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Wednesday, March 9th, 2011

Best and Worst Countries to be a Mother


The 2010 Mothers’ Index rates 160 countries (43 developed nations and 117 in the developing world) in terms of the well-being of mothers and children. If you’re a mother in Europe or Australia, don’t plan on moving. Norway, Australia, Iceland and Sweden are the best performing countries. The top 10 countries, in general, attain very high scores for mothers’ and children’s health, educational and economic indicators. Afghanistan is the worst place in the world to be a mother, preceded by Niger, Chad, Guinea-Bissau, Yemen, Democratic Republic of Congo, Mali, Sudan, Eritrea and Equatorial Guinea. The U.S. places 28, primarily because its rate for maternal mortality – 1 in 4,800 – is one of the highest in the developed world. The U.S. also ranks behind many other wealthy nations in terms of its limited maternity leave policies. You’re better off being a mother in Lithuania or Latvia than in the U.S., which is on par with Poland, Slovakia and Belarus.

When comparing Norway, the top country, to Afghanistan, the bottom country, the gap in availability of maternal and child health services is especially dramatic. 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 more than 18 years of formal education and will live to be 83 years old. Eighty-two percent are using some modern form of contraception, and only 1 in 132 will lose a child before his or her fifth birthday. At the opposite end of the spectrum, in Afghanistan, a typical woman has just over 4 years of education and will live to be only 44. Sixteen percent of women are using modern contraception, and more than 1 child in 4 dies before his or her fifth birthday. At this rate, every mother in Afghanistan is likely to suffer the loss of a child.

Across all the bottom 10 countries, conditions for mothers and their children are alarming. In the bottom-rung countries:

* On average, 1 in 23 mothers will die from pregnancy-related causes.
* 1 child in 6 dies before his or her fifth birthday.
* 1 in 3 children suffers from malnutrition.
* Roughly 1 child in 5 is not enrolled in primary school.
* On average, females have little over 5 years of formal education.
* Women earn only 40% of what men do for equal work.
* 90% of women are likely to suffer the loss of a child in their lifetime.
* Nearly 50% of the population lack access to safe water.
* 60% of all births are not attended by skilled health personnel.

One solution to these grim statistics is to provide better maternal healthcare. In Indonesia, strides have been made in this respect. In 1989, as many as 19,500 women died each year as a result of complications during pregnancy or childbirth. Today, that number is 9,600. These women’s lives were saved largely as a result of the government’s investment in the “midwife in every village” program. Over seven years, Indonesia selected, trained and certified 54,000 new village midwives. Each received three years of nursing training followed by a year of midwifery training before being posted to their villages. There are now approximately 80,000 midwives in Indonesia; however, despite this progress, women still die in higher numbers than women in other countries in the region, largely because of huge disparities between rich and poor.

Index Methodology and Research

The Mothers’ Index was calculated as a weighted average of children’s well-being (30 percent), women’s health status (20 percent), women’s educational status (20 percent), women’s economic status (20 percent), and women’s political status (10 percent). The scores on the Mothers’ Index were then ranked.

The following indicators are used in creating the index:
* Lifetime risk of maternal mortality
* Percentage of women using modern contraception
* Percentage of births attended by skilled health personnel
* Female life expectancy
* Expected number of years of formal schooling for females
* Ratio of estimated female-to-male earned income
* Maternity leave benefits
* Participation of women in national government
* Under-5 mortality rate
* Percentage of children under age 5 moderately or severely underweight
* School enrollment ratios (gross pre-primary and primary)
* Gender Parity Index (the ratio of gross enrollment of girls to boys in primary school)
* Ratio of girls to boys enrolled in primary school
* Percentage of population with access to safe water

For further information on this Index, please visit the source:
Save the Children 2010, Special Report: State of the World’s Mothers 2010, ISBN 1-888393-22-X, Save the Children Federation, Inc., Westport, Connecticut 06880 United States, viewed 6 March, 2011,

© 2011 – 2012, Stephanie Meade. All rights reserved.

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Stephanie is the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of InCultureParent. She has two Moroccan-American daughters (ages 5 and 6), whom she is raising, together with her husband, bilingual in Arabic and English at home, while also introducing Spanish. After many moves worldwide, she currently lives in Berkeley, California.

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