Learn about how we define subjective well-being

Three teenage girls talking on a sofa

Well-being measurement often involves ‘baskets’ of indicators that together build up a picture of the quality of people’s lives. This includes both objective and subjective indicators.

Objective measures of well-being tend to include indicators of health, education and poverty/deprivation. These are measured by a number of organisations including the Office for National Statistics.

Subjective well-being measures are about children’s own assessments of how their lives are going. International different components of subjective well-being include:

  • Levels of happiness (which can vary from day to day or hour to hour)
  • Feelings of satisfaction with life (which are much more stable)
  • Feelings of psychological well-being or ‘flourishing’.

There is value in measuring both objective and subjective aspects of well-being, but it is on the latter – children’s own assessments of how their lives are going – that we have focused our research. Although a lot of attention has been devoted to objective measures, much less is known about young people's own views of their well-being.

Giving children a Voice

Historically, some researchers questioned whether it was possible to ask children about how they feel about their lives. This left a gap in knowledge about children’s subjective well-being.

In 2005, we began a research partnership with the University of York to address this gap. We ran a national consultation with over 8000 children, asking them what they felt were the most important things that they needed to have a good life. From this consultation we identified a number of aspects of life with the greatest significance to children themselves, forming the basis for our Good Childhood Index.

The Good Childhood Index was created as a way for us to measure child well-being - providing a measure of well-being as a whole, as well as across the 10 aspects of children’s lives; including family relationships, friends and school life.

Since that initial consultation, we’ve established strong evidence from around the world showing that children’s responses are an accurate way to measure how their lives are going. A parent or teacher responding on behalf of a child is no longer considered adequate if it’s possible for children to be interviewed themselves. Since then, we’ve been exploring reasons for differences between children including across countries, between boys and girls, and over time.

Each year our annual Good Childhood Report shines a light on the complexity of children’s lives. 

Read our latest Good Childhood Report