28 Aug 2014

England lags behind developing countries like Romania, Algeria, Brazil and South Africa when it comes to how happy and satisfied its children are, new The Children’s Society research out today (28 August) reveals.

The Good Childhood Report 2014 – which brings together the latest international and domestic evidence based on the views of more than 50,000 children - exposes that around half a million children in the UK have low well-being.

Overall, England ranks ninth out of a group of 11 diverse countries around the world for children’s ‘subjective well-being’ (how happy and satisfied they are with their lives) coming ahead of only South Korea and Uganda.

Children in England do particularly poorly when it comes to feelings about their appearance, with almost one in eight (13%) children saying they are unhappy about the way they look. Only children in South Korea fare worse in this area, and appearance is a particular issue for teenage girls.

Friends, family and possessions

But children in England are more positive about ‘friends’, ‘home’ and ‘money and possessions’, ranking sixth of the 11 countries for these issues.

The report found that girls are twice as likely as boys to feel unhappy about the way they look (18% of girls compared with 9% of boys). The problem increases dramatically as young children become teenagers (17% of children aged 12-13 compared with 9% of 10-11 year olds).

Children were generally happier when it came to ‘money and things’ (only 2% of children unhappy with this area), ‘family’ (4%) and ‘friends’ (4%).

The Children’s Society discovered that a number of aspects of how children spend their time are associated with higher well-being. Children who regularly take part in activities and sports, have good relationships with their friends and regularly go online outside of school have higher well-being.

Poverty and well-being

The report found a link between children’s well-being and their financial situation. Around a third (36%) of children said their families had been impacted a ‘fair amount’ or a ‘great deal’ by the economic crisis, and these children were more likely to have low well-being. The report also found that there is evidence that recent changes to household income are indirectly affecting children through the stress and unhappiness they cause parents.

When asked whether their family was ‘richer, poorer or about the same’ compared to their friends, the children with the highest well-being were those who thought that they had about the same.

Children who saw themselves as poorer were twice as likely to say they were unhappy and almost three times more likely to say they had low life satisfaction. Even children who said their families are richer were slightly more likely to have low well-being.

The Children’s Society Chief Executive Matthew Reed said: 

'Childhood is a happy time for the vast majority in this country. But we can’t shut our eyes and ears to the half a million children who say they are unhappy and dissatisfied with their lives. 

England lagging behind

'This new report lifts the lid on the fact that we’re lagging behind so many other countries, including developing nations.

'This research can't be dismissed as being about ‘grumpy kids’. Children with low well-being are more likely to experience serious issues, such as poor outcomes related to school, family and their health.

'Children are telling us that they’re unhappy about their future and how they look, as well as the things that make them happier, like being active, having strong friendships and going online.

'It’s crucial that all of us – from policy makers to parents and teachers - listen very closely to what they have to say.'

The Children’s Society has produced a guide for parents – How to Support your Child’s Well-being – supported by author, journalist and parenting and childcare expert Dr Miriam Stoppard, which sets out practical tips and advice to make a difference to children’s well-being. The guide is free to download.

Dr Miriam Stoppard said:

'Parents want their children to be happy and positive about the future. But at times, the huge range of advice from parenting manuals, friends, family and other places can be overwhelming.

Influenced by children

'What makes this work different is that it’s influenced by the people who really know what they’re talking about – children themselves. It’s based on interviews with thousands of children about what makes them happy with their lives.

'And the good news is that most of it is very straightforward. It’s about taking time to talk – and listen - to our children, showing them warmth, keeping them active and learning, letting them hang out with friends and explore their local environment.'

The report was carried out in collaboration with the University of York and is the most extensive national research programme on children’s well-being in the world. 

The full report is available to download from our website

Media enquiries

For more information, call 020 7841 4422 or email. For out-of-hours enquiries please call 07810 796 508.

Case studies and The Children’s Society spokespeople are available for interview. Psychotherapist Lucy Beresford and GP and ‘Sunday Surgery’ presenter and GP Dr Radha Modgil are supporting the report and available for interview.

Notes to editors

  • International comparisons are based on the Children’s World survey and relate to children in England, but not Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Countries surveyed include: Romania, Spain, Israel, Brazil, USA, Algeria, South Africa, Chile, England, South Korea and Uganda.
  • The Children’s Society has helped change children’s stories for over a century. We expose injustice and address hard truths, tackling child poverty and neglect head-on. We fight for change based on the experiences of every child we work with and the solid evidence we gather. Through our campaigning, commitment and care, we are determined to give every child in this country the greatest possible chance in life.
  • The Good Childhood Report makes the use of up-to-date evidence from a number of sources, including:
  1. Children’s World Survey: a new international survey of children’s wel-being. The data in this report is from a large-scale pilot of the survey using 16,000 children. The survey covers 11 countries across five continents. The England component is based on a survey of 3,000 children in Years 4, 6 and 8. The countries surveyed include: Romania; Spain; Israel; Brazil; USA; Algeria; South Africa; Chile; England; South Korea; Uganda
  2. The Children’s Society quarterly surveys: since 2010, we have conducted regular surveys of 2,000 households in England, Scotland and Wales with parents and children aged eight to 15. The surveys collect data on the well-being of children and parents, as well as household data such as income and occupations.
  3. Understanding Society: this longitudinal study involves 40,000 households in Britain and includes questions for children aged 11 to 15 years old.
  4. Millennium Cohort Study: follows the lives of 19,000 children born in the UK in 2000 or 2001 and surveys children as well as their parents and teachers. There have been five waves of the survey at 9 months, three years, five years, seven years and 11 years. Information in the Good Childhood Report is from the fifth wave (11 year olds). 

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