Inequality growing among children in high income countries

14th April 2016

DUBLIN, 14 April 2016 – Today, across the OECD, UNICEF is publishing a new report on how inequality affects children in high income countries.

UNICEF’s Report Card 13, Fairness for Children: A league table of inequality in child well-being in rich countries, ranks 41 EU and OECD countries according to how far children at the bottom fall below their peers in the middle. The report looks at “bottom end inequality” of income, educational achievement, self-reported health and life satisfaction across the OECD.

Denmark is the country with the lowest inequality among children; Israel came last.

In 19 out of 41 countries covered by the data, more than 10 per cent of children live in households with less than half the median income.

While Ireland is placed 7th out of 41 EU/OECD countries across all dimensions of inequality, the report shows that a third of all Irish children live in materially deprived households  (Fig 7. page 17).

What does UNICEF’s report mean for Ireland’s children?

During the period 2008 to 2013, the income inequality gap here narrowed because the income of the 10th percentile decreased more slowly than the median. The income inequality gap would have been much wider if it were not for social protection payments, which reduced it by 45.6 per cent. This is known as social transfer.

In 2013, the child poverty rate was 6.9 per cent, ranking the country 10th among 41 EU/OECD countries, a rate higher than Denmark or Norway, but lower than the UK.

Despite that, almost a third (30 per cent) of all Irish children, were living in deprived households.

Households are deprived if they cannot afford at least three items from a list of essential items, as defined by the EU. Those items are housing, heating, utility bills, a protein meal every second day; the ability to face unexpected expenses; a holiday, a phone, a TV, a washing machine or a car.

UNICEF questions the success of economic growth when so many children are deprived and families must rely on social welfare to make ends meet.

Ireland currently has the 4th worst income inequality in the EU ranked just below the UK, Belgium and Bulgaria, with a gap of 76.3%. Our social transfers nearly halve this income gap to 41.5%, which is unsustainable and leaves many living on the edge (Fig 6. page 16).

Executive Director of UNICEF Ireland Peter Power: “100 years ago this month the Proclamation proclaimed to cherish all Irish children equally. This report demonstrates that as a demographic group Irish children are falling behind other sections of society.”

Health, education and life satisfaction

Additionally, young people in Ireland place 20th on a list of 35 EU/OECD countries in terms of self-reported health problems.

These include psychosomatic symptoms like headache, stomach ache, feeling low; feeling nervous; difficulties in getting to sleep; and feeling dizzy.

However, there were gains for children in the bottom decile who improved their engagement in physical activity and decreased their consumption of unhealthy sugar and soft drinks more than their peers at the median.

This proves that policies, like healthy eating programmes, can affect change when they are focused on young people.

On educational achievement, Ireland is 9th out of 37 EU/OECD countries.

We are 13th among 35 EU/OECD countries when it comes to inequality in life satisfaction.

Children as a priority

As the political parties meet today to discuss priorities for the next government, UNICEF calls on the incoming government to recognise that all other groups in Irish society were better protected during the economic collapse than children.

In order to prioritise children, the next Government must:


Download the full report here

Download press-kit and multi-media materials:

About the UNICEF Office of Research – Innocenti

The Office of Research – Innocenti is UNICEF’s dedicated research centre. It undertakes research on emerging or current issues in order to inform the strategic directions, policies and programmes of UNICEF and its partners, shape global debates on child rights and development, and inform the global research and policy agenda for all children, and particularly for the most vulnerable. Please visit:

Data sources:


UNICEF promotes the rights and wellbeing of every child, in everything we do. Together with our partners, we work in 190 countries and territories to translate that commitment into practical action, focusing special effort on reaching the most vulnerable and excluded children, to the benefit of all children, everywhere.  For more information about UNICEF and its work visit:

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