Trends in child subjective well-being in the United Kingdom

Publication type

Conference Paper


Social Policy Association Conference, 5-7 July 2010, University of Lincoln, UK


Publication date

June 1, 2010


Since 1994 the British Household Panel Survey has included a youth questionnaire completed by children aged 11-15. This article exploits this data to explore trends in subjective well-being over the period 1994-2007. Two dimensions of subjective well-being are measured using multi-dimensional scales representing “happiness” and “self-esteem”. This thirteen year period has seen major changes in parental employment and the election of a Labour Government in 1997, which after 1999 pursued a strategy to eradicate child poverty. The Every Child Matters agenda was introduced in England and equivalents in the other parts of the UK. There was massive extra expenditure on education, child care, the NHS, and cash benefits for families with children. Institutions were also transformed - the establishment of the Department of Children Schools and Families with a Minister for Children and Child Commissioners established in every country in the UK. It might be expected that all this activity on behalf of children might have had an impact on what children say about their lives. The evidence from this analysis suggests that there has been an improvement in the average level of happiness of children aged 11-15 over time. The majority of children in Britain were happy in 1994 and in 2007, but the mean happiness score increased, especially for girls. The small proportion of children with low levels of happiness remained the same. However the improvement in mean happiness was too small and tentative to draw any decisive conclusions about the cause of this improvement. Nevertheless it is worth continuing to monitor the subjective well-being of children over time.






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