- Oct 20 2015
What do we gain by asking children directly about their well-being?
Gwyther Rees: There are aspects of Quality of Life – such as the feeling of safety and quality of social relationships – that would be very difficult to measure via objective measures. The idea of this survey is to take a comprehensive look at children’s lives across all sorts of domains and actually ask them how they feel.
Dominic Richardson: I totally agree with Gwyther – when you can listen to children, you do listen to children. There are certain aspects of life that go beyond GDP and child poverty. These give us another angle to look at how children work with the resources they have and it brings into sharp reflection the limitations of some of the objective measures.
This report takes a look at this issue through quite an expansive international lens. Did any striking contrasts emerge?
G.R.: The cross-country element allows us to challenge some of the assumptions we might make. For example, we previously published research in the UK that showed a big gender difference concerning how English children feel about themselves – that girls worry a lot more about their appearance than boys do. When we published those findings there was the feeling that it is “just part of growing up” and gender differences were inevitable. But in looking across countries in our current study, we found that that isn’t the case – in fact, in some countries girls are as happy with their appearance as boys were. In Columbia, it is ever so slightly the opposite. You see, we learned more about England by looking at other countries. I hope that this will cause people to reflect on what can be changed.
D.R.: Absolutely. This study has really opened up a lot of information on what matters to children. It fills a big gap for policy makers who want to consider how this might reflect on our children’s day-to-day Quality of Life. They can use this type of data as a starting point for building better data at a national level, to inform their own context and their own policy.
The largest percentage of children with very high well-being are in Turkey (78 percent), Romania and Columbia (77 percent); while Spain (57 percent), the UK (53 percent) and Germany (52 percent) came in significantly lower. Is it safe to say that a country’s wealth has little to do with the subjective well-being of its children?
G.R.: We’ve begun searching for other ways of explaining why some countries appear to have much higher subjective well-being. For example, there are quite high correlations between how children rate the friendliness of the people around them with the average subjective well-being of that country. It may well be that the things that matter to children have more to do with how they feel about their immediate relationships and not necessary to do with economic factors. It presents a very interesting angle to pursue further.
D.R.: This study asks if raw growth and wealth is a good measure of social progress, life satisfaction and happiness – I think Gwyther came to the conclusion that it was not. There is more to the relationship between wealth and happiness than meets the eye. Children look at life from a different perspective and perhaps we should be learning from them.
In your research, have you seen any “red flags” or particular areas of childhood well-being that require more attention?
G.R.: Bullying has emerged recently as an important issue. I’ve been particularly interested in the association between experiencing bullying as a child and well-being in adulthood. It matters enough that it affects children’s Quality of Life, but now that we see that it also leaves traces even quite a long time into adulthood. I think it’s quite an important issue for further research.
D.R.: I have also seen that in some countries, fighting between children is considered to be fighting; while in other countries it’s distinguished as bullying. We need to clear up the cultural bias in these measures – meaning that we need to consider that children who are “just fighting” in some countries may actually be the victims of bullying.
What message would you like to pass along to policy makers or fellow well-being researchers?
G.R.: It’s very clear from this research that children have different priorities than adults and that different things may matter to children. So, as adult well-being is taken into account more and more in policy development, we need to keep the balance there so we don’t lose sight of children’s Quality of Life.
D.R.: I’m an advocate of child well-being and I would say, first things first: A good start in life is probably the best determinate of a good life and a good end in life. As the well-being discourse develops, I think childhood well-being should have similar standing to that of adults because these two are not exclusive.
Learn more about the report Children’s views on their lives and well-being in 15 countries: A report on the Children’s World survey, 2013-14
The study of childhood well-being, from the perspective of children themselves, is quite rare. Gwyther Rees, author of the Children’s World Survey Report, and Dominic Richardson, UNICEF Senior Education Specialist, exchange ideas on the study findings and the importance of childhood well-being.
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