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.
This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.
Buy single article
Instant access to the full article PDF.
Price excludes VAT (USA)
Tax calculation will be finalised during checkout.
Bradshaw, J. (2015) Subjective well-being and social policy: can nations make their children happier? Child Indicators Research, 8 (1), 227–241
Bradshaw, J., & Keung, A. (2011). Trends in child subjective well-being in the UK. Journal of Children’s Services, 6(1), 4–17.
Bradshaw, J. and Holmes, J. (2010) Child poverty in the first five years of life. In K. Hansen, H. Joshi and S. Dex (Eds.) Children of the 21st century: the first five years. (pp.13–31) The Policy Press: Bristol.
Bradshaw, J., Martorano, B., Natali, L., & de Neubourg, C. (2013). Children’s subjective well-being in rich countries. Child Indicators Research, 6(4), 619–635.
Bruckauf, Z., & Chzhen, Y. (2016). Poverty and children’s cognitive trajectories: Evidence from the United Kingdom millennium cohort study (Office of Research – Innocenti Working Paper, WP-2016-14, April 2016). Florence: UNICEF Office of Research – Innocenti.
Clarke, L., Bradshaw, J., & Williams, J. (2000) Family diversity and poverty and the mental wellbeing of young people. In H. Ryan, &J. Bull (Eds.), Changing families, changing communities: Researching health and wellbeing among children and young people (pp. 39–58). Proceedings of a joint conference held by the HEA Research Directorate and Young People’s Health Network, 15 March 1999. London: Health Development Agency.
Currie, C., Zanotti, C., Morgan, A., et al. (2012). Social determinants of health and well-being among young people. Health Behaviour in School-aged Children (HBSC) study: International report from the 2009/2010 survey. Copenhagen: World Health Organisation.
Dickerson, A., & Popli, G. K. (2016). Persistent poverty and children’s cognitive development: evidence from the UK Millennium Cohort Study. Journal of the Royal Statistical Society: Series A (Statistics in Society), 179(2), 535–558.
Diener, E. (1984). Subjective well-being. Psychological Bulletin, 95(3), 542–575.
Diener, E., Emmons, R. A., Larsen, R. J., & Griffin, S. (1985). The satisfaction with life scale. Journal of Personality Assessment, 49(1), 71–75.
Diener, E., Inglehart, R., & Tay, L. (2013). Theory and validity of life satisfaction scales. Social Indicators Research, 112(3), 497–527. doi:10.1007/s11205-012-0076-y.
Easterlin, R. (1974). Does economic growth improve the human lot. In P. A. David & M. W. Reder (Eds.), Nations and households in economic growth: Essays in honour of Moses Abramowitz. New York: Academic Press.
Eid, M., & Diener, E. (2004). Global judgments of subjective well-being: Situational variability and long-term stability. Social Indicators Research, 65(3), 245–277.
Flouri, E., Tzavidis, N., & Kallis, C. (2010). Area and family effects on the psychopathology of the Millennium Cohort Study children and their older siblings. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 51(2), 152–161. doi:10.1111/j.1469-7610.2009.02156.x.
Flouri, E., Midouhas, E., & Ruddy, A. (2016). Socio–economic status and family structure differences in early trajectories of child adjustment: individual and neighbourhood effects. Health & Place, 37, 8–15. doi:10.1016/j.healthplace.2015.11.005.
Goswami, H. (2014). Children’s subjective well-being: socio-demographic characteristics and personality. Child Indicators Research, 7(1), 119–140.
Hellevik, O. (2009). Linear versus logistic regression when the dependent variable is a dichotomy. Quality & Quantity, 43(1), 59–74. doi:10.1007/s11135-007-9077.
Helliwell J, Layard R, & Sachs J. (2012). World happiness report. The Earth Institute / CIFAR / CEP.
Helliwell, J., Layard, R., & Sachs, J. (2013). World happiness report 2013. New York: Sustainable Development Solutions Network
Helliwell, J. F., Layard, R., & Sachs, J. (2015). World happiness report 2015. New York: Sustainable Development Solutions Network.
Huebner, E. S. (1991). Initial development of the student’s life satisfaction scale. School Psychology International, 12(3), 231–240. doi:10.1177/0143034391123010.
Huebner, E. S. (1994). Preliminary development and validation of a multidimensional life satisfaction scale for children. Psychological Assessment, 6(2), 149–158.
Kessler, R. C., Barker, P. R., Colpe, L. J., Epstein, J. F., Gfroerer, J. C., Hiripi, E., Howes, M. J., Normand, S.-L. T., Manderscheid, R. W., Walters, E. E., & Zaslavsky, A. M. (2003). Screening for serious mental illness in the general population. Archives of General Psychiatry, 60(2), 184–189.
Kiernan, K., & Mensah, F. K. (2011). Poverty, family resources and children’s early educational attainment: the mediating role of parenting. British Educational Research Journal, 37(2), 317–336.
Klocke, A., Clair, A., & Bradshaw, J. (2014). International variation in child subjective well-being. Child Indicators Research, 7(1), 1–20.
Layard, R. (2005). Happiness: Lessons from a new science. London: Penguin.
Lee, B. J., & Yoo, M. S. (2015). Family, school, and community correlates of children’s subjective well-being: an International Comparative Study. Child Indicators Research, 8(1), 151–175. doi:10.1007/s12187-014-9285-z.
Mood, C. (2010). Logistic regression: Why we cannot do what we think we can do, and what we can do about it. European Sociological Review, 26(1), 67–82. doi:10.1093/esr/jcp006.
Musick, K., & Meier, A. (2010). Are both parents always better than one? Parental conflict and young adult well-being. Social Sciences Research, 39(5), 814–830.
OECD. (2009). Doing better for children. Paris, France (http://www.oecdbetterlifeindex.org/).
OECD. (2015). How’s life for children. Paris: OECD.
ONS. (2014). Measuring national well-being: Children's well-being, 2014. http://webarchive.nationalarchives.gov.uk/20160105160709/http://www.ons.gov.uk/ons/dcp171776_355140.pdf.
Rees, G., & Main, G. (Eds.). (2015). Children’s views on their lives and well-being in 15 countries: A report on the Children’s Worlds survey, 2013–14. York: Children’s Worlds Project (ISCWeB).
Rees, G., Bradshaw, J., Goswami, H., & Keung, A. (2010a). Understanding children’s well-being: A national survey of young people’s well-being. London: The Children’s Society.
Rees, G., Goswami, H., & Bradshaw, J. (2010b). Developing an index of children’s subjective well-being in England. London: The Children’s Society.
Rees, G., Andresen, S., & Bradshaw, J. (Eds.). (2016). Children’s views on their lives and well-being in 16 countries: A report on the Children’s Worlds survey of children aged eight years old, 2013–15. York: Children’s Worlds Project (ISCWeB).
Reynolds, J., Houlston, C., Coleman, L., & Harold, G. (2014). Parental conflict: Outcomes and interventions for children and families. Bristol: Policy Press.
Sabates, R., & Dex, S. (2012). Multiple risk factors in young children’s development. London: Centre for Longitudinal Studies, Institute of Education.
Stiglitz, J., Sen, A., & Fitoussi, J.-P. (2009). Report of the commission on the measurement of economic performance and social progress. http://www.stiglitz-sen-fitoussi.fr/documents/rapport_anglais.pdf.
The Children’s Society. (2012). The good childhood report 2012: A review of our children’s well-being. http://www.childrenssociety.org.uk/sites/default/files/tcs/good_childhood_report_2012_final.pdf.
Zheng, H., & Land, K. C. (2012). Composition and decomposition in US gender-specific self-reported health disparities, 1984–2007. Social Science Research, 41(2), 477–488. doi:10.1016/j.ssresearch.2011.09.011.
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 , http://dx.doi.org/10.5255/UKDA-SN-7464-1. 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.
Rights and permissions
About this article
Cite this article
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). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12187-016-9421-z
- Subjective well-being
- Child well-being
- Life satisfaction
- Positive affect
- Negative affect