Understanding child subjective well-being

A call for more data, research and policymaking targeting children

A father playing with his daughter in Korail slum, Bangladesh.


We know a lot about children without ever asking them. We can gauge their health, we can measure their education, we can monitor their nutrition, but we don’t always simply ask children themselves: how do you feel about your life? 

But we need to. Understanding their perceptions and designing policies that respond to children’s priorities show us a practical way to help them lead better lives.  

So how do we do that? 

One relevant concept that has come to the fore in recent years is “subjective well-being” – essentially describing how people experience their lives, whether that’s positively or negatively. Today, the science and measurement of subjective well-being has become sufficiently mature to make it both useful and practical, yet it remains a concept applied to adults far more often than it is to children. 

What a missed opportunity. We can imagine a world where a deep understanding of children’s subjective well-being is not just commonplace but is regularly and routinely informing the policies impacting their lives.   

This primer on subjective well-being explains more and lays out three steps to help advance – in the words of the Convention on the Rights of the Child – “an atmosphere of happiness, love and understanding” for every child.

Understanding child subjective well-being cover
Laurence Chandy, Amanda Marlin, and Camila Teixeira
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