The importance of the early years
The science is clear; the early years of a child’s life sets the foundations for their health and happiness as they grow up into an adult1.
Across all 28 countries included in the study, the early years are not seen as uniquely important for children and young people’s health and happiness, compared with other periods of life.
On average across the 28 countries surveyed, one in five people (18%) believe the period from the start of pregnancy to age 5 is the most important period of a child and young person’s life for health and happiness in adulthood. The highest proportion of people say all periods are equally important (35%).
- The countries with the highest proportion of people believing the early years are the most important period are Peru (28%), followed by Germany (26%) and France (24%).
- The country with the smallest proportion of people believing the early years are the most important period is China where just six percent say this is the case. People in China are more likely than those globally to believe the 11-16 period is most important (24% compared with 16% globally).
- Other countries where the proportion of people believing in the primacy of the early years is lower than the global average are Brazil, Japan and Sweden (all 12%) and Spain (8%).
- Great Britain is in line with the 28-country average (18% compared with 19%).
There is overwhelming recognition across all 28 countries that children’s development is not solely determined at birth and can be shaped by their environment.
On average across the 28 countries surveyed, only a small proportion of people (6%) believe how children develop from the start of pregnancy is wholly determined by their genes, with approaching half (49%) saying it’s both genetics and shaped by environment, and just over a third (37%) saying it’s mostly determined by their environment.
Countries with the highest proportions believing children’s development is mostly influenced by genes are India (14%), Saudi Arabia (11%), Brazil and Malaysia (both 10%). Just two percent of people in Canada, Poland the United States believe this to be the case.
The role of wider society
There are differences in attitudes towards the role of parents and wider society in bringing up children between countries.
On average across the 28 countries surveyed, similar proportions of people believe that it is mostly the responsibility of parents to give children aged 0-5 the best chance of health and happiness and believe parents and society are equally responsible (40% and 41% respectively). Just 13% believe it is the joint responsibility of everyone in society to give children aged 0-5 the best chance of health and happiness.
However, there are some large differences in people’s attitudes in different countries. Countries where the highest proportions of people believe it is mostly the responsibility of parents are: Poland (58%), the United States (55%), Australia (54%), Great Britain and Sweden (both 52%). This drops to fewer than three in ten in China (29%), Japan (27%) and South Korea (25%).
1Save the Children (2016). Lighting up young brains: How parents, carers and nurseries support children’s brain development in the first five years.