Skip to main content
Log in

An Index of the Condition of Children: The Ideal and a Less-than-Ideal U.S. Example

  • Published:
Social Indicators Research Aims and scope Submit manuscript


This paper uses recent data on U.S. children from the National Survey of America’s Families (NSAF) to create indices that tally the number of problems or risks that individual children experience. We compare results with those from indices developed elsewhere that assess the change across sets of population-level indicators. While the two types of indices show similar trends over time, specific changes, as well as trends, depend on the specific domain of well-being or context examined, highlighting the importance of the distinction between well-being and context. Children with problems in multiple domains tend to be socio-economically and demographically disadvantaged compared with other children. We preface this work by providing an overview of the history of child well-being indicators and distinguish indices of child well-being from indices of the condition of children.

This is a preview of subscription content, log in via an institution to check access.

Access this article

Subscribe and save

Springer+ Basic
EUR 32.99 /Month
  • Get 10 units per month
  • Download Article/Chapter or Ebook
  • 1 Unit = 1 Article or 1 Chapter
  • Cancel anytime
Subscribe now

Buy Now

Price excludes VAT (USA)
Tax calculation will be finalised during checkout.

Instant access to the full article PDF.

Fig. 1
Fig. 2
Fig. 3
Fig. 4
Fig. 5
Fig. 6
Fig. 7
Fig. 8
Fig. 9
Fig. 10
Fig. 11
Fig. 12
Fig. 13
Fig. 14

Similar content being viewed by others


  1. For more information about the NSAF, see:

  2. In other work, we are examining indices created based on positive indicators in order to examine trends in positive outcomes, rather than trends in children’s problems.

  3. Available online at

  4. Available online at

  5. In order to compare the FCD-Land, KIDS COUNT, and America’s Children indices with the NSAF, we re-calibrated so that the base year for all indices to 1997, which is the first year that NSAF data are available.

  6. The sample size for children with half or more of the problems in all five domains is too small to yield reliable estimates, so we combined domains four and five.


  • Aborn, M. (1985). Statistical legacies of the social indicators movement. (Paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Statistical Association, Las Vegas, Nevada)

  • Annie E. Casey Foundation (1991). KIDS COUNT data book. Baltimore, MD: Annie E. Casey Foundation.

    Google Scholar 

  • Annie E. Casey Foundation (2003). 2003 KIDS COUNT data book. Baltimore, MD: Annie E. Casey Foundation.

    Google Scholar 

  • Annie E. Casey Foundation (2004). KIDS COUNT data book. Baltimore, MD: Annie E. Casey Foundation.

    Google Scholar 

  • Brim, O. G. (1975a). Macro-structural influences on child development and the need for childhood social indicators. American Journal of Orthopsychiatry 45(4), 516–524.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Brim, O. G. (1975b). Childhood social indicators: Monitoring the ecology of development. Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society, 119(6).

  • Brown, B. & Corbett, T. (2003). Social indicators and public policy in the age of devolution. In R. Weissberg, L. Weiss, O. Reyes & H. Walberg (Eds.), Trends in the well-being of children and youth. Washington, D.C.: Child Welfare League of America Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Brown, B. & Moore, K. (2003). Child and youth well-being: The social indicators field. (In R. Lerner, F. Jacobs & R. Wertlieb (Eds.), Handbook of applied developmental science: Promoting positive child, adolescent, and family development through research, policies, and programs. Thousand Oaks: Sage Publications.

    Google Scholar 

  • Child Trends Databank (2005). Overweight children and youth [Data file]. Washington D.C.: Child Trends. Available from Child Trends web site,

  • Federal Interagency Forum on Child and Family Statistics. (1997). America’s children: Key national indicators of well-being. Washington DC: Federal Interagency Forum on Child and Family Statistics US Government Printing Office

    Google Scholar 

  • Garmezy, N. (1993). Children in poverty: Resilience despite risk. Psychiatry, 56, 127–136

    Google Scholar 

  • Hagerty, M. & Land, K. (2002). Constructing summary indices of social well-being: A model for the effect of heterogeneous importance of weights. Paper presented at the meeting of the American Sociological Association, Chicago.

  • Johnson, D. (2005). Indexes of child well-being. In Creating indicies of the well-being and conditions of children. Washington D.C.: Child Trends

  • Kingsley, T. (1998). Neighborhood indicators: Taking advantage of the new potential. Chicago: American Planning Association

    Google Scholar 

  • Lamb, V. L., Land, K. C., & Meadows, S. O. (2004). Are American children better off now than in 1975? New York, NY: Foundation for Child Development

    Google Scholar 

  • Land, K., Lamb, V. L., & Mustillo, S. K. (2001). Child and youth well-being in the United States, 1975–1998: Some findings from a new index. Social Indicators Research, 56, 241–320.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Land, K. C. (2001). Models and indicators. Social Forces, 80(2), 381–410.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Miringoff M.L. (1990). Monitoring the social well-being of the nation. Public Welfare, 48(4), 34–37

    Google Scholar 

  • Miringoff M. L.(2003). 2003 Index of social health: Monitoring the social well-being of the nation Tarrytown, NY: Fordham Institute for Innovation in Social Policy.

    Google Scholar 

  • Moore, K. A. (1997). Criteria for indicators of child well-being. In: R. M. Hauser, B. B. Brown, & W. R. Prosser (Eds.), Indicators of child well-being. New York: Russell Sage Foundation.

    Google Scholar 

  • Moore, K. A., Lippman, L. & Brown, B. (2004). Indicators of child well-being: The promise for positive youth development. Annals, AAPSS, 591, 125–145

    Google Scholar 

  • Moore, K. A. & Lippman, L. (Eds.) (2005). What do children need to flourish?: Conceptualizing and measuring indicators of positive development. New York: Springer Science & Business Publishers.

    Google Scholar 

  • O’Hare, W. P. & Bramstedt, N. L. (2003). Assessing the KIDS COUNT composite index. A Kids Count working paper. (Baltimore, MD: Annie E. Casey Foundation)

  • Pollard, E. L. & Lee, P. D. (2003). Child well-being: A systematic review of the literature. Social Indicators Research, 61(1), 59–78.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Rutter, M. (1985). Resilience in the face of adversity: Protective factors and resistance to psychiatric disorder. British Journal of Psychiatry, 147, 598–611.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Snyder, C. R. (2005). Measuring hope in children. In: K. Moore, & L. Lippman (Eds.), What do children need to flourish?: Conceptualizing and measuring indicators of positive development (pp. 61–74). New York, NY: Springer Science and Business Media.

    Chapter  Google Scholar 

  • Stagner, M. (1997). Preface. In R. Hauser, B. Brown, & W. Prosser (Eds.), Indicators of children’s well-being. New York: Russell Sage Foundation

    Google Scholar 

  • U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office of the Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation (1996). Trends in the well-being of America’s children & youth 1996. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office

    Google Scholar 

  • U.S. House of Representatives. (1989). U.S. children and their families: Current conditions and recent trends, 1989. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office.

    Google Scholar 

  • Watts, H. W., & Hernandez, D. J. (Eds.) (1982). Child and family indicators: A report with recommendations. Washington, D.C.: Center for Coordination of Research on Social Indicators.

    Google Scholar 

  • Zill, N. & Brim, O. G. (1975). Childhood Social Indicators. Newsletter. Society for Research in Child Development. Fall.

  • Zill, N., Sigal, H. & Brim, O. G. (1983) Development of childhood social indicators. In E. Zigler, S. Kagan, & E. Klugman (Eds.), Children, families, and government: Perspectives on American social policy (pp. 188–222). NY: Cambridge University Press.

    Google Scholar 

Download references

Author information

Authors and Affiliations


Corresponding author

Correspondence to Kristin Anderson Moore.



Table 1 Percentage distributions for indices of child well-being, family processes, and socio-demographic risk, by child age.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Moore, K.A., Vandivere, S., Lippman, L. et al. An Index of the Condition of Children: The Ideal and a Less-than-Ideal U.S. Example. Soc Indic Res 84, 291–331 (2007).

Download citation

  • Accepted:

  • Published:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI: