Best countries for families with children

Sweden tops new Unicef ranking while UK trails far behind

A baby in a box
(Image credit:

Britain is one of the worst places in the developed world to raise children, a new Unicef study has found.

Researchers from the United Nation’s children’s fund compared four types of family-focused policies offered in the 41 countries belonging to the EU and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), The Guardian reports.

The ranking was based on the length of paid maternity leave; length of paid paternity leave; the number of children under three attending preschool; and the number of children over three attending preschool.

Subscribe to The Week

Escape your echo chamber. Get the facts behind the news, plus analysis from multiple perspectives.


Sign up for The Week's Free Newsletters

From our morning news briefing to a weekly Good News Newsletter, get the best of The Week delivered directly to your inbox.

From our morning news briefing to a weekly Good News Newsletter, get the best of The Week delivered directly to your inbox.

Sign up

Ten of the countries that Unicef assessed were not included in the final league table because they did not publish the necessary data, including Japan, the US and Canada.

Overall, Sweden was named the best place for young families, followed by Norway and Iceland. At the other end of the scale, the UK placed 28th, with the last three spots occupied by Cyprus, Greece and Switzerland.

The analysis also revealed some dramatic variations: while Estonia offers women 85 weeks of maternity leave at full pay, the UK gives them the equivalent of just 12, comprised of six weeks at 90% of pay and 33 weeks at a lower rate.

However, the UK performs much better than the US when it comes to parental leave overall, offering fathers two weeks, albeit not at full pay, in addition to the leave mothers can take. The US offers no parental leave at all.

In Japan, meanwhile, new fathers can take more than 30 weeks of paid leave – but only 17% took advantage of that in 2017, Quartz reports.

Unicef executive director Henrietta Fore said: “There is no time more critical to children’s brain development, and therefore their futures, than the earliest years of life.

“We need governments to help provide parents with the support they need to create a nurturing environment for their young children. And we need the support and influence of the private sector to make this happen.”

Here is Unicef’s complete league table of developed nations ranked by child-friendly policies:

1: Sweden2: Norway3: Iceland4: Estonia5: Portugal6: Germany7: Denmark8: Slovenia9: Luxembourg10: France11: Austria12: Finland13: Belgium14: Spain15: Netherlands16: Lithuania17: Hungary18: Latvia19: Italy20: Bulgaria21: Romania22: Croatia23: Poland24: Czechia25: Malta26: Slovakia27: Ireland28: UK29: Cyprus30: Greece31: Switzerland

Continue reading for free

We hope you're enjoying The Week's refreshingly open-minded journalism.

Subscribed to The Week? Register your account with the same email as your subscription.