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International research examines happiness level of children around the world

Studies indicate that eight year olds are most satisfied with their lives in all parameters other than feeling of safety in the home

The international study "Children's World" (ISCWeB, funded by the Jacobs fund) has recently completed its third wave in the massive international survey including over 128,000 children in 35 countries around the world. This massive, unique, project aspires to understand and promote the perspectives and experiences of children regarding their own lives and well-being; and to encourage policymakers and all those who deal with child well-being to act to improve experiences during childhood.
In Israel, the study was conducted by the researchers Prof. Asher Ben Aryeh and Dr. Hanita Kosher from the Hebrew University, Dr. Daphna Gross-Manos from Tel-Hai College and Sagit Brok from the Haruv Institute, and included 4,687 - 8,10 and 12 year old children in Israel (second, fourth and sixth grade). The questions in the study ranged between general satisfaction in life and personal welfare to specific areas of life, such as internet access and feelings of security in their respective environments. The survey provides a unique up-to-date perspective on the life of children in many countries that are diverse in their economic wealth, geography and culture.

Are younger children happier children?

The study's findings indicate that children become less satisfied with their lives as they grow older. In most countries the average grades declined as the age of the children increased, so that eight year old children ranked their general well-being as quite high in comparison to the ten year olds, whereas these ranked their general well-being as higher compared to the 12 years old. Their assessment regarding specific aspects of their life, such as satisfaction with family life, neighbourhood life and the school, also tended to be less positive as their age rose.

Children were asked to what extent they agreed with the claim that their neighbourhood had enough places for children to play and hang out. Children aged eight clearly gave significantly higher rankings to this question than 12 year olds, with 10-year-old's answers falling, usually, between the older and younger groups.

A conspicuous deviance to the trend of declining satisfaction with age was identified regarding the feeling of security at home. A worrisome finding is that the youngest age group felt least safe at home in most countries, Israel included.

Israeli researchers noted: "the tendency of declining satisfaction with life in higher ages agrees with the findings of the survey's previous waves. The finding that eight year olds feel less secure at home compared to older children is worrisome and demands the attention and answers of all who deal with the safety and wellbeing of children"

We are happy to see the findings of this important international study from 35 countries and achieve a better understanding of the lives of children from their own perspective," stated Simon Sommer, the Co-CEO of the Jacobs Foundation. "We believe that all children should enjoy equal opportunities to achieve their full potential in education and to realize their aspirations. By supporting innovative research initiatives such as this one, we promote the creation of the critical database required to improve the lives of children everywhere".

Greater material deprivation, but also subjective well-being in Israel's rural periphery

Deeper research into the regional variations amongst Israeli children resulted in additional insights. Specifically, significant differences in the feelings of Central Israel, urban periphery and rural periphery children were found.

33% of the rural periphery children cannot afford a school trip, in comparison to 4% of the children in Central Israel.

33% of rural periphery children cannot afford good quality clothes, compared to 2% of the children in Central Israel.
Life in the center and life in the periphery, which is in part more rural, have been found to have a mixed influence on the children quality of life. On the one hand, the city and the center provide greater access to services and more employment, education, and other options. On the other hand, life in the center and in urban environments is associated with crowdedness, air pollution and so forth. In contrast, the rural periphery provides less access to services, employment and education, but life there is quieter, blessed with open spaces, a communal framework and so forth.

In the Israeli children quality of life report we chose, unlike most such studies, to divide areas of residence into center, urban periphery and rural periphery. Areas of residence were determined by the periphery index of the Central Bureau of Statistics (2015)1
The periphery index ranks settlements on a scale with 10 ranks: the five lowest (1-5) were defined as periphery, whereas the five highest (6-1) as center. In order to distinguish between relatively large periphery settlements (50,000-200,000 residents) and small periphery settlements such as a Kibbutz with 1,000 residents or an Arab village with 5,000 residents, we chose to define another threshold value for peripheral settlements: settlements were defined as urban periphery if they had more than 20,000 residents (the population size defined as a city in Israel), whereas settlements were defined as rural periphery if less than 20,000 residents lived in them.
The study focused on the third sample of the "worlds of childhood" study in Israel, held during the 2018 school year. Given the importance of materialistic aspects in the context of periphery and the center, it was not possible to use the data of the children of the ultra-orthodox sector (for they had only received a shortened questionnaire lacking all of the poverty index parameters). The sample included 2,733 children, including 1,473 children from the center, 565 from the urban periphery and 695 children from the rural periphery.

Distribution of children according to center, rural periphery and urban periphery

Material – economic conditions

Comparison between areas of residence showed that the center has far lower poverty rates than the periphery, and allowances are the only item more than 10% (13.8%) of center children lack. The highest poverty rates are in the rural periphery, where over 30% of the children report a shortage in most (eight) items. One of the most prominent findings is the rate of children lacking access to a computer who live in the urban periphery (13.1%). The average rate of material lack for items in the urban periphery is somewhat lower than the rural periphery, at around 20% for most items. Nonetheless, urban periphery children reported rather high lack levels, higher even than rural periphery for certain items – family vacation (23.4%), a family car (14%), access to a computer (13.1%), and a washing machine (2.7%).

Place of residence and happiness of children in Israel

In the framework of the study, the subjective welfare indexes, accepted happiness indexes, amongst children from the three defined places of residence categories. Statistically significant differences were found for all subjective index parameters between the three places of residence categories, with the lowest satisfaction found in the urban periphery children, and the highest being found amongst the rural periphery children.

Furthermore, a statistically significant correlation was found between the level of material poverty2 of the children and their place of residence category was also found. It was found that when children were not subject to material lack there were almost no differences in the level of subjective welfare of the children in the different place of residence categories. In contrast, when children lived in material lack, it was very significant where they lived – children in the center reported much lower subjective welfare than children living in material lack in the periphery in general and the rural periphery in general. In fact, it seems that the rural periphery, in spite of the relatively low material conditions of many children living there, successfully protects the happiness of the children from the consequences of the lack. A more in-depth analysis revealed that these absences mostly derived from the dissatisfaction of children in the center from their academic lives as students.
Correlation between place of residence categories and material lack in the multivariate subjective welfare index.

1 An adjusted calculation of the potential accessibility of the community (two thirds of the sum) with its proximity to the Tel-Aviv district, the economic and geographic center of Israel (a third of the sum). The accessibility potential of the community represents its proximity to every other community in Israel, adjusted to their population size.

2 This index was developed in accordance with accepted statistical tests according to which children who reported themselves to be lacking in 2 or more of the 12 items about which they were asked, were defined as suffering from material poverty

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