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By most measures, we are the wealthiest country in the world, but our social order is not giving us the good lives and thriving families that we can and should have.

Children's Happiness:

The US tied for 15th in children’s life satisfaction along with 7 other countries, including the Slovak Republic and the Czech Republic, in a UN study of 27 industrialized countries. That puts us below not only wealthy countries like Sweden, the Netherlands, and Spain but also countries that are far poorer than our own such as Estonia and Slovenia.


Children's Academic Achievement:

The US ranked 40th on mathematics on a test given to 15-year-olds worldwide—well below the average of our peer wealthy countries. We were beaten by, among others, Vietnam, Russia, the Czech Republic, Portugal, Spain, Latvia, Malta, and Lithuania. Almost three in ten US students didn’t even reach the baseline level of competence on math, the level that enables students to participate fully in modern society.


Children's and Youth's Mental Health:

According to the CDC, up to 1 in 5 American chil­dren aged 2 to 17 has a diagnosable mental, emotional, or behav­ioral disorder in a given year—and these rates are rising. Rates of serious depression, anxiety, and suicide are shooting up among our teens.  And 5 or more times as many US college students today meet diagnostic cutoffs for mental health disorders as met them during the Great Depression.


Adults' Happiness:


American adults ranked 14th in life satisfaction of 38 developed countries,  despite being the wealthiest country in the world by most measures.

Adults’ Mental Health:

The US has the third most depressed population in the world

as indicated by the number of quality years of life lost due to disability or death. That’s not just a comparison with other wealthy countries, but with all countries: the US comes in third behind just China and India. When it comes to the highest rates of anxiety, schizophrenia, and bipolar disorder, we also come in third place. Overall, about 1 in 5 adults in the United States experiences a mental illness each year.


Absolute Economic Mobility:

The proportion of US kids in a generation who will earn more than their parents has flatlined in the past five decades. Nine in 10 children born in 1940 earned more at age 30 than their parents did at the same age. But only 5 in 10 children born in the 1980s earned more at age 30 than their parents did.


Relative Economic Mobility:

When they become wage earners, US workers’ income is far more related to their parents’ income than workers in other countries.  Only 1 US child in 13 from a family in the bottom fifth of the income distribution will make it to the top fifth of the income distribution in adulthood. In contrast, more than 1 in 7 children born in Canada will do the same, as will more than 1 in 9 children born in Denmark.


Life Expectancy:

In the three years between the beginning of 2015 and the end of 2017, American life expec­tancy declined each year. That made it the longest period of decline since the years between 1915 and 1918 – a period that included World War I and a vicious flu pandemic that killed roughly 50 million people worldwide.


"Deaths of Despair": 

Death rates have skyrocketed for middle-aged whites with no more than a high-school education since about the turn of the century. This is despite the fact that death rates have decreased in every other age group, every other racial and ethnic group, and every other wealthy country  during these years.  The increase is due to a growing number of suicides, drug overdoses, and alcohol-related diseases.


Suicide Rates:

Our national suicide rate has risen 25% in the past twenty years.

Almost 45,000 Americans took their own lives in 2016 alone.  


Stressed Lives:

Today’s US married parents spend less time together with their spouses eating, socializing with friends, or working on projects around the house than parents did two generations ago.


Work-Family Conflict:

More than half of American parents find it difficult to balance work and family life, and more than a third always feel rushed, even just to do the things they have to do. In one study, 0% (not a typo) of mothers said they often had time to spare, and just 5% of fathers said the same.


Happiness Gap Between Parents and Nonparents: 

In a recent study of 22 countries, US parents had by far the largest happiness gap with nonparents of 22 developed countries, meaning that parents were more unhappy compared with nonparents in the US than in any of the other countries. In 8 countries, parents actually reported being happier than nonparents.


Parents' Divorce Rates:

US divorce rates rank among the highest across wealthy nations. For US children born to married parents, approximately 25% will see their parents break up by the time they’re 12, compared with less than 15% in Norway and France, and less than 10% in Belgium.


Breakups of Cohabiting Parents: 

Almost half of American children born to cohabitating parents will see their parents’ union dissolve by the time they reach age 12. The same is true for only about 1 in 5 children born to cohabiting parents in France, Norway, and Belgium.


Stability of Couple Relationships:

Couple relationships in Sweden are so much more stable than those in the US that a set of unmarried parents in Sweden is more likely to stay together than a set of married parents in the United States.  Overall, more than 21% of kids aged 0-5 in the United States live with just their mother, compared with 8% in Finland and 10% in France.


Work Hours:

Full-time US employees worked an average of 47 hours per week in 2014—far more than workers in any other wealthy country.


Work Hours in Two-Earner Families:  

Two- earner families in the US spend a combined average of 83 hours a week at their jobs. This means that these families work for pay almost twice as many hours as their parents’ families did. Two- earner US parents spend more combined time in the workplace than their peers in any other wealthy country. Parents in the Netherlands work a combined average of 20 fewer hours a week than US parents do.


Child Abuse:

Rates of US children’s deaths from abuse and neglect are almost off the charts compared with such death rates in other wealthy countries. Almost all other wealthy countries have annual rates well below 0.5 deaths per 100,000 children. US rates are seven or more times higher than that.



1 OECD (2015a), 174, fig. 4.32.

2 OECD (2016a), 44, fig. I.1.1.

3 Perou et al. (2013), 2.

4 OECD (2017b).

5 World Health Organization (2018).

6 Chetty et al. (2017), 400, Fig. 1. 

7 Chetty (2016), 37

8 Murphy et al. (2018), 1.

9 Carey (2018); Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2018).

10 Case and Deaton (2015), 15079; Case and Deaton (2017), 39.

11 Pew Research Center (2015a), 2, 7–8; Schulte (2014), 25.

12 Amato et al. (2007), 67.

13 Glass, Simon, and Andersson (2016), 906– 14, esp. 907, table 3. 

14 DeRose et al. (2017), 11– 12, fig. 1.

15 DeRose et al. (2017), 11– 13.

16 Heuveline, Timberlake, and Furstenberg (2003), 57; Cherlin (2009), 3, 18; OECD (2018b), 3.

17 OECD (2019a).

18 Medalia and Jacobs (2008), 149, table 6.3.

19 OECD (2013), 5, chart SF3.4.C. 

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