Social and welfare issues

Better measures of well-being needed for effective child policies


01/07/2021 - Enhancing child well-being benefits society as a whole and is key to fostering prosperity. However, improving policies to help children thrive will require better data on their needs and lived experiences, according to a new OECD report.


Measuring What Matters for Child Well-being and Policies develops a new child well-being measurement framework, identifies key gaps in child data, and outlines how they can be filled.


Based on a review of research evidence on child well-being and how it relates to later life outcomes, the framework follows a number of principles; that well-being is multidimensional, is tightly embedded in a child’s environment, and that fundamental aspects change according to age. Well-being measures must also take into account children’s views and perspectives.


A multidimensional approach is central because difficulties or strengths in different areas interact. The report cites, for example, how emotional regulation in early childhood has a positive impact on learning and on the quality of friendships and social skills, as children grow older.


The framework treats the different dimensions of child well-being – material, social, emotional, cultural and educational well-being, as well as physical health and cognitive development – as interconnected. It also aims to capture the distribution of well-being through measures that reflect lack of opportunities and disparities across different groups of children, for instance by sex, by living arrangement, and by migrant background.


The report identifies a number of key priorities for measuring child well-being, including:


  • Do children have the things they need?
  • Are children active and physically healthy?
  • Do children feel safe and secure, respected, included and happy?
  • Are children learning and achieving in education?


The report says that although comparable international data has improved, it remains limited in scope. Some children, often the most vulnerable, are frequently missing or not easily identifiable in existing data, while information is limited on the well-being of the very young and on children’s own views on important aspects of their lives.


Co-ordinated action from governments, international organisations, and the wider community to improve the availability of cross-national child data, is needed. This is a sizable task, it says. It will require both significant investment and a medium- to long-term commitment.


The report has been prepared by the new OECD Centre on Well-being, Inclusion, Sustainability and Equal Opportunity (WISE). The Centre is generating new data and solutions to improve people’s well-being and reduce inequalities, and to understand better the impact of policies and business actions on people’s lives.


For more information about the report or about the OECD’s work on well-being, journalists are invited to contact Martine Zaïda or the OECD Media Office (tel: +33 14524 9700).


Working with over 100 countries, the OECD is a global policy forum that promotes policies to preserve individual liberty and improve the economic and social well-being of people around the world.



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