Has Kids' Quality Of Life Improved Over The Past 20 Years? Studies Weigh In

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There's not much that Democrats and Republicans can agree upon in our hyper-polarized political environment, but much of the work that both parties do is focused on making the world a better place for future generations. Among politicians, the means to achieving that may may differ drastically. Still, people in all levels of out government should be interested to know whether or not kids' quality of life has improved over the past 20 years. It's an incredibly broad question that's all but impossible to answer through quantitative means, but examining some aspects of how life has changed for some of the United States' and the world's most vulnerable people is crucial to the quest of ensuring that their life outcomes are the best they can possibly be.

The circumstances into which the world's newest inhabitants are being born and thriving (or not) has evolved dramatically in the past two decades. According to a 2014 United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) report, the current generation of young people is the world's largest ever. In 2010, a whopping 28 percent of the world's population was between 10 and 24 years old. And some undeniably encouraging news has emerged: Deaths of children under age 5 are down by half, from from 90 per 1,000 live births in 1990 to 48 per 1,000 live births in 2012.

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Further, only about three-fourths of kids were enrolled in primary school in 1990. By 2010, the proportion had increased to 90 percent — and a greater access to education for girls in particular was a main positive factor behind this. That bodes well for the global goal of eradicating poverty, as educated girls are less likely to become pregnant as teenagers, according to the UNFPA. In turn, the have better access to health care and the means to help free their families from the constraints of poverty.

Having fewer children also improves women's prospects, as well as those of their families. And between 1994 and 2014, women as a whole went from having three children on average to having 2.5. And a smaller family means better outcomes for children as they grow up, three economists concluded in 2016, after analyzing 26 years of data on the subject. According to The Washington Post, every additional sibling a child has increases his or her likelihood of having lower cognitive abilities and more behavioral issues. Having younger siblings means lower education, lower earnings, more criminal behavior, and more teenage pregnancies and these kids grow into adolescence and adulthood.

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Still, it's not all progress when it comes to children's quality of life. In 2010, the Child and Youth Well-Being Index Project at Duke University predicted that the proportion of children in the United States living below the poverty line would hit 21 percent that year — the highest in 20 years. And in 2015, 21 percent of children under 18 did live in poor families, according to the National Center for Children in Poverty (NCCP) at Columbia University.

Of course, poverty is associated with myriad negative outcomes for kids as they grow up. Growing up under such stressful conditions can result in higher rates of cancer, liver disease, respiratory disease, and other conditions, Yale University professor and researcher Dr. Alan Kazdin told CNN in response to the Duke findings back in 2010. According to the NCCP, living in poverty can have a negative impact on children's ability to learn as well as serve as a factor for the social, emotional, and behavioral they may develop.

Clearly, children's quality of life is by no means uniform across demographics. So, it's important to continue to strive to improve outcomes for all the world's children — an undeniably gargantuan task.