Does income matter for children’s happiness?

Gundi Knies is Research Fellow at the ESRC-funded Research Centre for Micro-Social Change and Understanding Society, both based at the Institute for Social and Economic Research at the University of Essex.

Children’s response to economic hardship

As a teenager I read that children living in households affected by unemployment showed socio-psychological responses to their family’s economic hardship that were similar to their parents’: They had more headaches and were sadder, and – like their parents – they felt ashamed and tried to hide their economic hardship from others. They did not feel like they belonged.

This had a profound impact on me. At university, I learned about poverty and social exclusion and was impressed by the government of the time’s ambitious pledge, in 1999, to end child poverty by 2010. Child poverty rates in Britain had been among the highest in OECD countries, and the newly implemented policies looked well placed to address a great deal of the issue. Excellent news!

The link between child poverty and children’s happiness

Child poverty rates did indeed half over the period 1999-2008. Yet, despite this, children in the UK came out at the bottom of the league table of subjective, or self-reported, wellbeing. Was there perhaps no link between children’s material and subjective wellbeing after all?   

I had come across numerous studies that suggest that income matters for happiness, albeit based on research with adults. The small number of quantitative studies on children’s happiness did not corroborate the association. What’s more, most of the studies had taken place in the classroom, which means children were from similar backgrounds, the income measures were much cruder than those used in research with adults, and many aspects of life that may be correlated with both income and happiness – such as the community context and health – were not considered.

With the arrival of data from interviews with around 5,000 children aged 10-15 taking part in the first wave of Understanding Society it was possible to provide evidence on the association between children’s life satisfaction and material well-being using a more comprehensive modelling framework. The empirical results did not suggest an association between income and children’s happiness.

Instead, it suggested that children may be receptive of more visible aspects of their material situation, and that they are unhappier than their more well-to-do peers if they cannot afford to enjoy goods and activities perceived as necessities by a majority of the population, such as holidays and school trips.

But then things got tougher

Sincce the Great Recession in the 2000s, child poverty rates in the UK have been on a steep rise again and a number of programmes designed to address structural disadvantage from the early years were phased out. I decided to revisit the question of whether income matters for children’s life satisfaction.

This time I considered even more aspects of children’s living circumstances that may explain why some children are happier than others. This included the neighbourhood context and school holidays. Most importantly, I could take advantage of more powerful longitudinal data.

We followed the same children over a period of up to five years, it was possible to show that:

  • richer children tend to be more satisfied with life than their less well-off counterparts (just like adults)
  • it mattered more the poorer the child is
  • at every point in the income distribution, older children (so, those aged 13-15, but not those aged 10-12) got happier when their family improved their income position over time, and vice versa
  • children are unhappier if they are excluded from perceived necessities, such as holidays and activities with friends due to their family not being able to afford it.

We should also bear in mind that children have a limited ability to notice the exact income of their family, so it is difficult to identify an effect of income changes on children’s happiness.

Increasing income is only part of the story

Income does matter for children’s happiness. But the income effects were small and we may conclude that maximising wellbeing in this age group means more than simply increasing their family’s income. Of course, this only applies to the effect on how children and young people rate their own wellbeing; there may well be bigger effects on structural outcomes!

On the other hand, as more and more children find themselves at the bottom of the income distribution, where extra money is appreciated the most, income may become more important to children’s rating of their own happiness. 

 

Resource round up and Centre update

During the election period we’re not publishing any new evidence, but we’ll still have a great line up of blogs, case studies and some useful resources to make sure you get your wellbeing evidence into practice  fix.

Workplace wellbeing
If you haven’t already downloaded it and posted it up on your office noticeboard (or whatever hi-tech equivalent you’re using), here’s our handy one-page factsheet on the latest evidence for wellbeing benefits at work.

And once that’s whetted your appetite, you can dip into our briefings on learning in the workplace and designing a good quality job.

Resilience in hospices and mental health in the media
It’s Mental Health Awareness Week, and we’re sharing two case studies that link with this year’s theme of surviving and thriving. Hospice UK give us an insight into a programme to improve staff wellbeing in an emotionally demanding environment. Meanwhile, Mind’s peer education for professionals is a look an an ambitious project that successfully challenged mental health stigma by training journalists.

Share your evaluations
We’ve currently got two calls for evidence live:

We will be putting out more calls throughout the year, and you can follow us on Twitter @whatworksWB for updates when these come out.

Other resources
You can find all of our evidence, research and guidance on the following themes:

Up next
After 8 June, here’s just a taster of what you can expect:

  • new evidence reviews on dance and sport and adult learning
  • guidance for community organisations on measuring personal wellbeing
  • a one-stop set of wellbeing indicators for local authorities
  • a round up of the evidence on green space and wellbeing
  • a discussion paper on community wellbeing.

 

 

 

 

Guest blog and report : World Mind Matters day

On World Mind Matters Day 2016, a global survey funded by the World Psychiatric Association (WPA), of laws and policies in 193 United Nations (UN) member states reveals the level of discrimination faced by people with mental illness in the areas of marriage, voting rights employment and right to contract. The results were published as the ‘Social Justice for People with Mental Illness’ report in  the International Review of Psychiatry in August 2016 and include these findings:

  • In 36 per cent of countries, people with mental health problems are not allowed to vote
  • In nearly a quarter of countries, there are no laws preventing discrimination in the recruitment of people with mental health problems.
  • In over half of countries, there is no explicit protection in laws against dismissal/termination/suspension of employment on grounds of health reasons including mental health problems
  • 38 per cent of countries deny right to contract to persons with mental health problems

The findings have led the WPA to create a Bill of Rights for Individuals with Mental Illness which urges ALL governments to ensure that persons with mental illness/mental disability/mental health problems are not discriminated against based on their mental health status, and are treated as full citizens enjoying all rights on an equal basis with others. 

“Those with mental illness/mental disability/mental health problems have the capacity to hold rights and exercise their rights and should, be treated on an equal basis with other citizens. The challenge for policy-makers, clinicians, and individuals with mental illness is to fight discrimination using strategies similar to civil liberties, gender equality, sexual minority (LGBT) communities, which in many parts of the world have proven to be useful.”

Here, Professor Dinesh Bhugra CBE President of the World Psychiatric Association  explains why this is important:

Mental health gives us the opportunity to Dinesh Bhugra-photofunction well, look after others and enjoy life. Often mental health and physical health are seen as completely different and in isolation from each other whereas the truth is that one affects the other. We know that if a person with diabetes gets depressed then both depression and diabetes are difficult to treat. Mental health has several aspects to it including mood, thoughts and behaviour. Different cultures add a further dimension of spirituality to mental health.

Why is mental health important? At a global level we know that mental ill health causes a tremendous amount of burden which is much greater than that caused by heart disease and cancers. Mental ill health often remains undiagnosed and affects individual functioning at work and at home creating further tensions. Cultures frame our view of the world and create our thinking processes and the way we express and deal with distress.

When an individual says: ‘I feel gutted’ they are expressing distress similar to what a Punjabi woman says: ‘my heart is sinking’.  Childhood experiences combined with experiences of bad parenting can cause problems in adulthood. Over half the mental illnesses in adulthood start below the age of 15 and three-quarters start below the age of 24. Thus preventive strategies have to focus on the vulnerable age groups.

‘Wellbeing’ is a difficult concept to define as it has different meanings at personal, cultural and global levels. Personal wellbeing has become ever more important as longevity, conflict, insecurity and environmental issues increase, and social and technological changes impact on our individual and collective lives.

Prejudice, stigma and discrimination against mental illness delay help-seeking. There is considerable research evidence to suggest that early recognition and early interventions will get people back to normal sooner. There are different types of mental ill-health or mental illness caused often by a mixture of biological vulnerability, social and psychological causative factors. Social determinants of health include poverty, overcrowding and unemployment.

Stigma against mental illness is caused by lack of knowledge and often improved knowledge may lead to changes in attitudes and behaviours making these more positive and accepting.  In small cohesive communities whether they are related to residential settings or work-place it may be easier to reduce stigma and deal with prejudice. Three years ago when 23 members of Parliament stood up in the House of Commons and talked about their personal experiences of mental ill health, that turning point really changed the nature of debate on mental health.

Mental health is everyone’s business and we all need to take responsibility for our own mental health and those in our immediate circle-whether these are professional or personal circles.

Mental ill health and major psychiatric disorders are eminently treatable and many conditions have cure rates of 90-98%.  It is important that we understand the concepts of wellbeing. We must support family members and friends as well as colleagues who may be stressed and developing mental illness so that they are able to lead fulfilling and functioning lives and can contribute fully to their community and society.


Professor Dinesh Bhugra CBE is President of the World Psychiatric Association (2014-2017) and President of the Mental Health Foundation in the UK. He is the recipient of over 10 honorary degrees. His research interests are in cultural psychiatry, sexual dysfunction and service development. He has authored/co-authored over 350 scientific papers, chapters and 30 books and is the Editor of the International Journal of Social Psychiatry, International Review of Psychiatry and International Journal of Culture and Mental Health.  Previously he was the Dean (2003-2008) and President (2008-2011) of the Royal College of Psychiatrists where he led on major policy initiatives on psychiatry’s contract with society and the role of the psychiatrist.

 

Guest blog: What Makes a Good Childhood?

Rachel2Rachel Beardsmore,Senior Research Officer, Wellbeing; Children and Young People at  Office for National Statistics shares insights from the 5th annual Good Childhood report:

 

 

Today sees the publication of The Children’s Society’s 5th annual Good Childhood Report. The report highlights some of the key differences in well-being between boys and girls, including for overall life satisfaction, how happy they are with their appearance and mental health.

The Office for National Statistics publishes 31 measures of children’s wellbeing across 7 areas of life and our analysis of these measures supports the findings published in the Good Childhood Report. Using data from the Understanding Society survey, we found that in 2013-14, girls aged between 10 and 15 were more than twice as likely to be unhappy with their appearance as boys of the same age. Girls in their early teens are more likely than younger girls to say they are unhappy with their appearance; over 1 in 4 (26%) girls aged 13-15 said they were unhappy with their appearance, compared with 1 in 10 (11%) girls aged 10-12. The Good Childhood Report shows that between 2009 and 2013-14 things have been getting worse for girls, while for boys there has been no change. We found that teenage boys are much less likely to say they are unhappy with their appearance with just 1 in 14 (7%) reporting being unhappy.

Social media is an ever-present feature WBWKY1FQ2Iof social life, especially for the young. Our
research using the Understanding Society survey
shows that there is a clear association between longer time on social websites and symptoms of mental ill-health. This is concerning, as we have found that the proportion of children using social networking websites for over 3 hours on a school night has increased from 6% in 2009-10 to 9% in 2013-14. Further analysis shows that 1 in 5 (20%) teenage girls spent over 3 hours a night on social networking sites in 2013-14, compared with less than 1 in 10 (9%) teenage boys and 1 in 20 (5%) pre-teen girls. Less than 3% of pre-teen boys reported using social networking sites for over three hours a night. We are currently looking at further research into social media use and wellbeing as part of our programme of research.

The Good Childhood Report illustrates how children’s direct experiences, such as their perceptions of the quality of local facilities and how safe they feel, are more important for their wellbeing than factors that may be more removed from them, such as local area deprivation. Similarly, our research using the Understanding Society survey shows that a child’s relationship with their parents is one of the most important factors associated with their well-being. Around 1 in 10 (10%) children who quarreled frequently with their mother, and 1 in 12 (8%) who quarreled frequently with their father, reported being relatively dissatisfied with life overall. This compares with less than 1 in 40 children who quarreled less frequently with their mother or with their father.

Overall, the majority of children in the UK report good wellbeing. However, there are some aspects of life that are experienced differently by boys and girls and by children of different ages. Our research, and that of The Children’s Society, provides insight to policy-makers to ensure all children have the best childhood possible.

The  Children’s Society and ONS would be very interested in your views →discuss on our forum

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

NEW 5 years of personal wellbeing data from ONS

Since 2011, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) has asked personal wellbeing questions to adults in the UK, to better understand how they feel about their lives.

Today they have released the fifth annual Personal Well-being dataset, as part of the Measuring National Well-being programme. Accompanying this is a report which presents headline results (local authority breakdowns will be published in early autumn 2016) for the year ending March 2016, together with how things have changed over the five years of collecting this information.

It finds that:

  • reported personal well-being has improved across each of the measures over the 5 year period between the years ending March 2012 and 2016
  • there has been no improvement in ratings of happiness, anxiety and feeling that things in life are worthwhile over the 1 year period between the years ending March 2015 and 2016
  • those living in London reported lower average ratings of life satisfaction, anxiety and feeling things in life are worthwhile compared with UK overall
  • people in Northern Ireland continue to give higher average ratings of personal well-being for all measures except anxiety, when compared with the other UK countries
  • although women reported higher life satisfaction and worthwhile levels when compared with men, they also reported higher levels of anxietyWell-being-01 (1)

Personal well-being in the UK: 2015 to 2016

→Have your say: ONS would value feedback on how this information is shared:

Usually, we release our annual dataset in September. However, this year, for the first time, we have brought this forward to July. We have also given our reference tables a new look, and the statistical bulletin is written in a new style that is more concise than previous years. We are really interested to know what you think of this.

→Please get in touch and give us your feedback at qualityoflife@ons.gov.uk

Oxford Univeristy Resilience for teens project (MYRIAD) recruiting schools

The MYRIAD  my resilience in adolescence project is recruiting schools to take part in a image002 (1)national secondary-school based project led by the University of Oxford.

The project is investigating how schools prepare young people to manage their emotional health and improve their resilience during adolescence. Funded by the Wellcome Trust it is one of the largest projects to explore this area to date.

The research focuses on pupils aged 11-14. It will help researchers gain valuable insight into this critical period in pupil’s lives and look at how the school curriculum could best develop young people’s resilience.

→letter for teachers

If you are interested in taking part please contact the project by the 1st July

→To register an interest in participating click here

Email: myriad@psych.ox.ac.uk  Tel: 01865 613 164

 

Social Capital across the UK

Last week the UK Office for National Statistics (ONS) released a report on Social Capital across the UK which looked at 5 measures of how people feel about their neighbourhood.

It highlighted that personal characteristics such as age, ethnicity and socio-economic background all have a role to play in explaining differences that exist between regions, urban and rural areas.

 Here, Dr Veronique Siegler, Senior Research Officer at  ONS,  leading the project on Social Capital since 2014, as part of the ONS programme of work on Wellbeing shares some insights from the project:

Our research shows that for the UK as a whole, the majority of people felt positively about their neighbourhood (Source: Understanding Society, 2011/12). However, marked differences were observed, depending on where people live. Exploring these differences is important to understanding how to build strong relationships in communities which in turn delivers well-being and economic benefits.ONS Wellbeing blog 1

We found that people living in rural areas were more likely to feel positively about their neighbourhood than those in urban areas. For example, around 78% of people living in rural areas trusted people in their neighbourhood compared to 61% of people living in urban areas.

ONS Wellbeing blog 2There were also differences across the English regions and countries of the UK. Northern Ireland had the highest proportion  and London the lowest proportion of people feeling that they belong to their neighbourhood (73% versus 59%) , that others around their local area are willing to help their neighbours (80% versus 65%), that most people in their neighbourhood can be trusted (73% versus 56%).

Our research highlights that characteristics such as age, ethnicity and socio-economic status all have a role in explaining the differences in how people in the UK feel about their neighbourhood.

  • Older people were more likely to feel positively about their neighbourhood than younger people
  • People who identified as White were more likely to feel positively about their neighbourhood than people from all other ethnic groups as a whole in terms of having trust in others in their neighbourhood, feeling a sense of belonging to their neighbourhood and feeling others in their local area were willing to help neighbours

At an individual level, people’s views about their neighbourhood varied with their economic activity. Trust in others in their neighbourhood was highest amongst the retired (79%) and the self-employed (70%) but lowest among the unemployed (43%). We also found that people employed in higher managerial occupations were more likely to trust people in their neighbourhood (73%) than people in routine occupations (54%).ONS Wellbeing 3

We also looked at the impact of people feeling similar to others in their neighbourhood can have on how people feel about others. Not feeling similar could indicate a lack of bridging social capital, or connections between groups of different backgrounds. Around 6 in 10 people (61%) reported feeling similar to others in their neighbourhood, amongst which three-quarters of them (76%) felt they could trust others in their neighbourhood. In comparison, around 14% of people did not feel similar to others in their neighbourhood, amongst which 38% felt they could trust others in their neighbourhood.

The State of Social Capital in Britain: Policy briefing

→Full ONS report on Social Capital across the UK

→Discuss on our forum