How do children around the world feel about their lives?

FRANKFURT/ZURICH More than 17,000 children aged 8 years old in 16 countries in four continents were asked about their experiences and views about their lives. Research of this kind with this age group is very unusual and this is the most wide-ranging and diverse study of its kind ever conducted internationally on children’s lives from their own perspectives. The second report from the Children’s Worlds study, published today, shows important results that can be used to improve children’s lives around the world. The Jacobs Foundation funded the research behind this report and has announced that it will support another wave of the study, aimed at a larger number of countries, beginning in 2017.

The perspective of young children is seldom the subject of research. The Children’s Worlds study closed this gap. The survey asked children about all key aspects of their lives including their family and home life, friendships, money and possessions, school life, local area, time use, personal well-being, views on children’s rights, and their overall happiness.

Most children aged 8 in all 16 countries were happy with their lives as a whole but a minority (around 6% of children) had low well-being. The percentage with low well-being varied from below 3% in Colombia and Romania to over 9% in Ethiopia, South Korea and the UK.

Simon Sommer, Head of Research at the Jacobs Foundation which funded the work, said: ‘„This project is groundbreaking. This report presents, for the first time, 8-year-old children’s own perspectives on their lives and well-being. The Jacobs Foundation continues to support “Children’s Worlds”, because we are convinced that it will deliver unique information valuable for everyone who is interested in understanding and improving the lives of children and youth.”

Worried about money
Over a third of the children surveyed said that they ‘often’ or ‘always’ worried about how much money their family has. The levels of worry were highest (over 30% of children saying that they ‘always’ worried) in Israel, Colombia, Spain and Nepal. In South Korea and Germany the figure was less than 10%.

Most children in the survey said that they felt totally safe at home, at school and in their neighbourhood. However 4% of children did not agree at all that they felt safe at home, 4% did not agreed that they felt safe at school, and 9% did not agree at all that they felt safe when out and about in their neighbourhood. While these percentages are small they still add up to large numbers of children in each country.

Liking going to school – differences for girls and boys
Most children (62%) totally agreed that they liked going to school. This is much higher than in our surveys of 10-year-olds (52%) and 12-year-olds (42%). Children in Algeria and Ethiopia were most likely to like going to school and children in Germany, South Korea and the UK the least likely. In some countries – including Israel and six European countries – girls were much more positive about school than boys, but in other countries such as Nepal and Ethiopia there was no difference between girls and boys.

Being bullied at school
Many of the children said that, in the last month, they had been left out by classmates (41%) and that they had been hit by other children at school (48%). These experiences were more common among children aged eight than in the older two age groups in the survey. The percentage of children who had been hit was highest in Estonia, the UK and Germany and lowest in South Korea. The percentage who had been left out was highest in the UK and Romania and lowest in South Korea and Ethiopia.

Knowledge of children’s rights
Almost half of children (46%) said that they knew about children’s rights. This is lower than for older children aged 10 and 12 (58%). Children in Colombia (73%) were the most likely to know about children’s rights, and in Turkey, Ethiopia, Romania and Norway over half of children also answered ‘yes’ to this question.

Professor Asher Ben-Arieh, one of the study’s principal investigators and co-chair of the International Society of Child Indicators, said: “For the first time ever we are able to hear from almost 20,000 eight years old children from 16 countries what they do, feel and want. This remarkable achievement teaches us first and foremost that children know better than anyone else about their lives and that any effort to improve it needs to be inclusive of their voice”.

The Children’s Worlds project continues to grow with further countries including Indonesia, Finland and Italy joining the second wave of the survey. The third wave will start in September 2017 with initial findings to be published in early 2019.

The Children’s Worlds study
Children’s Worlds, the International Survey of Children’s Well-Being (ISCWeB), is a worldwide research survey on children’s lives and subjective well-being.

The project fills a substantial gap in international comparative research evidence on children’s own views of their lives and well-being. The study aims to collect solid and representative data on children’s lives and daily activities and on their perceptions and evaluations of their lives. The purpose is to improve children’s well-being by creating awareness among children, their parents and their communities, opinion leaders, decision makers, professionals and the general public.

The current wave of the survey, which was funded by the Jacobs Foundation, has so far been completed with over 56,000 in three age groups (around 8, 10 and 12 years old) in 16 countries – Algeria, Colombia, Estonia, Ethiopia, Germany, Israel, Malta, Nepal, Norway, Poland, Romania, South Africa, South Korea, Spain, Turkey and the UK.

The full report, an executive summary and accompanying materials are all available to read and download on the project website: