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One in Four Americans Feel U.S. Children Are Not Respected

by Steve Crabtree

Story Highlights

  • 24% of Americans say children are not treated with dignity, respect
  • 22% of Americans say children do not have opportunity to learn and grow
  • U.S. ranks lower than many other wealthy economies in both areas

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- The student-led reaction to recent school shootings in the U.S. has sparked a national discussion about how best to protect America's children from violence. However, about one in four Americans feel that the country can make progress in the way children are treated in their everyday lives.

Before the recent school shootings in Parkland, Florida, 73% of U.S. adults said children in the country are treated with respect and dignity, while 24% disagreed. The "yes" percentage places the U.S. in the bottom one-third of wealthy OECD economies on this measure.

Respect for Children in OECD Countries
Do you believe that children in this country are treated with respect and dignity, or not?
% Yes % Yes % Yes
Finland 93 Austria 86 United States 73
Switzerland 92 Australia 84 Portugal 73
Canada 92 France 84 Germany 71
Ireland 92 Denmark 83 Hungary 70
Norway 90 United Kingdom 83 Japan 64
Netherlands 89 Israel 83 Latvia 62
Belgium 89 Poland 82 Mexico 49
Spain 89 Iceland 81 Greece 48
Slovakia 89 Slovenia 81 South Korea 46
Luxembourg 88 Estonia 77 Chile 45
Sweden 87 Italy 76 Turkey 44
Czech Republic 87 New Zealand 74
Percentage "yes" among OECD member countries
Gallup World Poll

A slightly higher proportion of Americans -- 77% -- say most children in the U.S. have the opportunity to learn and grow every day, while 22% disagree. However, these results also place the U.S. among the lower-ranked OECD members.

The OECD countries at the top of the rankings tend to be more egalitarian than the U.S. according to their Gini coefficients, a common measure of income inequality. In the U.S., those in the lowest income grouping -- the poorest 20% -- are least likely to feel children are treated with respect and dignity, at 65%. By contrast, 77% of those in the top 40% of household incomes say children in the U.S. are treated with respect and dignity.

There are also significant differences on this measure across racial groups in the U.S.; about six in 10 black Americans (61%) say children in the U.S. are treated with respect and dignity, vs. three-fourths (75%) of whites.

Perceptions of Children's Status in the United States
Percentage of Americans who agree, by racial group
White Black
% %
Children are treated with respect and dignity 75 61
Gallup World Poll

These data point to the persistent opportunity gap facing disadvantaged children in the U.S. Adults who struggle with poverty and discrimination may have first-hand knowledge of ways in which many of the country's children are denied chances to reach their full potential because of circumstances beyond their control. The issue has also attracted the attention of high-profile scholars such as Harvard sociologist Robert D. Putnam, whose 2015 book, Our Kids: The American Dream in Crisis, uses a wealth of statistics and research to demonstrate how the life chances of children in rich and poor American families are different and continuing to diverge.

Putnam and other researchers argue that in some ways the U.S. education system now suppresses rather than supports social mobility, since children from more affluent families are better prepared for college and better able to pay for it. In addition to wondering how to keep their kids safe at school, many Americans face the question of how to ensure their children receive an


Another recent Gallup poll found that 61% of Americans now say it is very or somewhat likely that the country's youth will have a better life than their parents did. That figure is up substantially from a low point of 44% in 2011, during the aftermath of the Great Recession. Nonetheless, it leaves considerable room for improvement in a country that bills itself as the Land of Opportunity, particularly during a period of healthy economic growth.

A recent UNICEF report on children in the developed world noted that "long-term, inclusive and sustainable social goals are best met through attention to the needs of children." Gallup's international data indicate that, compared with residents in many other developed countries, many Americans feel the nation has work to do in ensuring its children -- especially those vulnerable to poverty and lack of opportunity -- are afforded a sense of dignity that allows them to visualize their true potential.

Survey Methods

Results are based on telephone interviews with approximately 1,000 adults, aged 15 and older, in each country between Feb. 27 and Sept. 21, 2017. For results based on the total samples at the country level, the margin of sampling error is ±3.4 to ±5.0 percentage points at the 95% confidence level. The margin of error reflects the influence of data weighting. In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls.