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Child and Youth Well-Being in the United States, 1975–1998: Some Findings from a New Index

Abstract

This paper addresses the following questions: Overall, on average, how did child and youthwell-being in the United States of Americachange in the last quarter of the 20thcentury? Did it improve or deteriorate? Byhow much? In which domains or areas of sociallife? For specific age groups? For particularrace/ethnic groups? And did race/ethnic groupsdisparities increase or decrease? To addressthese questions, some 28 national-level timeseries of social indicators in sevenquality-of-life domains – material well-being,social relationships (with family and peers),health, safety/behavioral concerns, productiveactivity (educational attainments), place incommunity (participation in schooling or workinstitutions), and emotional/spiritualwell-being – are reviewed. Twenty-five ofthese time series date back to 1975 or earlier,while three are based on indicators thatcommenced in the 1980s. The 25 time seriesthat date back to 1975 are indexed bypercentage change from the base year 1975 –that is, subsequent annual observations arecomputed as percentages of the base yearvalues. Similarly, all 28 time series that areavailable by 1985 also are indexed separatelywith 1985 as the base year. This is followedby the construction of seven domain-specificsummary well-being indices in which each of thecomponent time series in each of sevenwell-being domains are equally weighted. Theseven component indices then are combined intotwo equally-weighted summary indices of childand youth well-being – the first of which isbased on the 25 social indicator time seriesthat date back to 1975 and the second of whichis based on the 28 time series that date backto 1985. We also examine the impact ofaveraging the well-being indicators across theindividual time series rather than across theseven quality of life domains. For this, wecalculate corresponding base year 1975 and 1985summary well-being indices that average equallyacross the individual component series. Basicfindings about trends in child and youthwell-being in the United States in the lastquarter of the 20th century are shown todepend on both the base year and the formula bywhich the summary indices are calculated. Findings about child and youth well-being alsoare dependent upon the specific indicators anddomains used in the composition of the summaryindices.Using our general indices as metrics by whichto measure change, we reach severalconclusions. First, using 1975 as a base year – overall conditions of life for children andyouths in the United States deteriorated fairlysteadily for a number of years in the 1980s andreached low points in the early-1990s. From1993, they then began an upturn that continuedthrough 1998 towards, but still slightly below,1975 levels. In other words, while somedomains and conditions of life forchildren/youths improved by 1998 as compared to1975, others deteriorated. Averaging acrossall of the domains of life and conditionsincluded in our summary indices, the basicfinding is that the overall quality of life ofchildren/youths in the United States was notbetter in 1998 than in 1975. Using 1985 as abase year, the trend in overall well-being forchildren/youths shows a similar pattern ofdecline through the early-1990s followed by animprovement through 1998 to levels slightlyabove those of the 1985 base year. In otherwords, compared to 1985 base levels, averageconditions of well-being for children/youths inthe United States had slightly improved by thelate-1990s. Additional findings are discussedpertaining to trends over time in each of theseven domains of well-being, trends withininfancy, childhood, and adolescence/teenage agegroupings, and trends inrace/ethnic-group-specific comparisons anddisparities.

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Land, K.C., Lamb, V.L. & Mustillo, S.K. Child and Youth Well-Being in the United States, 1975–1998: Some Findings from a New Index. Social Indicators Research 56, 241–318 (2001). https://doi.org/10.1023/A:1012485315266

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Keywords

  • Time Series
  • Educational Attainment
  • Time Series Date
  • Life Domain
  • Measure Change