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The Good Childhood Report 2021

Our Good Childhood Report 2021 shows the latest trends in children's wellbeing. Our research seeks to understand how young people feel about different aspects of their lives. This year we've found that school, friendships and appearance continue to cause the greatest dissatisfaction in adolescence. 


The Children's Society

Number of pages:

66 pages

Date published:

The state of children's wellbeing in 2021

In the full Good Childhood Report, we report on children’s responses to the Good Childhood Index, three ONS measures of personal wellbeing and six measures of self-reported wellbeing included in the Understanding Society survey. 

Findings from The Good Childhood Index

The Good Childhood Index (GCI) assesses children’s happiness with different aspects of life and of overall life satisfaction. The findings are relatively consistent with those obtained in pre-pandemic years.

In 2021, children (aged 10 to 17) were, on average, happy with their home, their family and their health, and a larger proportion of children scored below the midpoint (suggesting they are unhappy) for school than for any other aspect of life.

Overall, 12% of children (aged 10 to 17) scored below the midpoint on our multi-item measure of life satisfaction, and, as such, are deemed to have low wellbeing.

Findings from ONS wellbeing measure

Our annual survey includes three ONS measures of personal wellbeing. They ask children about their happiness yesterday, their overall life satisfaction and to what extent they feel the things they do in life are worthwhile. 

  • 6.6% scored below midpoint for 'to what extent do you feel that the things you do in your life are worthwhile?' The average score was 7.6 out of 10.
  • 5.4% scored below the midpoint for 'how satisfied are you with life nowadays?' The average score was 7.6 out of 10.
  • 6.9% scored below the midpoint for 'how happy did you feel yesterday?' The average score was 7.7 out of 10.

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 2018-19, and reflect children’s (aged 10 to 15) wellbeing before the pandemic:

  • Children’s happiness with life as a whole, friends, appearance and school was significantly lower in 2018-19 than when the survey began in 2009-10.
  • More children were unhappy with their appearance and school in 2018-19 than other aspects of life.
  • There are some consistent gender differences across waves: boys have, on average, been happier with their appearance than girls (although boys’ scores have also declined in recent years). Girls have repeatedly been happier with schoolwork.

wellbeing over time graphic

graphic showing more unhappy emojis in 2019 than in 2009

Subjective wellbeing and outcomes later in life

Before looking at the relationship between outcomes at age 17 and life satisfaction at earlier ages, we wanted to understand the prevalence of symptoms of mental ill-health, self-harm and attempted suicide for different sub-groups. Our analysis showed, at age 17:

  • Females and children attracted to the same/both genders have poorer outcomes across all four measures.
  • Income was more strongly related to emotional and behavioural difficulties, and attempted suicide. A larger proportion of children in the lowest income group had poor outcomes for these two measures than those in the middle, high, and very high income groups.
  • The only significant difference between those from white/minority ethnicities was for attempted suicide. A lower proportion of children from ethnic minority backgrounds reported having attempted suicide than in the white ethnic group.

We then used Millennium Cohort Study data to look at how subjective wellbeing in earlier adolescence relates to responses to questions about mental ill-health, self-harm and attempted suicide at age 17.

Does children’s subjective wellbeing at earlier ages predict outcomes at age 17?

Negative mental health outcomes at age 17 vary by demographic characteristics. Even when taking these personal characteristics into account, young people with lower life satisfaction scores at age 14 were significantly more likely to have poorer scores across mental health measures at age 17.

The practical implication of these findings is that there may be value in regularly monitoring children’s responses to the single life satisfaction measure to identify those children who need support with other issues in earlier adolescence. Working with this group to address issues known to be linked to low life satisfaction (e.g. supportive relationships and bullying at age 14) might have long term benefits for the mental health of these young people.

Children's experiences of Covid-19

One year on from our Life on Hold report, we wanted to revisit how children (and their parents) were feeling after having lived with the pandemic for over a year, and to ask about their key concerns for the future.

Parents’ reflections on the impact of Covid-19

Parents were asked about the impact (positive/negative) Coronavirus had had on family members.

  • Three-fifths of parents (61%) said the pandemic had had a negative impact on their children’s education and almost 2 in 5 (39%) that the child taking part in the survey was less happy with their progress with schoolwork (than before Covid-19).

Parents were asked to rate, on a scale of 0 to 10 (where 0 indicated not coping very well and 10 coping very well), how well they thought they had coped with the changes made to daily life because of the Coronavirus pandemic.

  • The vast majority (83%) of parents who provided a response scored above five, suggesting they had coped to some extent. Around 8% of parents indicated they had coped less well, scoring below five. A small group of parents were identified (almost 4% of those completing both sets of questions) who scored low for coping and also had low wellbeing.

Children’s reflections on the impact of Covid-19

Children’s own views on the pandemic are extremely important. As in 2020, we asked children how well they had coped overall and with specific changes to their lives.

  • Encouragingly, 85% of those who provided a response scored above 5 out of 10 for how well they had coped overall. Almost 1 in 10 (8%) scored below five, suggesting they had coped less well. A small group of children (around 4% of those completing Coronavirus and wellbeing questions) were identified who had not coped well overall and had low wellbeing, which is concerning.

While the majority of children said that they had coped well with the specific changes to daily life they were asked about, their responses suggest they had coped less well with not being able to see friends and family, and not being able to do hobbies/pastimes. This is not surprising, as these are all types of activities that we know are important to protecting children’s subjective wellbeing.

Looking to the future

Children’s feelings about their future are closely linked to their current sense of wellbeing, and an important consideration in ensuring their recovery from the pandemic. As in 2019, we asked how much they worried about seven different aspects of their own future. Having enough money, being able to find a job and getting good grades were the aspects of life that more children said they were worried about in 2021. Children were also asked about broader societal issues, and future illnesses/pandemics and the environment were their top concerns.

final conclusion

The Good Childhood Report 2021 draws attention to the potential value of regularly monitoring children’s wellbeing using a simple, single question on life satisfaction (which is relatively non-intrusive) to identify children who might be experiencing issues in their life that they need support with. Working with these young people to address those factors that our research, and that of others, have shown to be linked to lower life satisfaction in earlier adolescence could potentially have long-term benefits for their mental health. 

Download the summary reports

Download the full report at the top, or download the summary reports here: