The best and worst place to be a mother

A new report reveals huge differences in the experience of motherhood around the world. League tables show the winners and losers and just how poverty takes its toll.

Motherhood may be universal, but support for mothers is regional.

So says a recent report by the charity Save the Children. It compares the well-being of mothers and children in 164 countries – and finds a world of difference.

In league tables that are sure to provoke discussion, Norway, Australia and Iceland top the rankings this year.

What determines the positions? The top 10 countries score high for mothers' and children's health and educational and economic status which brings choice.

Afghanistan ranks last among the 164 countries surveyed. The 10 bottom-ranked countries – eight from sub-Saharan Africa – are a reverse image of the top 10.

Conditions for mothers and children in these countries are grim. On average, one woman in 30 will die from pregnancy-related causes. One child in six dies before his or her fifth birthday, and one child in three suffers from malnutrition.

The gap in availability of maternal and child health services is especially dramatic when comparing Norway and Afghanistan. Skilled health personnel are present at virtually every birth in Norway, while only 14 percent of births are attended in Afghanistan.

A typical Norwegian woman has 18 years of formal education and will live to 83; 82% are using a modern method of contraception and only one in 175 will lose a child before his or her fifth birthday.

At the opposite end of the spectrum, in Afghanistan, a typical woman has fewer than five years of education and will not live to be 45. Less than 16% of women are using modern contraception and one child in five dies before reaching the age of five.

At this rate, every mother in Afghanistan is likely to suffer the pain of losing at least one child.

Lost opportunities

There are surprises in the rankings: while the UK comes 13th, the USA is only 31st.

A woman in the US, where there's no free access to healthcare, is seven times more likely to die of pregnancy-related illness than in Italy or Ireland. While children there are twice as likely to die before the age of five than those in countries like Greece, Slovenia or Singapore.

'Statistics are far more than numbers,' says the report. 'It is the human despair and lost opportunities behind these numbers that call for changes.'

It's not all about economics. The psychotherapist Sue Gerhardt says 'emotional availability' is at the heart of motherhood, whether rich or poor. But poverty destroys many mothers' dreams.

You Decide

  1. 'Poverty can destroy the joy of motherhood.' Do you agree?
  2. What makes a good mother?


  1. In class, draw up a 'Top Ten' qualities for a good mother. Remember to include practical qualities as well as emotional.
  2. Using research, (See 'Become an expert') write a piece called 'The role of economics in supporting motherhood.'

Some People Say...

“Motherhood is about the person not the bank balance.”

What do you think?

Q & A

Which are the top ten countries for support of motherhood?
Starting with No.1, it's Norway, Australia, Iceland, Sweden, Denmark, New Zealand, Finland, Belgium, Netherlands, France.
And the worst?
Starting from 10th worst, it's Central African Republic, Sudan, Mali, Eritrea, Congo, Chad, Yemen, Guinea-Bissau, Niger, Afghanistan.
Are things improving in the UK?
Not according to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. They say the UK government's plans to cut support for childcare is making it harder for low income parents to return to work and to afford pre-school education, which is important for later educational achievement.A No. There are terrible mothers in Norway and wonderful mothers in Afghanistan. Nothing's ever just about money.

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