US investments in healthcare and education haven't changed much in the last three decades — and it's putting the country far behind its peers, according to a new study from the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) at the University of Washington.
After ranking countries based on their levels of education and health, the study found that the US ranked 27th in the world on these metrics as of 2016, behind a host of top-ranking Nordic countries, including Finland, Iceland, Denmark, and the Netherlands.
This comes as little surprise, given that healthcare services in these countries are universal and publicly funded. The US, by contrast, is one of the few developed nations that lacks universal healthcare, according to The Atlantic.
When it comes to education, the nation fares even worse. The latest findings from the Pew Research Center have the US in 38th place out of 71 countries when it comes to math scores and 24th place when it comes to science.
Perhaps the biggest surprise of the study is just how far the US has fallen in the rankings. In 1990, the US ranked sixth in the world for its levels of education and health — 21 spots ahead of where it is now.
So, what happened in the last 30 years?
One possible explanation is the decline in US spending on elementary and high school education, which US News notes fell by 3% from 2010 to 2014, even as its student population grew by 1%. This is a sharp contrast to developed nations like the UK or Portugal, where education spending rose by more than 25% from 2008 to 2014. In Turkey — the nation with the most dramatic improvement in healthcare and education levels, according to the study — education spending rose by 76%.
This decrease in spending seems to have had a significant impact on America's educational attainment, which also declined over the last few decades.
The US may also have a problem with the way it is spending money.
Although the nation still spends more per student than most of its peers, many countries that saw a rapid improvement in their rankings have instituted significant policy reforms in the last 30 years. These include providing equal funding for schools in different locations, expanding student testing, and tailoring curricula to students' abilities.
The countries with the most significant improvements in education and healthcare — namely, Turkey, China, and Brazil — also saw quicker GDP growth on a per capita basis. This leads the study to conclude that education and healthcare investments could be tied to a country's economic performance, and improvements in these areas could lead to faster economic growth.
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