What is subjective well-being?

The Good Childhood Report looked at subjective well-being, as reported by children themselves. These answers were used to build the data in the report.

Subjective well-being is about children’s own assessment of how their lives are going. Are children satisfied with their relationships with the significant people in their lives? Are they satisfied with the environments that they inhabit and how they spend their time?  Are they satisfied with how they see themselves? Which aspects of their lives do they rate highly, and which do they rate poorly? How are their lives going in the present, and how to they feel about the way things are heading?

Subjective well-being is based on two elements:

  • Life satisfaction
  • Experience of positive and negative emotions at a particular point in time.

Psychological well-being is concerned with children’s sense of meaning, purpose and engagement.

Children who score highly on measures of both subjective and psychological well-being could be considered to be ‘flourishing’.

Little girl writing

Why it matters

When the research that informs The Good Childhood Report was started in 2005, discussion of children’s wellbeing was mostly between adults, without children’s’ views being considered.

Much of the research focused on children’s well-being as adults rather than their current well-being as children. The Children’s Society’s well-being research programme was initiated by The Children’s Society to focus on childhood in its own right rather than as preparation for adulthood.

Discussion of children’s subjective well-being also provides a counterweight to other measures of children’s lives that tend to dominate, such as educational attainment, or health behaviours like drinking and drug use.