On September 19, 2013, The Commonwealth released the Youth Development Index Report (YDI), the first index measuring the development and empowerment of young people in countries across the globe. While there have been metrics designed to measure development in the past, what is unique about this is that it specifically targets youth development, which is defined as: "enhancing the status of young people, empowering them to build on their competencies and capabilities for life. It will enable them to contribute and benefit from a politically stable, economically viable, and legally supportive environment, ensuring their full participation as active citizens in their countries."
The YDI Report is a document detailing inter-country comparisons of the environment for young people, aged 15 to 29, across five key areas: education, health, employment, civic participation and political participation. According to their press release, "YDI was formulated to help decision-makers identify and learn from areas of success, pinpoint priority areas for investment, and track progress over time." Accompanying the index report was the Methodology Report, a thorough explanation and rationale of the construction of the index, including how each indicator is weighted and where the data came from. The methodology was developed by independent academic experts from across The Commonwealth, in conjunction with the Institute for Economics and Peace.
While not a comprehensive account of development due to lack of data in certain regions, they were able to rank 170 countries based on their score, which ranged from 0 being the lowest youth development while 1 being the highest. The findings show that Australia topped the list, being the best country for youth development, with .86 points.
Here is the list of the top 10:
1. Australia -- 0.86
2. Canada -- 0.82
3. South Korea -- 0.81
4. Netherlands -- 0.80
5. Germany -- 0.80
6. New Zealand -- 0.80
7. Switzerland -- 0.80
8. United States -- 0.80
9. Japan -- 0.79
10. Slovenia -- 0.79
So what does this mean for youth, especially young Americans? First, the obvious is that America is not the best country for youth development, according to this system of measurement of course. This is something that the many people in this country who embrace American exceptionalism is unwilling to accept. However, this reality could not be farther from the truth, as a recent UNICEF report shared that the United States rank second in child poverty rates for a developed nation. This statistic is far more unpleasant than that of the YDI.
The question that comes to mind now is how the United States has such a disheartening child poverty rate. One possible reason can be the idea of American exceptionalism itself. A survey by Pew Research Center released in 2011 showed that 49 percent of Americans agree with the statement "our people are not perfect but our culture is superior to others." This is higher than that of Germany (47 percent), Spain (44 percent), Britain (32 percent) and France (27 percent). Breaking it down by age, only 37 percent of those between the ages of 18-29 agree with this statement, as compared to 60 percent of those 50-plus.
While perhaps the idea of American exceptionalism was once true at the turn of the 20th century, it no longer is applicable to our current state. Exceptionalism has now become something counter-productive and perhaps even harmful. When we say that we are the best country, or a country that can't be measured against another because of our "exceptionalism," we are defaulting to the premise that we need no change. This Christmas season, I received an email from Senator Mike Johanns which included this line: "We are all fortunate to live in the greatest country in the world." This mindset, however, is not conductive to leveraging transformation that can positively augment the quality of life; rather, it translates to a lack of urgency. When there is no urgency, there is a lack of motivation for action, which we have seen with the recent federal government shutdown. While there is no need to be the best at everything, what is important is an awareness of the importance of constant reflection and the willingness to accommodate to be in alignment with changes in society.
So is exceptionalism the main culprit for America trailing behind? Not entirely, but I do think it has been a reason of our hesitancy to embrace change. It will be worthwhile for each and everyone of us to contemplate on these statistics and the fact that America is no longer deemed the best, and whether this is necessarily all negative.