The first report on the well-being of children in 21 western states shows marked divisions in education, health and sexual behaviour and drug-taking.
The report's authors want to identify the problems so they can be fixed
The Netherlands topped the well-being table compiled by the UN children's agency Unicef, with Scandinavian nations also performing well.
However the United Kingdom and United States fare much worse, taking the bottom two places in the table.
The report shows no strong link between child well-being and per capita GDP.
Unicef says the report, titled Child Poverty in Perspective: An Overview of Child Well-being in Rich Countries, is the first study of childhood across 21 of the world's industrialised nations.
The Netherlands comes out top in terms of overall child well-being, and finishes in the top 10 for all six areas covered by the report.
Family and peer relationships
Health and safety
Behaviour and risks
Own sense of well-being [educational]
Own sense of well-being [subjective]
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No one country features in the top third of the table for all six areas studied, though the Netherlands and Sweden come close.
The report's authors say no single area of well-being can stand alone as a sign of overall well-being, and point out that several countries have widely differing rankings for the various aspects of well-being.
They say that the wealth of a nation is no indicator of how well a child feels.
The Czech Republic, for example, comes higher up the table for overall well-being than several other much richer countries, such as Austria or the US.
But fewer than 50% of Czech children say their peers are "kind and helpful", compared to 80% or more in Portugal.
Nor does the wealth of a nation guarantee its children a good education. Norway and Denmark are to be found in the 18th and 19th places for educational well-being.
The country that comes out worst overall is the UK.
In the behaviours and risk category, about 35% of British children say they have used cannabis, compared to 5% of Greek children.
And almost 40% of British 15 year olds say they have had sexual intercourse, though the US and Russia have the most teen pregnancies.
CHILD WELL-BEING TABLE
9. Republic of Ireland
15. Czech Republic
20. United States
21. United Kingdom
One of the report's authors told the BBC that under-investment and a "dog eat dog" attitude in society were to blame for Britain's poor performance.
The British government says its policies have helped to improve child welfare.
Unicef UK executive director David Bull said all the countries had weaknesses that needed to be addressed.
"By comparing the performance of countries we see what is possible with a commitment to supporting every child to fulfil his or her full potential," he said.
Most of the figures in the report come from 2000-2003, which the authors say was the most up-to-date information available.