Iceland: Home of Happiness?

Iceland: Home of Happiness?

IcelandAnn Bailey

Searching for happiness for yourself and for your children?  Evidently, it’s as simple as relocating to Iceland.

What We Can Learn from Iceland,” an online article that made the rounds recently, offers a provocative premise and a collage of lovely photos that make some rather expansive claims.

“Icelanders are among the happiest (and healthiest) people on earth and raising lots of happy, self-confident kids.” 

“It takes a village, but not necessarily a wedding ring to raise a child.”

The “animated infographic” points out that in spite of the fact that Iceland has an extremely high rate of divorce, soaring cohabitation rates, and close to 70 percent of all children born out-of-wedlock, Iceland is the model community for producing well-adjusted, content citizens.   So how does this glowing report of this idyllic land line up with the known facts about the importance of intact married families?   Answer:  It doesn’t line up.

The first place to look is at the OECD report (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development) where the authors of the infographic drew their data.   Even a cursory read of the report will tell you that highly subjective criteria was used to create the index on which they based their country rankings.  The report readily admits that there is no “universally accepted way of measuring child well-being.”

In their “Housing and Environment” variable, they measured things like “overcrowding” and  “poor environmental conditions” – in “Educational Well-being” they looked to things like “literacy inequality” – in “Health and Safety” they focused on “low-birth weight, infant mortality, vaccination rate, physical activity” – and in “Quality of School Life” they wanted to know about “bullying” and “liking school.”

In addition to using much “self-reporting” as to levels of happiness and other parameters discussed, this OECD report selected their indicators based on what public policy programs were in place in countries , programs that the researchers thought should produce positive outcomes for adults and children.  The researchers focused on what they called “future well-being.”  This report did not provide information on actual outcomes for adults and children.

Depends on what your goals are for your society?

Is it a desirable thing and a positive value to have women in the workforce (thus ensuring “gender equality”), to have every child in state-provided daycare, to have comprehensive government social safety nets in place?    If those are things that you believe will bring happiness to citizens, then, according to this report, Iceland does rank quite high.  In Iceland they have such things as:

  • 78.5 percent of women participate in the labor market
  • 95 percent of children under five are in state-provided daycare
  • Municipalities  cover 95 percent of kindergarten costs

You can decide whether these are positive or negative things in a society, but the question continues to be:  “How long a society can sustain a cradle-to-grave entitlement and welfare system before it will collapse from its own weight.”  In addition, the OECD report was created from data taken prior to Iceland’s 2008 total financial meltdown.  It would be interesting to know what a similar OECD report would look like today.

If, indeed, Icelanders are as happy as the animated infographic claims, then in terms of known outcomes to adults and children resulting from family breakdown, they would be an extreme outlier.  Sweden and the Netherlands also ranked highly in the above mentioned OECD report, but in when you begin to look at research that measures specific outcomes for children, a different story emerges.  Some examples:

A major population-based study from Sweden concludes that children living in one-parent homes have more than double the risk of psychiatric disease such as severe depression or schizophrenia, suicide or attempted suicide, and alcohol-related disease.  Girls were three times more likely to have drug problems and boys four times more likely, compared to children living in two-parent homes.  These findings remained after the scholars controlled for a wide range of demographic and socioeconomic variables. Because Sweden has a comprehensive system that eliminates the economic and material consequences of growing up in one-parent homes, these problems cannot be attributed to poverty.  (An eight-year study of a million Swedish children, ages 6-18, tracking them into their mid-20”s) Gunilla Ringback Weitoft et al., “Mortality, Severe Morbidity, and Injury in Children Living with Single Parents in Sweden:  A Population-Based Study,” The Lancet 361 (January 2003): 289-295.   http://www.forumdafamilia.com/arquivo/mortality-single-parents.pdf

Dutch Scholars found that compared to peers living in an intact family, adolescents living in a one-parent family are more than twice as likely to perceive a need for psychological help and more than three times as likely to actually be referred for mental health services.  Alternative family structures, even in the open-minded, tolerant Netherlands negatively impacts children. Marieke Zwwaanswijk et al., “Factors Associated With Adolescent Mental Health Service Need and Utilization,”Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry 42 (2003):  692-700.

Click on the links below and you’ll find study after study that would refute that Iceland has it all figured out.

Children and Their Mother’s Employment

Fatherlessness, Poverty and Crime

Cohabitation vs. Marriage

The Marriage Advantage

Dysfunction Not Discrimination

Existing research overwhelming supports the understanding that children (and adults) do best when they live in a married biological parent household.  Cohabitation leaves a trail of broken relationships and reduced chance of a successful marriage, while divorce serves no one but the divorce attorney.

To all who think that Iceland’s has found the “secret sauce” to a happy life – go ahead and follow their lead.  But, I think you are going to be greatly disappointed.

 

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