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Exploring Low Subjective Well-Being Among Children Aged 11 in the UK: an Analysis Using Data Reported by Parents and by Children


If we cannot explain the factors that affect the subjective well-being of children we cannot know what to do to improve it. Comparative studies have found that children in some countries have higher mean levels of subjective well-being than children in other countries. But studies of variations in subjective well-being of children within countries, based on school based surveys of children, have failed to explain much of the variation in subjective well-being observed. This may be because such surveys can only collect limited data on their household and school from the child. Wave 5 of the UK Millennium Cohort Survey (11-year-olds) presents a new opportunity to understand the factors affecting children’s subjective well-being making use of information gathered from parents as well as children. This article aims to identify factors which can predict the likelihood of children having low subjective well-being. The key findings from the analysis are that (a) a wide range of parent-reported variables have some power in predicting low child subjective well-being; (b) in comparison a small selection of child-reported variables have more explanatory power. Factors such as material deprivation, family financial strain, parental well-being and children’s experience of being bullied emerge as important in the analysis. The implications for future research on child subjective well-being are discussed.

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This article is based on analysis of data from Wave 5 of the Millennium Cohort Study. Full bibliographic details are as follows: University of London. Institute of Education. Centre for Longitudinal Studies, Millennium Cohort Study: Fifth Survey, 2012 [computer file]. Colchester, Essex: UK Data Archive [distributor], February 2014. SN: 7464 , We are grateful to The Centre for Longitudinal Studies, UCL Institute of Education for the use of these data and to the UK Data Archive and UK Data Service for making them available. However, they bear no responsibility for the analysis or interpretation of these data.

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Correspondence to Gwyther Rees.

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Rees, G., Bradshaw, J. Exploring Low Subjective Well-Being Among Children Aged 11 in the UK: an Analysis Using Data Reported by Parents and by Children. Child Ind Res 11, 27–56 (2018).

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  • Subjective well-being
  • Child well-being
  • Life satisfaction
  • Positive affect
  • Negative affect
  • Happiness
  • Sadness