The Good Childhood Report: Time trends and gender patterns
The Children’s Society recently launched the Good Childhood Report 2019, looking at the subjective well-being of children in the UK.
As in previous Good Childhood Reports, we drew on the latest available data from Understanding Society to present trends in children’s subjective wellbeing. The latest report shows that children’s happiness with their life as a whole and their relationships with friends is at its lowest since the survey began in 2009-10.
Trends by gender continued with boys significantly happier than girls with their appearance and girls with their school work. However, there was a notable dip in boys’ happiness with their appearance in the latest wave of the survey. While not reflecting a long term trend, The Children’s Society will be keen to monitor any future changes in boys’ responses to this question.
How are children effected by their experiences?
Previous good childhood reports have highlighted a range of influences on children’s well-being, including bullying, material deprivation, and multiple disadvantage. The 2019 report also looks at factors that may affect how children feel about their lives.
Building on findings presented in the Good Childhood Report 2017, where we asked children and their parents about their experiences of a list of 27 disadvantages, we conducted a small-scale exploratory school-based survey where we tested the possibility of asking Year 10 children about their experiences of disadvantage (without input from adults). We found:
- Older children can be asked directly about their experiences, although they find some questions more difficult to answer (e.g. about the frequency of fights in their local area; whether they had more, less or about the same amount of money as friends).
- Disadvantages that explain larger proportions of variation in children’s well-being include experiencing bullying in the last three months, not feeling safe at school and missing three or more items from a previously tested index of material deprivation. There are also more rarely reported disadvantages, such as supervisory neglect, which seem to have a big impact on the small numbers of children experiencing them (although they have less explanatory power for children’s well-being overall).
- As in the 2017 report, children experiencing disadvantages in multiple areas of their lives had lower average well-being than those experiencing multiple disadvantages in one area, suggesting an index spanning different domains may be more effective.
We know that there is a complex relationship between poverty and well-being, and used longitudinal data from wave 6 (children aged around 14 years) of the Millennium Cohort Study (MCS) to consider the impact of (a) income and (b) how well the family is coping financially. The analysis showed:
- Over a third of children included in the MCS at 14 years old were living in income poverty (based on an income poverty threshold of up to 60% of median equivalised income before deduction of housing costs). These children were significantly more likely to have low life satisfaction and high depressive symptoms.
- Around 11% of parents said that they were finding it difficult or very difficult to manage financially. Children living in these families (defined as being under financial strain) were significantly more likely to have low life satisfaction and high depressive symptoms.
- Looking across the six waves of the MCS (i.e. six measurement points across childhood) revealed any experience of income poverty or financial strain (even once in six waves) was associated with lower life satisfaction and higher depressive symptoms at age 14.
What are the implications of the findings from the 2019 report?
We know that children’s happiness with their lives has fallen and that we must take action to try to address this. We should prioritise children’s own views of what makes a good childhood and how they see their lives, and, in our policy work, we are therefore making the case for comprehensive national measurement of children’s well-being on a similar scale to that for adults.
We know that children’s happiness with their lives has fallen and that we must take action to try to address this. We should prioritise children’s own views of what makes a good childhood and how they see their lives.
About the author
Dr Louise Moore is a Senior Researcher at The Children's Society working on well-being and mental health. Today's blog reflects findings from the charity's most recent annual Good Childhood Report, which looks at the subjective well-being of children in the UK.