The Good Childhood Report 2020
Our annual Good Childhood Report shows trends in children's wellbeing. Our research also seeks to understand the experiences of children who have low wellbeing - what enhances and hinders their happiness. We have made every effort to reflect children’s own views in the reports. We identify and focus on topics that children tell us are important.
What is wellbeing?
‘Wellbeing’ is used to refer to a range of things in everyday life, such as being happy, not being ill, feeling fulfilled and being financially secure.
‘Wellbeing, put simply, is about ‘how we are doing’ as individuals, communities and as a nation, and how sustainable this is for the future’.
There is debate about what constitutes individuals’ wellbeing, and, as a result, there are a range of different definitions. Broadly speaking, two different types of measures are used:
- ‘Objective’ measures, which use social indicators on people’s lives, such as physical health, education and material resources.
- ‘Subjective’ measures, which focus on people’s own views about how their life is going.
The Good Childhood Reports focus primarily on children’s own views of their lives - or the subjective wellbeing of children.
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The state of children's wellbeing in 2020
In the full Good Childhood Report, we report on a number of different measures of children’s subjective wellbeing. These include the trends for six areas of life from the Understanding Society survey, and three measures reported by the ONS and our own Good Childhood Index.
This year’s annual household panel survey was conducted between April and June 2020 with just over 2,000 young people aged 10 to 17 across the UK, and their parent or carer. It provides the most up-to-date picture of children’s wellbeing.
Findings from The Good Childhood Index
In 2020, as in previous years, children are most happy on average with their relationships with their family. However, in contrast with previous years where the largest proportion were unhappy with the school that they go to, in 2020 a higher proportion of children were unhappy with the choice they have in life.
As children were in lockdown as part of measures to manage the Coronavirus pandemic, the higher proportion unhappy with choice may therefore be related to the restrictions on social contact and other aspects of life that were in place at this time.
Findings from ONS wellbeing measure
In our 2020 survey, 18% of children scored below the midpoint for life satisfaction and, for the purposes of this report, are deemed to have low wellbeing. As noted in our recent report Life on Hold, this reflects a larger proportion scoring below the midpoint than in the last five household surveys, when the proportion ranged between 10% and 13%.
Time trends in children's wellbeing
Since 2013, we have presented trends in children’s wellbeing over time based on the most up-to-date findings from Understanding Society. The latest available data for this survey are for 2017-18, and reflect children’s (aged 10 to 15) wellbeing before the 2020 Coronavirus pandemic.
Children's happiness with life as a whole
- The average score for happiness with life as a whole was significantly lower in 2017-18 than when the survey began.
- The proportion of children unhappy with their life as a whole was also significantly higher in 2017-18 (5.9% compared to 3.8% in 2009-10).
- There was no significant difference between the mean score for boys and the mean score for girls in 2017-18.
Children's happiness with appearance
- The average score for happiness with appearance was significantly lower in 2017-18 than when the survey began.
- The proportion of children unhappy with their appearance was significantly higher in 2017-18 (13.9% compared to 11.2% in 2009-10).
- The mean score for boys has been significantly higher than for girls since the survey began, although the gender gap has reduced in more recent waves.
Children's happiness with school
- The average score for happiness with school was significantly lower in 2017-18 than when the survey began (with a similar mean score to that reported last year).
- The proportion of children unhappy with their school was also significantly higher in 2017-18 (11.1% compared to 8.9% in 2009-10).
- There was no significant difference between girls and boys mean scores for happiness with school in 2017-18.
Children's happiness with friends
The average score for happiness with friends was significantly lower in 2017-18 than when the survey began.
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International trends in children's wellbeing
This year, we looked at some of the latest international comparative statistics, in order to try to put the subjective wellbeing of children in the UK into a broader context and help us to understand what differences exist between countries.
We calculated the number of children in each country who had low wellbeing and might be defined as ‘struggling’ across four measures: life satisfaction, happiness, sadness and sense of purpose in life.
It showed that the UK had the fifth highest proportion of children (around 5%) struggling on all four measures; the highest proportion struggling on at least three; and the lowest proportion (27%) not having a low score for any of the four measures.
This indicates that at 15 years old, children in the UK have relatively low subjective wellbeing compared to the other European countries included in this comparison.
In the full Good Childhood Report 2020, we ask why this is the case. We also examine other international data on children’s wellbeing, including ‘Children’s World’s’ which compares satisfaction with different aspects of life for 10 year olds across a wide range of other European countries.