The way gender can impact a child’s well-being and satisfaction levels

Teenage boy and girl laughing by a tree

In recent years, a significant gap in overall well-being has opened up between boys and girls, especially as they get older. Over time, girls are becoming increasingly unhappy with their lives overall, and also with their appearance.

This year’s Good Childhood Report found that the gender gap - that was observed for the first time last year - has not narrowed in the latest wave of data. Children’s happiness overall is at its lowest since 2010, and this is driven by the continued downward trend in girls’ happiness with life as a whole. 

There is also a long-standing gender difference in happiness with appearance that has existed since 1994, and which has been widening from 2002 onwards.

In contrast, boys consistently report lower happiness with their schoolwork.

Age trends

There are some important age patterns in well-being. As children get older, the gender gap in happiness with life as a whole and appearance widens, while the gap in happiness with school work narrows.

For happiness with life as a whole, there is no strong age pattern for boys at all – they have roughly the same level of average happiness between the ages of 10 and 15.

Over the same age range, girls’ average happiness with life as a whole decreases substantially.

Reasons behind the gender trends

In our Good Childhood Report 2017, we investigate some possible reasons for different gender patterns in well-being, looking in particular at bullying and social media usage.

There are some gender differences in children’s likelihood of being bullied, but little evidence that these can explain gender variations in well-being.

However, we found some evidence that high intensity social media usage (more than three hours on a normal school day) is associated with lower well-being, particularly for girls, and that this can explain some of the gender differences in happiness with life as a whole and appearance.

Importantly, social media usage is much less important for well-being than other factors such as family support.

Furthermore, children with low intensity (less than an hour on a normal school day) social media usage do not have lower levels of well-being than those who do not belong to social media at all, and low intensity usage appears to have some benefits in terms of happiness with friendships.

Read about the latest findings in our Good Childhood Report 2017