Survey Finds World’s Children are Happy Even Without Material Goods


The Children’s Worlds study, an international survey of children’s well-being, gathered information from over 50,000 kids ages 8 to 12 from 15 countries, and has revealed interesting data concerning children’s perspectives — and that overall, kids worldwide are happy.

Likes and dislikes varied from region to region. Kids in South Africa are unhappy they cannot play outside by themselves because of the high rate of violent crime in some areas of the country. Algerian and Ethiopian children don’t get enough time to play because their families need help with watching their siblings and helping with chores. For European kids, it is dissatisfaction with their time in school that bothers them, but in some African countries kids are more likely to be satisfied with time spent in the classroom.

Writing for NPR, Francesca Lunzer Kritz reports that this study is “the most wide-ranging and diverse study ever conducted internationally on children’s lives from their own perspectives,” according to the Jacobs Foundation, a nonprofit that published the report this week. The range of kids surveyed included children from wealthy counties and very poor areas. The questions concerned family, home life, friendships, money, school life, and views on children’s rights.

Although children from poorer countries had fewer material possessions, all the children involved in the study reported plenty of happiness and satisfaction with their lives. The study found that in some cases, children in less developed countries expressed having more happiness than those in wealthier countries, most notably where school came into play. Children in Nepal, surveyed before the devastating earthquake, were happier in school than kids in developed countries like Norway.

“This may reflect a view among children in richer countries, where education is a well-established right, that school is a chore,” researchers wrote in the report, “while among poorer countries, where access to education is more recent and less taken-for-granted, children perceive the opportunity to access it much more positively.”

Asher Ben-Arieh, a researcher at Hebrew University in Jerusalem who helped lead the study, noted that limited access to technology like cell phones and the Internet in developing countries makes it more difficult to nurture friendships away from school. Ben-Arieh added that all people interested in improving children’s lives around the globe will find significant messages in the report. He explains that childhood is a critical stage, so both parents’ and children’s perspectives are necessary.

Key findings in the study included that boys and girls, for the most part, had the same overall happiness levels, and that boys feel more satisfied with their physical appearance than girls in Europe and South Korea, but do not in the Africa and the South American countries. Home situations varied as well, with 60% of kids in Nepal living in a home with parents and grandparents present, but less than 10% in the UK, Norway, and Israel living in multi-generational homes. In some countries such as Algeria, Nepal, and South Africa, children are more likely to spend time caring for siblings or other family members than children in wealthier countries like Germany, Turkey, and South Korea.

The Malaysian Digest’s Quartz reports that Jonathan Bradshaw of the University of York, one of the survey’s lead organizers, was surprised by some of the data.

“Why Romanian 10- to 12-year-olds do so well compared to all the other countries we surveyed is a bit of a mystery. Other studies on 13- to 15-year-olds in Romania don’t show such positive results. So perhaps the older Romanians get, the less happy they become.”

South Korean children have access to most material goods, but seem to be less happy than the adults in the country. This could be, say the researchers, because the academic environment in the country is so competitive that it places a bigger burden on South Korean young people.

Brad Tuttle, writing for Time, includes a quote that explained chidhood happiness:

“Children tend to be more optimistic in life,” Norway’s Elisabeth Backe-Hansen, the survey’s lead researcher, told Quartz. That’s good to hear, of course, especially in light of what seems to be the increasingly stressful, high-pressure environment that kids grow up in nowadays.

The researchers say that based on the information they gathered, there does not seem to be an obvious correlation between the amount of material goods a child has and the level of happiness the child maintains.

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