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Measuring National Well-being - Children's Well-being, 2012 This product is designated as National Statistics

Released: 26 October 2012 Download PDF


This article is published as part of the Office for National Statistics (ONS) Measuring National Well-being Programme and discusses the well-being of children aged 0 to 15. The Programme aims to produce accepted and trusted measures of the well-being of the nation - how the UK as a whole is doing. The article will cover both objective and subjective measures of well-being. Areas covered will include infant mortality, birth weight, satisfaction with relationships and access to and use of technology.


During the Measuring National Well-being national debate many respondents told us of the importance of children’s well-being. It is now largely accepted that what children become in their adult life is to a great extent a product of their experiences in the early stages of their lives (Aldgate et al, 2010). Particularly important are issues such as health and safety, material and emotional security, education and socialisation.

The ten domains currently proposed to measure the well-being of the UK and many of the measures within them are of relevance to children just as they are to other age groups. The domains and measures can be seen in Proposed domains and measures for Measuring National Well-being.

This article does not cover all of these domains for children aged 0 to 15 but examines some specific aspects. These include circumstances in which they live, what they feel about their relationships, what they do and also decisions that adults make on their behalf. This article specifically examines these different aspects and measures and presents where possible what children think and feel about their lives and focuses on:

  • How many children there are in England and Wales.

  • Children’s health.

  • Poverty and its relationship with parental economic activity.

  • Education and skills.

  • Children’s relationships and their well-being.

  • Use of technology and social media.

  • Where children live.

Key points

  • In 1911, one in three of the population in England and Wales were children aged 0 to 15 years, by 2011 this proportion had fallen to one in five.

  • In 1911, 130 out of every 1,000 children born in England and Wales would die before their first birthday but in 2010 this had decreased to 8 in every 1,000 children.

  • Boys born between 2008 and 2010 in the UK might expect to live for 78 years and girls for 82 years. They can expect to spend about 80 per cent of their lives in good health.

  • About 27 per cent of children in the UK were living in households where the income was less than 60 per cent of median income in 2010/11 compared with 34 per cent in 1998/99.

  • In 2011, about 16 per cent of children in the UK lived in households where no adult was working.

  • There was a strong association with children’s reported feelings about their family, friends, school, school work and appearance and their overall feelings about their lives in 2010.

  • Children aged 10 to 15 who reported being bullied the least were also happiest with their lives.

  • In the UK in 2009/10 boys aged 10 to 15 were more likely than girls to spend over an hour on a school day using a games consoles. Girls are more likely than boys to spend over an hour chatting on the internet.

  • In 2012, a considerably higher percentage of children aged 10 to 15 in England and Wales thought that crime had increased nationally than that it had increased in their local area.

Population change

According to the 2011 Census there were just over 10.5 million children aged 0 to 15 in England and Wales - about one in five of the population compared with one in three in 1911. Figure 1 shows that there has been a steady decline in the proportion of children in the population while the proportion of the more elderly has risen. The reasons for this change over the last 100 years are the reduction in family size and improvements in medicine, health services and care of the elderly.

Over the same period there has been a change in attitudes to children which has arguably improved their well-being. For example, in 2012 all children are expected to be in compulsory education until they are at least 16 years old. In 1911, a child was only required to be in education until they were 12 years old.


Figure 1: The percentage of children aged 0 to 5 and adults aged 60 and over, selected Census years

England and Wales

This chart shows the percentage of children of children and adults aged 60 and over as a proportion of the population in England and Wales.

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During the national debate respondents reported that their health was one of the most important areas which affected their well-being. Good health is also very important for children.

Some aspects of children’s health are beyond children’s control yet can have a large influence on whether they will survive infancy and may determine the quality of life they enjoy in adulthood. Examples include smoking and drinking during pregnancy, preterm births and low birth weight.

Smoking is known to adversely affect development of the central nervous system in babies of smoking mothers. This is because nicotine restricts blood flow and the amount of oxygen available to the foetus (Key et al, 2007).

Preterm children (those born before 37 weeks of pregnancy) are at a higher risk of having low birth weight. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO) a child’s weight at birth is healthy if it is 2,500 grams or higher and 1 in every 10 children born in the world is born before full term (WHO, 2012).

Birth weight is an important indicator of overall health and is influenced by a number of factors including smoking and drinking during pregnancy , low parental socio-economic status, education levels, low income and inadequate living conditions. In the UK nearly 8 per cent of births are preterm and they occur most frequently for mothers with obesity or diabetes or those who are older. This is similar to the average of the 24 European member countries of the OECD (Organisation for Economic Corporation and Development (OECD) 2007 – Health at a Glance 2007: OECD Indicators).

In England and Wales, around 700,000 babies were born in 2009 of which about 50,000 were born at a low birth weight. Of all those babies who were born with a low weight, 62 per cent were preterm.

Having a healthy birth weight is important to children’s well-being because low birth weights are associated with:

  • death within the first 24 months of life,

  • delayed physical and intellectual development in early childhood and adolescence,

  • Cerebral palsy,

  • sight and hearing defects,

  • Hernias.

While low birth weight can be a result of the life style and living conditions of parents it can also be because of other factors including birth by caesarean section, increase in incidences of multiple birth and some mothers having children young or later in life (OECD, 2007).

Figure 2 shows that the proportion of children born at a low birth weight in the UK is similar to the OECD average of 7 per cent and is higher than of other countries including Slovenia, Poland, Australia and Canada.

Figure 2: Percentage of children born with a low birth weight for selected OECD countries, 2011


This chart shows the proportion of low birth weight in OECD member countries

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The infant mortality rate is the number of children who die aged less than one year old per 1,000 births. A lower infant mortality rate can indicate that better care is being taken of children and is linked to several factors including access to health care services for pregnant mothers and infants, socio-economic status of the child’s parents, the health of the mother, low birth weight and preterm birth.

In April 2012, ONS reported that:

  • In 2010, the infant mortality rate was 4 deaths per 1,000 live births, the lowest ever recorded in England and Wales, and compares with an infant mortality rate of 12 deaths per 1,000 live births in 1980 and 5 deaths per 1,000 live births in 2009.

  • Infant mortality rates in 2010 were lowest among babies of mothers aged 30 to 34 years (4 deaths per 1,000 live births) and highest among babies of mothers aged 40 years and over (6 deaths per 1,000 live births).

  • In 2010, the infant mortality rates for very low birth weight babies (under 1,500 grams) and low birth weight babies (under 2,500 grams) were 165 and 37 deaths per 1,000 live births respectively.

In 1911, 130 out of every 1,000 children born in England and Wales would die before their first birthday. The decrease in infant deaths between 1911 and 2010 is because of considerable improvements in health care, including the control of infectious diseases and public health infrastructure over this time period. For the UK as a whole infant mortality has been declining and is now only about a quarter of what it was in 1970. The infant mortality rate is currently similar to the OECD average (Figure 3).

Figure 3: UK infant mortality rates compared to the OECD average, 2011

United Kingdom/OECD

This chart shows proportion of infant mortality for United Kingdom against the OECD average

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Another reflection of good health care is the length of life that children in the UK can expect at birth. Based on data for 2008-10, males at birth can expect to live for 78 years and females for 82 years. Over 80 per cent of this time is expected to be spent in good health by both sexes if the 2008-10 levels of self-reported health are maintained. 

One area which may affect the future well-being of a child is the age of its mother. Older mothers are more at risk of delivering their child early and encountering the associated risks. However, being the child of a young mother or being a young mother can also affect your well-being.  In 2010, there were 1,063 births to mothers under 16 years old in England and Wales (ONS, October 2011).

Some of the problems associated with becoming a mother at that age include disrupted schooling which may lead to the mother and child living in relative poverty and becoming a low socio-economic household. In addition, children born to teenage mothers are twice as likely to become teenage parents themselves (Rendall, 2003).

There are a number of risky behaviours children can undertake that can affect their health including the use of alcohol and smoking.


Drinking alcohol remains a risky behaviour that can have detrimental effects on a child’s health and well-being. In general, the proportion of children who have ever had an alcoholic drink has declined over recent years as has the amount of alcohol that they drink. Boys are more likely to report being drunk than girls in Great Britain (Bradshaw, 2011).

The Survey of Smoking, Drinking and Drug Use among Young People in England (SDDS) found that 45 per cent of 11 to 15 year old pupils had drunk alcohol at least once. Table 1 shows that although there was very little change between 2010 and 2011 the proportion of pupils ever having had a drink has been decreasing since 2005.

Table 1: Proportion of pupils who have ever had an alcoholic drink by sex, 2005 to 2011


  2005 2006 2007 2008 2009 2010 2011
Boys 57 56 54 53 53 46 46
Girls 60 55 54 52 50 45 44
Total 58 55 54 52 51 45 45
Source: Health and Social Information Centre, 2011

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There was also a decline between 2009 and 2011 in the proportion of pupils in England who report having alcohol in the last week. Figure 4 shows that 12 per cent of pupils reported drinking alcohol in the last week in 2011 compared to 18 per cent in 2009. There was no significant change between 2010 (13 per cent) and 2011.

Figure 4: When pupils last had an alcoholic drink


This chart shows the last time 10 to 15 year olds in England last had an alcoholic drink.

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The survey also found that only 7 per cent of pupils in England in 2011 said they had drunk alcohol every week: down from 20 per cent in 2001. The proportion of pupils who had never used alcohol has gone up in recent years, from 39 per cent in 2003 to 55 per cent in 2011.

This decreasing trend in regular alcohol use is similar to findings from The Health Behaviours of School-age Children Survey (HBSC). The proportion of 15 year olds in England reporting drinking alcohol at least once a week has decreased over the years from just over 50 per cent in 2002 to around 30 per cent in 2010. However, the study found that the level of drunkenness at this age has not shown a corresponding decline (HBSC England, 2010).

In Scotland, the proportion of 15 year old pupils who said they drink alcohol at least once a week has gone down from around 43 per cent in 2002 to 27 per cent in 2010 and the level of drunkenness among 15 year olds was lower in 2010 (44 per cent) than it was in 2002 (52 per cent). Data for Wales also show a similar trend with 33 per cent of 15 year olds reporting drinking alcohol once a week or more in 2009/10 compared to 56 per cent in 2002.


Another behaviour which can be detrimental to children’s health is smoking. Tobacco use, particularly cigarette smoking is the most preventable cause of death in the UK and in the world today (WHO, 2008).  In the UK around 100,000 deaths per year are due to smoking related diseases. It has a long lasting impact on the well-being of individuals including the risk of developing smoking related diseases. 

Children whose parents smoke are at risk of developing respiratory diseases including asthma and also likely to die prematurely. Children who smoke themselves are at risk of dying prematurely from diseases such as lung cancer and Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease - COPD (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2006).

Nearly 65 per cent of all current smokers and ex-smokers started smoking when they were below 18 years old (ONS, 2009). Among children who smoke, a quarter had their first cigarette before they reached the age of 10 (WHO). Smoking is also strongly linked with the likelihood of the use of alcohol and drugs (Bradshaw, 2011).

Overall, studies are showing that in the UK smoking by children is declining over time. Findings from the Survey of Smoking, Drinking and Drug Use among Young People in England (SDDS), Health Behaviours in School age Children (HBSC) and the Young Person’s Behaviours and Attitudes Survey in Northern Ireland all show that the proportion of pupils reporting ever having smoked cigarettes or smoking regularly has been decreasing over time.

Data from SDDS show that the proportion of pupils who had ever smoked was about 25 per cent in 2011 compared to 53 per cent in 1980 (SDDS, 2011). Figure 5 shows that lower proportions of younger than older pupils are likely to report smoking in the last week. These findings were similar to those in the HBSC Survey in England.

Figure 5: Proportion of pupils who smoked in the last week, by age and sex, 2011


This chart shows pupils who reported smoking in the last week by age and sex

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The most recently available data that allows comparison with other countries shows that the proportion of 15 year olds who reported smoking at least once a week in 2010 was lower in Great Britain (14 per cent) than the average for all countries that took part in the HBSC Survey (18 per cent).  It was also lower when compared to other countries like France (20 per cent), Germany (15 per cent) and Italy (23 per cent) (Currie et al, 2012).

Poverty and parental economic activity

Parents’ employment status has implications for children’s well-being. Children whose parents are in employment are at a reduced risk of poverty and its implications. Having an income can lead to more access to available resources and services and improvements in children’s well-being.


A recent paper from the Institute of Economic Research (Knies, 2012) explored whether child life satisfaction is associated with household income using interviews with about 4,900 children aged 10 to 15 from Wave 1 of the Understanding Society Survey. The results suggest that family income and income-based measures of poverty are not associated with child life satisfaction as perceived by children themselves.

However, a range of other indicators of material well-being show some association with child life satisfaction. Reported life satisfaction was lower for those children who lived in households where adults experience material deprivation and the association was more marked if the children themselves are deprived of things other children enjoy. The associations also held when differences in other aspects of children’s lives such as the quality of the schools they go to, the number of friends they have, their health and levels of physical activity.

While on average children living in low income families do not report low levels of well-being, poverty in childhood has very strong associations with children’s outcomes in life. Bradshaw (2011) asserts that one of the best measures of a country’s success is how it protects its children from poverty and its effects. This makes poverty one of the important factors for both children’s and overall national well-being.

A review of evidence of children’s views on poverty revealed that experiences of poverty in childhood can be damaging and its effects disruptive. Children living in poverty mentioned several areas of concern that covered most of the areas of well-being that the ONS is using to measure for national well-being (Ridge 2009). These include: 

  • Being anxious that money coming into their households would not be enough to meet needs.

  • Material deprivation including toys, games, and essentials like food.

  • Restricted opportunities to make and sustain friendships.

  • Restricted opportunities at school due to inability to buy study materials or pay for social trips.

  • Not fitting in due to lack of possessions or clothes similar to those of well off children.

  • Taking on additional chores in the home when parents had to work long hours.

  • Poor quality housing and homelessness.

  • Perceiving neighbourhoods as insecure and sometimes dangerous.

The accepted current measure of poverty for individuals is that they are living in a household with an income below 60 per cent of the contemporary median income (for this analysis we are using this measure after housing costs have been deducted). Data from the Family Resources Survey (Figure 6) show that in 2010/11 27 per cent of children lived in households where the income was below 60 per cent of the current median after housing costs had been accounted for. This is a reduction since 1998/99 when 34 per cent of children were living in these circumstances.

Figure 6: Children in households with income below 60 per cent of contemporary median income after housing costs, 1998/99 to 2010/11

United Kingdom

The chart shows the proportion of children in the UK living in in households with income below 60 per cent of contemporary median income after housing costs between 1988/89 to 2010/11

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As is reported in the article on ‘Personal finance’ published by the Measuring National Well-being Programme in September 2012, 76 per cent of weekly household income was from social security benefits for UK households in the lowest fifth of the income distribution in 2010, while for those in the highest fifth 76 per cent of weekly income came from wages and salaries. Therefore, children in the poorest households are also more likely to be living in households where adults are not working and are receiving benefits of some kind.

Parental Economic Activity 

Figure 7 shows that in the United Kingdom the majority of children (51 per cent) live in households where both parents work and nearly 16 per cent of children are in households where both parents do not work. Northern Ireland has the highest proportion of children living in working households (57 per cent) followed by Scotland (56 per cent), Wales (52 per cent) and England (51 per cent). Wales had the highest proportion of children living in workless households (20 per cent) compared to England, Scotland and Northern Ireland (all with approximately 16 per cent).

Figure 7: Percentage of children(1) by economic activity status of adults in their household(2), October to December 2011

United Kingdom

This chart shows the proportion of children in households by the economic activity status of adults they live with


  1. Children are those under 16 years old
  2. Mixed households contain both working and workless members

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Education and skills

Children’s education and development of skills are important for their well-being and for that of the nation as a whole. A child’s knowledge, skills and competencies will contribute to future human capital once the individual enters the labour market. Human capital is one of the important measures of a nation’s well-being as its accumulation is an important driver of output growth (Durlauf et al, 2005).

Children’s future labour market outcomes can also be linked to how much knowledge, skills and competencies they acquire. In the UK adult population, individuals with low skills or levels of education are more likely to be unemployed and face social exclusion. There is also evidence that better-educated people have better health status, more social connections, and greater engagement in civic and political life. Education brings a range of benefits (monetary and non-monetary) to both the person investing in the education and the community in which they live (Stiglitz, 2008).

The early years

As was reported in the article on Education and skills the foundation years, the first five years of a child’s life, are critical. Children’s experiences in these years have the biggest impact on how their brains develop. It is also when children grasp the fundamental skills needed to do well at school and develop as happy and confident individuals. For this reason, participation in some form of early education can improve a child’s chances of achievement and well-being in later years.

Many children spend time during the day with childcare providers. In 2010, the use of child care varied depending on the age of the children in England. It was lowest from birth to two years old at 59 per cent of children and highest among three to four year olds at 89 per cent while uptake for 12 to 14 year olds was 50 per cent. The high uptake for three to four year olds is likely to be due to the cost of care being offset by the universal free early education that children are entitled to after their third birthday (Smith, 2012).

The article on Education and skills reported that: Most three and four year olds in the UK benefit from early year’s placements in educational establishments. Data from Eurostat shows that in 2009 participation rates in early childhood education was universal in France (100 per cent) and nearly universal in the Netherlands, Belgium and Spain (all just above 99 per cent). The UK participation rate was 97 per cent, 6 percentage points higher than the EU-27 average of 92 per cent. Participation rates were lowest in Poland (71 per cent) and Finland (72 per cent).’

Research has shown that among children starting primary school those that have had pre-school education tend to be more confident, more sociable and have more developed cognitive function than those who have not had pre-school education exposure. Children from disadvantaged backgrounds have also been found to have benefitted significantly from good quality child care and early learning as it allows mixing children from different social backgrounds. (Sylva, 2004)

Poverty as described above and the associated disadvantages have an effect on children’s achievement at school.  A study commissioned by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation found that by age 11 around 75 per cent of boys from the poorest fifth of families reach the expected government level at Key Stage 2 compared to 97 per cent of children from the richest fifth of families.

A study analysing the Millennium Cohort Study of siblings of children born around 2000 (Goodman and Gregg, 2010) found that several other factors which affected a child’s cognitive development, such as:

  • Children who go to nursery and private school tend to have higher cognitive test scores than those who do not.

  • Children whose parents think they are very or fairly likely to go to university tend to have higher test scores than those whose parents are pessimistic.

  • Children who read for enjoyment also tend to have higher cognitive test scores than those who do not.

Achievements at the end of compulsory schooling

In the UK, achievement at the school leaving age is generally measured by General Certificate of Secondary Education (GCSE) and equivalent results.

Figure 8 shows that the percentage of pupils aged 16 achieving 5 or more grades A* to C or the equivalent have improved in each year. This has been the case since these examinations were introduced in the late 1980s. The figure also shows that for a long time girls have performed better than boys.

Figure 8: Pupils achieving five or more GCSE or equivalent grades A* to C (1,2) by sex

United Kingdom

This chart shows the proportion of pupils achieving A* to C grades at GCSE level in England, Wales and Northern Ireland and at Standard Level in Scotland by sex between 2007/08 and 2009/10.


  1. Including English and mathematics
  2. For pupils in their last year of compulsory education. Pupils aged 15 at the start of the academic year; pupils in year S4 in Scotland.

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Children’s circumstances affect how well a child does in school and examinations. In England, data released by the Department for Education shows that in 2011:

  • 35 per cent of pupils eligible for free school meals (FSM) achieved 5 or more A* to C grades at GCSE or equivalent including English and mathematics GCSEs, compared to 62 per cent of all other pupils.

  • 34 per cent of disadvantaged pupils (pupils eligible for FSM or looked after children) achieved 5 or more A* to C grades at GCSE or equivalent including English and mathematics GCSEs, compared to 62 per cent of all other pupils.

  • The proportion of pupils with Special Educational Needs (SEN) without a statement achieving 5 or more A* to C grades at GCSE or equivalent including English and mathematics GCSEs is 25 per cent. For pupils with SEN with a statement is 9 per cent while pupils with no identified SEN is 70 per cent.

Children who are persistently absent from school lose out on learning and may fail to catch up with their peers. This absence can be for several reasons but one problem is bullying. Studies have shown that bullying contributes to unauthorised absence although this relationship is not necessarily causal but more of a trend. Whatever the cause of unauthorised absence, it is a big indicator of whether children will be involved in crime, whether as a juvenile or as an adult and also the likelihood of experiencing mental problems (Reid, 1999).

Some children speak languages at home other than the medium used in school. While coming from such households has some benefits for children, for others it can also present difficulties once children enter education. Data for all school age children show that the proportion of children speaking another language at home is higher among primary school children than those in secondary school.

The total proportion of children whose main language at home is other than English has increased from 12 per cent in 2006 to 16 per cent in 2012. This is probably due to recent increases in immigration.  It should be noted that some parents have deliberately chosen to bring up their children using an extra language and that English not being the main language at home does not necessarily mean that children are not proficient in English.

Children's relationships and their subjective well-being

During the national debate on measuring national well-being children reported that aspects of their life such as family, friends, school and appearance were very important to their own well-being. Other relationships that matter to children are relationships with teachers and other members of their community at large. In particular, children in primary school said they were most happy when shown physical affection by parents and siblings.

Understanding Society, the UK Household Longitudinal Study (UKHLS) asked children aged 10 to 15 years old how they feel about some of these aspects of their lives.  In this analysis ‘happy’ refers to those who reported their happiness with life as a whole to be at a level of 1 to 3 on a range of scores from 1 being ‘completely happy’ to 7 being ‘not at all happy’. Nearly 90 per cent of children were completely happy, somewhat happy or happy with their life as a whole.

When asked about other aspects of their lives, the highest proportion of children reported being happy to completely happy with family and friends (94 and 96 per cent respectively). Lower percentages of 10 to 15 year olds reported being happy to completely happy with school (82 per cent), school work (79 per cent) and appearance (76 per cent). Further analysis of these findings indicates that there is a significant association between how children feel about these important aspects of their life and how they feel about life as a whole.

Figure 9: Percentage of children aged 10 to 15 who were happy to completely happy about aspects of their lives

United Kingdom

This chart shows the percentage of children aged 10 to 15 who were happy about aspects of their lives in 2010. These included school work, appearance, family, friends and schools they attended.

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These findings are similar to those in research by the Children’s Society which found a significant association between a child’s well-being and the 10 aspects of children’s life including family, friends and school covered in the Good Childhood Index (The Good Childhood Report, 2012).

While the majority of children report being happy with their relationships with family and friends and with their lives overall, it is important not to overlook the small proportion of children who are not. Children who report low levels of subjective well-being do so for several reasons including feeling that they are not listened to by parents (Children’s Society, 2012) or because they are being bullied by friends or siblings (Wolke, 2010).


Bullying occurs in different settings and for children it can affect both what they do and their feelings about where they live. In schools bullying is not a new phenomenon but it is only in the last two decades that it has been openly discussed and placed on the educational agenda. It is a key issue and been recognised as a serious problem both for those who are bullied and for the bullies themselves. There are several reasons for bullying which may include differences in culture, ethnicity, age, ability or disability, religion, body size, physical appearance, personality, sexual orientation or economic status (Rigby, 2011).

Bullying also takes many forms such as verbal abuse, spreading rumours, physical beatings or excluding victims from activities. More recently cyber bullying has emerged where bullies victimise others via the internet and use of mobile phones. It is compulsory for schools to take steps to ensure that all forms of bullying are prevented. There are also some initiatives aimed at parents and families. It is important to note that the bullies need help as much as their victims in order to effectively control bullying.

Bullying has a number of negative consequences including increased absence levels for victims, lower academic achievement, anxiety and social problems. Bullying can also negatively affect children’s self esteem and general life satisfaction (Gobina, 2008). Data from Understanding Society show that 85 per cent of all children who reported that they had never been bullied at all selected the highest level of happiness with life in general. Nearly 55 per cent of children who reported the lowest satisfaction with life in general had been bullied at least once in the last six months prior to completion of the survey (Figure 10). 

Figure 10: Happiness with life as a whole by frequency of bullying

United Kingdom

This chart shows the satisfaction with life as a whole by frequency of bullying

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Technology and social media

Data from Understanding Society showed that in the UK 96 per cent of children aged 10 to 15 years had computer access at home. Computer use for educational purposes in the home was also found to be high, with just over 80 per cent of children using a computer at least once a month for homework or course work. The same survey, collected between 2009 and 2010, showed that a higher proportion of boys (96 per cent) than girls (89 per cent) had at least one games console in their home1. Girls on the other hand are more likely (90 per cent) to have their own mobile phone than boys (84 per cent).

The use of technology and social networking by children has advantages which include:

  • Catching up with family and friends.

  • Sending messages instantly to several friends at once.

  • Ability to engage in play even if external weather conditions do not allow outside play.

  • Able to play video games with people who are thousands of miles away.

  • Easier communication for shy individuals.

  • Enhance existing friendships, happiness and well-being (Valkenburg and Peter, 2009).

Too much time spent playing or chatting on line may also have disadvantages including:

  • The possibility of cyber bullying.

  • Being preyed on by perverted individuals.

  • Addictive in rare cases.

  • Risk of obesity because of lack of physical activity.

For children there is a connection between the length of time for which they use media and their well-being. Research in 2011 from the Institute for Social and Economic Research (ISER) reported that children in the UK who had access to computer games, games consoles and internet use at home for less than an hour on a normal school day also reported better well-being than those who used these facilities for four hours or more. Children who spend too much time chatting on line may also be at risk of unwanted attention and harassment (Skew et al, 2011).

While playing on games consoles and chatting on social media sites can enhance children’s recreational and networking experiences there are risks with excessive usage. Figure 11 shows that 6 per cent of children chat online for four hours or more on a school day compared to 26 per cent and 30 per cent who spend less than one hour and up to 3 hours chatting on line. The figure also shows proportions of children playing on games consoles on a school day; 33 per cent playing for less than an hour, 29 per cent playing for up to three hours and 6 per cent playing for four hours or more.

Figure 11: Use of technology and social media on a school day by 10 to 15 year olds

United Kingdom

This chart shows the amount of time that 10 to 15 year olds spend playing on games consoles and chatting on the internet during term time in the United Kingdom

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Data from the Millennium Cohort Study2 also show that:
  • Nearly 85 per cent of children born in 2000-2001 have access to a computer and the internet at home but only three quarters of them use it.

  • 12 per cent of these children have their own computer and another 12 per cent have their own mobile phone.

  • A high proportion of 11 to 12 year olds (83 per cent) have rules about how long they can watch TV on a school day.

Notes for Technology and social media

  1. All differences are statistically significant at 95 per cent Confidence Interval.
  2. MCS is a longitudinal study of children born in the New Millennium (2000-2001) and their siblings.

Where we live

Where a child lives can have an impact on their life. Availability of facilities for leisure activities as well as green open spaces was highlighted as important for children’s well-being during the national debate. A child’s or their parent’s perception of the area they live in, is important as it affects participation in activities in the area. Children who live in an area they consider safe will be confident to go outside and play. If they consider the neighbourhood to be friendly they will also be able to go and make friends with other children in the neighbourhood.

The perception of parents of crime and safety in the neighbourhood is also important to well-being. Studies have shown that parents will restrict outside play if they have concerns over crime and safety (Kalish et al, 2010). Some young people fear for their safety walking home from school citing as reasons bullies, gangs and paedophiles. In winter this fear is increased due to poor lighting and may lead to children avoiding use of certain routes or use of available facilities all together (Audit Commission).

In order to understand this aspect of well-being it is important to know what children think about crime in relation to where they live.  The 2011/12 Crime Survey for England and Wales (CSEW, previously named the British Crime Survey) asked 10 to 15 year olds living in England and Wales if they thought that that their local area was a friendly place to live. Nearly 80 per cent agreed that it was, while 7 per cent said that it was not (Table 2).

Table 2 shows that children experience violence or thefts more in or around their school and in the neighbourhood of their dwelling, than in parks and other public places. This does not necessarily imply that parks and open spaces are low risk areas. Some children may not be allowed to take valuable items to these places and may only visit these places in the company of an adult.

Table 2: Where incidents experienced by children aged 10 to 15 years old took place

England and Wales (1)

  Violence2,3 Thefts4
School 56 46
Home/neighbourhood 16 27
Park/open space 13 7
Other public place 9 9
Elsewhere 6 10
Source: Home Office, Crime Survey of England and Wales

Table notes:

  1. These are experimental statistics based on the Crime Survey of England and Wales, 2011
  2. The CSEW 10-15s survey used two measures of crime for 10-15 year olds, a ‘Broad measure’ and a ‘Preferred measure’ The ‘Preferred measure’ takes into account factors identified as important in determining the severity of an incidence (such as relationship to the offender, level of injury, value of item stolen or damaged) while the ‘Broad measure’ also includes minor offences between children and family members that would not normally be treated as criminal matters. The figures presented in this table use the ‘Preferred measure’.

  3. 'Violence' includes the offence types of wounding, robbery, assault with minor injury and assault with injury. 'All thefts' includes theft from the person and other theft of personal property but also theft from inside and outside a dwelling and theft of bicycles where the property stolen or damaged belonged solely to the child respondent
  4. 'Thefts' includes theft from the person and other theft of personal property but also theft from inside and outside a dwelling and theft of bicycles where the property stolen or damaged belonged solely to the child respondent

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The survey results also show that most children think that crime has gone up at the national level but stayed the same at the local level. When asked about how crime has changed in the country in past few years, 55 per cent of the children thought that crime had gone up, 35 per cent thought it had stayed the same while 10 per cent thought it had gone down. (Figure 12) When asked whether crime had gone up, stayed the same or gone down in their local area, the proportions were 17 per cent, 63 per cent and 19 per cent respectively.

Figure 12: Perceptions of 10 to 15 year old children of the changes in crime levels over the past few years in their local area and the country as a whole

England and Wales

This chart shows the proportion of children in England and Wales who think crime has gone up or not

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Availability and access to facilities and activities is also important for well-being. A survey of 10 to 15 year olds in England and Wales found that 37 per cent of this age group did not feel that there were enough activities for children in their local area (ONS, CSEW, 2011/12).

Several studies have shown that young people consider availability of facilities for leisure activities as being very important to their well-being. The Audit Commision has reviewed a number of pieces of research on what issues affect children’s behaviour. This found that children who have no access to suitable activities after school are left bored and blame boredom for engagement in anti social behaviour. Children also said that even in local areas with adequate activities and facilities personal safety is an important consideration. 

Studies have also shown that there is a link between the type of neighbourhood a child lives in and their well-being. Children in deprived areas are likely to show significantly worse levels of concentration, are likely to feel sad, worried or fearful, and have significantly more problems with their peers than children living in more affluent neighbourhoods. The studies have also shown that initiatives to build social cohesion in a community can play a role in closing the gap between children living in advantaged and disadvantaged areas (Edwards and Bromfield, 2010).

Background notes

  1. Details of the policy governing the release of new data are available by visiting or from the Media Relations Office email:


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Proposed domains and measures for Measuring National Well-being

More information about these proposed domains and measures can be found in `Measuring National Well-being, Summary of Proposed Domains and Measures'. Most of the measures in this table are of direct or indirect relevance to young people. In particular, measures in the three more contextual domains, ‘The economy’, ‘Governance’ and ‘The natural environment’, are applicable to the whole population.

More information, some of which is of direct relevance to young people, is already available in the domain publications for ‘Our relationships’ ‘Health’, ‘Education and skills’, Where we live’, ‘Personal finance’ and 'Young people's well-being' .

Domains and measures (24.5 Kb Excel sheet)

Content from the Office for National Statistics.
© Crown Copyright applies unless otherwise stated.