Children in Wales have some of the lowest levels of wellbeing among children across 35 countries, a team of Cardiff University researchers has found.
Levels of wellbeing were on par with Vietnam and lower than countries such as South Africa, Romania and India. Children in Wales reported the lowest scores on individual measures including positivity about the future and liking themselves, researchers said.
Whilst some of the differences in responses between countries may be partly to do with the style in which children from those countries respond, the low levels found in Wales are significant, they said.
The team, from the Wales Institute of Social and Economic Research and Data (WISERD), surveyed over 2,600 children from across Wales about their own happiness, satisfaction and psychological wellbeing, as well as how respected they feel and their inclusion in decision-making processes.
The survey showed that older children have lower levels of wellbeing than younger children, with older children reporting that they had felt sad, stressed and bored in the last two weeks, and that school is the area where all children are least satisfied. Within Wales, lower wellbeing was also found amongst boys.
The survey formed part of the wider Children’s Worlds project – an international study of children’s wellbeing which surveyed 128,000 children across 35 countries between 2016 and 2019.
WISERD research associate, Dr Jennifer May Hampton, said: “As we become increasingly aware of the pressures placed on our children and young people, it is vital that we listen to the effect these are having on their happiness and wellbeing. By asking children directly, we have gathered a detailed picture of the lives and experiences of children in Wales.
“It’s important that we identify and understand areas of low wellbeing, so those aspects that are having an adverse impact can be tackled to improve children’s day-to-day lives.”
It is the first time Wales has been involved in the Children’s Worlds project since its inception in 2009.
Children’s wellbeing in the UK has been on the decline since 2009 and may have seen an even sharper decrease recently, given the current Coronavirus pandemic, the researchers said.
The survey carried out by the WISERD team took place in the summer term of 2018 and involved over 2,600 children from Year 6 and Year 8.
Both age groups were asked similar questions, allowing comparisons to be made between their responses. It was found that the older children reported lower levels of wellbeing overall, compared to the younger children.
Satisfaction and wellbeing questions were asked in relation to home and family life, friendships, school, and where they live. Whilst many children are happy and satisfied with various aspects of their lives, there were notable differences between children in different countries, researchers said. Of concern were the relatively low levels of wellbeing reported by children in Wales, compared to children in the other countries in the study.
Particularly striking were the relatively low levels of psychological wellbeing found amongst 12-year-olds, researchers said. Measuring psychological wellbeing included asking children about responsibilities and time use, the friendliness of others, their learning and if they are positive about the future.
Although children in Wales reported the lowest scores on all these individual measures, only 6.3% were found to have consistently low levels of psychological wellbeing.
Relatively low levels of wellbeing for children in Wales were also particularly pronounced in terms of their school life. In secondary school, relatively low levels of wellbeing are seen in terms of relationships with teachers, classmates and other children in their school, the things they were learning and their overall lives as students.
WISERD is undertaking further work in this area to better understand the factors that help to explain this relative dissatisfaction.
These initial findings from the international study raise a number of questions about the varying levels of wellbeing experienced across different areas of children’s lives in Wales.
The full international overview report comprising responses from just over 128,000 children in 35 different countries is now available. The WISERD team will be examining the variations found between Wales and the other countries involved in the study.
Children’s Worlds is the largest study of its kind, funded by the Jacobs Foundation and supported by multiple partners, including the Welsh Government and the Children’s Commissioner for Wales.