28 Aug 2019


Almost a quarter of a million children in the UK – the equivalent of 219,000 – report being unhappy with their lives as a whole, according to new figures from The Children’s Society. 

The charity’s annual Good Childhood Report, which examines the state of children's well-being in the UK, also reveals that children’s happiness with life is at its lowest since 2009. It cites issues around boys’ appearance, friendships and school as potentialdriving factors. 

The charity is warning that the decline in happiness is a ‘national scandal’ and exposes huge failings for the country’s most vulnerable children. 


The report finds that nearly one in 12 boys (7.7%) aged 10-15 – the equivalent of 180,000 – are unhappy with their appearance. Over 13s were significantly less happy with how they look compared to 10-12 year-olds. Historically, boys have been happier with their appearance than girls but the gap is narrowing. 


One boy said “Like Instagram and stuff, right? You see all these models, you see all these weight lifters, body-builders and you look at yourself and you’re like – I look like a stick. I feel like we’re exposed to a lot more so we are less secure about our appearance.” 

One in eight children (11.8%) are also unhappy with school, another key wellbeing measure, which is at its lowest since 2009. Evidence from year 10 students (mostly aged 14 and 15) suggested that bullying and not feeling safe at school are among a range of factors linked to low well-being. The research also found links between income poverty and financial strain and unhappiness with school. 

A secondary school girl said: “A lot of things get stolen and people are rude and rough. Yesterday someone kicked my bag, called me a rude name and spat in my face.”   

Children’s happiness with their friendships is decreasing with 2.8% of children unhappy with their friends. The wider research suggests that this could be down to factors as varied as bullying, being unable to spend time with friends outside of school, excessive social media use and loneliness. 


The Good Childhood Report also found a third (33%) of 10-17 year olds have concerns about whether they will have enough money in the future, with more than a quarter (29%) worrying about having a job.   


But children as young as 10 are also worrying about broad societal issues. The most common worries among 10 to 17 year olds were crime (42%), followed by the environment (41%) and information sharing online (37%). Only about a fifth worried about the economy and Brexit.  

The Children’s Society are calling on the Government to introduce national measurement of well-being for all children aged 11-18 to be undertaken through schools and colleges once a year. This would enable the experiences of young people to be recorded and issues acted upon for future generations.  


Mark Russell, Chief Executive at The Children’s Society says:  


“Modern childhood is a happy and carefree time for most, yet for too many it is not. It is a national scandal that children’s unhappiness is increasing so quickly.  

Today’s young people are becoming progressively unhappy with their friendships – one of the fundamental building blocks of well-being – as well as appearance and school. Children are also burdened with fears ranging from worrying about the future, not having enough money to not feeling safe at school and bullying. Many young people tell us they feel side-lined and ignored by those in power. The Children’s Society is committed to listening to young people, and working with them to speak up and speak out, to enable every child to thrive not just survive. 


“We are urging the Government to introduce a national measurement of children’s well-being so we can really listen, respond and show young people they matter. Together we can build a brighter future and bring optimism and confidence back to being young.”  




Media enquiries  

For more information, please call The Children’s Society’s Media & PR Team on 020 7841 4422 or email media@childrenssociety.org.uk. For out-of-hours enquiries please call 07810 796 508.  

Notes to Editor  


  • The Good Childhood Report is produced in collaboration with researchers at the University of York. 

  • The average (mean) well-being score for happiness with life as a whole and with friends for the children surveyed has decreased significantly between 2009/10 and 2016/17. This decline is statistically significant at the 99% level. 

  • The Good Childhood Report uses evidence from a number of sources, including: 

  • The Children’s Society household surveys: since 2010, we have conducted regular surveys of 2,000-3,000 households in England, Scotland and Wales with parents and children aged eight to 17. The surveys collect data on the well-being of children and parents, as well as household data such as income and occupations. So far 37,000 children have been involved in 18 waves of the survey – In the 2019 report the data related to children’s thoughts about the future was taken from The Children’s Society’s household surveys (of almost 2,400 children) 

  • The Children’s Society schools surveys: since 2008, we have conducted three major schools-based well-being surveys, the last of which was undertaken in 2013-14 as part of the Children’s Worlds international study. To date, these schools surveys have involved over 17,000 children aged 8 to 15. This year the main report utilises a survey with around 650 year 10 students to explore multiple disadvantage. 

  • Understanding Society: this longitudinal study involves 40,000 households in the UK and includes questions for children aged 10 to 15. This year’s report uses data from all nine waves of this survey.  

  • The Millennium Cohort Study: a longitudinal survey following the lives of children born in the UK in 2000-01. In the 2019 report, we utilise this dataset to look at the link between different types of poverty and children’s well-being. 


  • The statistics showing the proportion of children unhappy with their life as a whole, friends, school and appearance are based on analysis of the latest data from Understanding Society. They reflect the proportion of children who scored below the midpoint in response to questions on these aspects of children’s lives, which are included in the survey.  

  • In the latest wave of the Understanding Society survey (wave 8 undertaken in 2016/17), 4.8% of children were unhappy with their life as a whole (scored below the midpoint). In 2016/17, 2.8% were unhappy with their friends. 

  • The national estimate for the total number of children who may be unhappy with their life as a whole was calculated by applying the proportions of children who said they were unhappy (scored below the midpoint) in the latest wave of Understanding Society (2016/17) to ONS mid-year population estimates for 2018. ONS estimated there were 4,571,627 children aged 10-15 in the UK in 2018. 

  • The national estimate for the total number of boys who may be unhappy with their appearance was calculated by applying the proportions of children who said they were unhappy (scored below the midpoint) in the latest wave of Understanding Society (2016/17) to ONS mid-year population estimates for 2018. ONS estimated there were 2,343,067 boys aged 10-15 in the UK in 2018. 

  • Understanding Society is a longitudinal study covering households in the UK. The survey is conducted annually and covers a representative, random sample of households, collecting the responses of adults and children aged 10 to 15. The analysis included in The Good Childhood Report 2019 is based on responses from children only to a Youth questionnaire. The youth questionnaire contains questions on subjective well-being and five other aspects of children’s lives – family, friends, appearance, school work and school. The survey uses a 7-point scale to measure children’s happiness which The Children’s Society convert into a score on an 11-point scale (0 to10). 

  • Analysis of the latest data from Understanding Society (for wave 8 or 2016/17) are based on weighted data from an overall sample of 3,270 children aged 10 to 15 who completed the survey. Data are weighted to ensure that the analysis is as representative of the general population as possible.  

  • About The Children’s Society The Children’s Society is a national charity that works with the most vulnerable children and young people in Britain today. We listen. We support. We act. Because no child should feel alone. To find out more visit: https://www.childrenssociety.org.uk   


  • About The Good Childhood Report 

  • The Good Childhood Report 2019 is the eighth in a series of annual reports published by The Children's Society about how children in the UK feel about their lives.