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Life Satisfaction among Different Groups of Children: Self-Reports, Differential Scale Usage and Anchoring Vignettes

Abstract

The valid measurement of children’s life satisfaction is key for subsequent analysis and policy recommendations. It has been demonstrated that individuals use different scales in (self-)reports which leads to misleading results. In this study we focus on the analysis of life satisfaction self-reports among children with differences in the following characteristics: family, school, and free-time activities. Using the anchoring vignette method, we analyze differences in response scale usage among the groups and the impact of these differences on the comparison of life satisfaction among the groups. Our sample (N = 3737) is a representative sample of 5th graders (11 year-olds) in the Czech Republic. After adjustment for differential scale usage, children’s life satisfaction is significantly positively related to being female, having a father at home, having good school grades, spending time with friends and the level of education they expect to attain. It is significantly negatively linked to preparing for hard admission exams and time spent playing computer games. The adjustment for response scale differences substantially changes the comparison of different groups. The most significant change is for gender – after correction girls’ life satisfaction is significantly higher while before correction it is the opposite. Before adjustment the differences between some groups are underestimated – children with excellent grades, living with their father and spending at least some time with friends have a higher level of life satisfaction after adjustment in comparison to other children. We recommend examining the differences in scale usage among different cultures, countries and groups in children’s life satisfaction research.

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Fig. 1

Notes

  1. 1.

    The scale for Czech grades is a 5-point scale where 1 refers to the best grade and 5 to the worst grade. The Czech scale also uses labels for each grade: 1 = excellent, 2 = very good, 3 = good, 4 = sufficient, and 5 = insufficient. In general, children attending primary schools often get the grades 1 (excellent) or 2 (very good) on their report cards in the middle and at the end of the school year. At the end of high school all children must take a comprehensive exam in (a) Czech language and (b) either a foreign language (from a choice of English, French, German, Spanish, and Russian) or mathematics. Czech language is, in fact, the only subject in the comprehensive state exam that is compulsory for all students. All schools prepare their students for the exam and we chose the grades of Czech language as an important variable in our analysis for this reason.

  2. 2.

    All children in the Czech Republic complete their primary education (ISCED 1) at the end of the first stage of basic school (Základní škola). During this first stage, children are typically aged from 6 to 10 years. At ages 11 and 13 children may be selected to study their lower secondary education (ISCED 2) in elite multi-year gymnasia or conservatories. Note that the first age of selection in other OECD countries is 14 years old and therefore the Czech Republic system ranks among the most horizontally stratified in the OECD (Shewbridge et al. 2016). In 2012 about 8% of students aged 11 were accepted to an 8-year gymnasium or a conservatory. Approx. 2% of students aged 13 were accepted to 6-year gymnasia (The Ministry of Education, Youth and Sports 2013). The rest continue their obligatory ISCED 2 education via the second stage of basic school. By age 15, students can choose from different upper secondary schools (the main types are vocational schools, professional schools, and gymnasia). For a thorough description of the Czech education system see, for example, Shewbridge et al. (2016).

  3. 3.

    We also checked whether our results change if we replace Czech language grades with math grades. The estimated parameters of our model and their significance levels are similar in both cases.

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Acknowledgements

This study was supported by a grant by the Czech Science Foundation through the project “The relationships between skills, schooling and labor market outcomes: a longitudinal study” (P402/12/G130).

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Correspondence to Hana Vonkova.

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Vonkova, H. Life Satisfaction among Different Groups of Children: Self-Reports, Differential Scale Usage and Anchoring Vignettes. Child Ind Res 12, 2111–2136 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12187-019-09629-3

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Keywords

  • Life satisfaction
  • Children
  • Family
  • School results
  • Free-time activities
  • Anchoring vignette method