  9. Sanja says:

    I have noticed that USA, which is the world’s no. 1 in technology, science, military etc., lacks behind Europe when it comes to literacy, education, health care, social care…. I think they don’t pay much attention to the most important things – well being of the citizens.

  10. Elivani says:

    in many areas of the world, aordccing to the study published this week, which was discussed in the previous post here on Birth

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