Child Indicators Research

, Volume 12, Issue 1, pp 29–48 | Cite as

Better Safe than Sorry. Does Agency Moderate the Relevance of Safety Perceptions for the Subjective Well-Being of Young Children?

  • Leonie C. SteckermeierEmail author


This article explores the subjective well-being (SWB) of eight-year-old children in relation to two aspects important to young people’s lives: perceptions of safety and agency. Research has shown that safety perceptions among children are positively correlated with SWB. Building on the capabilities approach, this paper argues that not only is the achieved functioning of being safe important to well-being, but so are substantive opportunities to decide whether or how to achieve that functioning (agency). As young children’s ability to convert capabilities into functionings largely depends on their parents or guardians, current research has regarded children as mere recipients of functionings without considering children’s agency. This paper advances our understanding of children’s SWB by explicitly considering children’s agency in regard to their safety. Using data from the second wave of the ISCWeB project for eight-year-olds in 16 countries, the paper follows three aims: First, to examine the relationship between safety perception in three different areas and SWB. Second, to investigate the relationship between children’s agency and their SWB. Third, to explore how agency and safety interact in influencing SWB. The results show that children’s agency and their perceived safety at home, in their neighborhood and at school each contribute to their SWB. Further, first empirical evidence is provided on a moderating effect of agency on the relationship between neighborhood safety and wellbeing. The paper makes a case for the relevance of considering children’s agency and alludes to the importance of discriminating between safety in different life domains.


Safety Agency Capability approach Subjective well-being ISCWeB 



The data used in this publication come from the second wave of Children’s World: International Survey of Children’s Wellbeing (ISCWeB). ( The views expressed here are those of the author. They are not necessarily those of ISCWeB.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V., part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Otto-von-Guericke UniversityMagdeburgGermany

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