Improving child wellbeing

In advanced economies with reasonable safety nets, the major interventions that could improve wellbeing concern childhood.

  •  Professor Paul  FrijtersProfessor Paul Frijters
    Disagree
    I disagree on the empirical ground that childhood has been found to predict surprisingly little of adult life satisfaction: in my 2014 co-authored Economic Journal paper, we found that we could explain no more than 4% of adult life satisfaction from anything we could measure in childhood up to age 11, including their emotional health and the opinions of parents and teachers. Life Satisfaction turns out to be far more malleable and changing through life such that at most 30% is fixed, which will include all genetic factors and upbringing. So the vast majority of life wellbeing is still up for grabs after childhood. We also have a good idea of what adult-improving wellbeing interventions would look like for many countries: adult mental health interventions for the common problems (depression and anxiety), more egalitarianism in the workplace and taxation system, and more appreciation for personal relations and community. All that is after childhood, so whilst there are promising candidate childhood interventions, it would go too far to say that they dominate the possible improvements we can make.

  •  Doctor Esteban  CalvoDoctor Esteban Calvo
    Disagree
    The quality of social relationships and work are likely to strongly influence well-being throughout life

  •  Professor Alois  StutzerProfessor Alois Stutzer
    Neither agree nor disagree
    None

  •  Professor Nick  PowdthaveeProfessor Nick Powdthavee
    Completely agree
    We know from cohort studies that there is a long-term association between mental health in childhood and life satisfaction in adulthood. Interventions during childhood to improve resilience and raise the wellbeing baseline should also be a lot cheaper and cost-effective as well.

  •  Professor Leonardo  BechettiProfessor Leonardo Bechetti
    Agree
    Wellbeing depends on many factors related to our life in all its periods. It cannot be generalised as such. I do not believe that we are entirely determined by what happens in childhood. However I agree that intervention at this stage is very important

  •  Professor Bruno  FreyProfessor Bruno Frey
    Disagree
    None

  •  Professor Arie  KapteynProfessor Arie Kapteyn
    Agree
    It is certainly not the only important intervention, but there is overwhelming evidence for the long term effect of childhood circumstances on many aspects of adult life

  •  Professor Ruut  VeenhovenProfessor Ruut Veenhoven
    Neither agree nor disagree
    None

  •  Professor Ronnie  SchobProfessor Ronnie Schob
    Agree
    None

  •  Doctor Anna  AlexandrovaDoctor Anna Alexandrova
    Disagree
    No, relief of suffering is a duty throughout life course and no advanced economy that I know of has safety net strong enough to relieve policy makers of duties towards adults

  •  Doctor Jan-Emmanuel   De NeveDoctor Jan-Emmanuel De Neve
    Disagree
    While child wellbeing is critically important and may have long-term consequences, there remains much potential for high-impact interventions that target the wellbeing of adults. For example, mental health concerns often develop because of situations later in life (work or family pressures) and those can be treated and may entail a larger set of positive spillover effects on families and communities.

  •  Professor Heinz  WelschProfessor Heinz Welsch
    Agree
    I am not familiar with research on the subjective well-being of children - SWB surveys typically focus on adult persons. Yet, to the extent that individuals' SWB depends on economic and social rankings, education and promotion of disadvantaged children, particularly in early childhood, with the aim of securing them an adequate position in society throughout their life seems to be an important issue.

  •  Professor Stephen  WuProfessor Stephen Wu
    Neither agree nor disagree
    There are a number of ways that wellbeing may be increased, and some interventions certainly concern childhood, though there are also a number of other possible ways to increase wellbeing that are not focused on children

  •  Professor Martin  BinderProfessor Martin Binder
    Disagree
    I believe there are major interventions to improve wellbeing for all ages.

  •  Professor Mariano  RojasProfessor Mariano Rojas
    Neither agree nor disagree
    I do agree that childhood is a main area of concern not only in advanced economies but everywhere else in the world. The wellbeing of children is a priority. But I would not restrain the focus of interventions to childhood wellbeing or to any age group. The wellbeing of the elder is also becoming a major concern (loneliness, lack of financial resources, anomie, so on), as well as the wellbeing of everybody in the population. In addition, it is also important to focus on the kind of safety nets that advanced economies have; in my opinion there is substantial room to enhance these safety nets in order to contribute to greater well-being in the population. Current safety nets were designed within an economic-centered paradigm and, in consequence, they neglect other important spheres of being.

  •  Professor Dan  HaybronProfessor Dan Haybron
    Neither agree nor disagree
    This is plausible to a point, depending on the country. Among other things, using schools to help build skills for well-being--and awareness that it even merits attention--could both be directly beneficial and help move the culture toward a greater concern for quality of life. But in places like the United States where personal relationships, communities and trust levels are fairly poor, other policies including better urban planning, as well as work policies affecting the pace of life, may be especially important. Healthy communities and other facets of lifestyle infrastructure are essential, both for immediate well-being and securing a decent quality of life globally over the long haul.

  •  Professor Ada  Ferrer-i-CarbonnellProfessor Ada Ferrer-i-Carbonnell
    Agree
    To the extent that we are talking about these economies, I agree with this statement. Childhood well-being is the base for a stable, happy, and productive adults that positively contribute to society.

  •  Doctor Maarten  Vendrik Doctor Maarten Vendrik
    Agree
    I agree because research by Andrew Clark and Richard Layard et al. shows that (if I remember correctly) mental well-being and experiences in a person's childhood are very if not the most important determinants of the well-being of that person when grown up to adulthood. In particular, the mental well-being of the mother turns out to be a major factor.

  •  Doctor Anke   Plagnol Doctor Anke Plagnol
    Agree
    Childhood circumstances have repeatedly been shown to be associated with adult outcomes.

  •  Professor Wenceslao  UnanueProfessor Wenceslao Unanue
    Completely agree
    I strongly agree. However, an interesting question is which kind of interventions would improve well-being the most? I think that interventions focused on emotional education, relationships, compassion and altruism are the most important ones.





Interventions in childhood should be focussed on generating the personality traits that are related to higher wellbeing throughout life, such as extraversion and high locus of control.

  •  Professor Paul  FrijtersProfessor Paul Frijters
    Neither agree nor disagree
    There is just not enough evidence I know of to be able to say this with confidence, nor is it yet clear that this is the right way to look at it. More promising seems to be to teach children emotional intelligence skills and the standard self-optimisation habits in the cognitive behaviour tool-kit. Playfulness and community-embedding (eg via volunteering) also look promising. Its just not clear that that is best understood as personality development rather than skill augmentation. Some of the proposed childhood interventions focus on making children more optimistic and confident (the resilience programs), which one indeed could see as promoting higher locus of control and extraversion, but that link is not well-established. So on balance, the jury is still out on this hypothesis, I think.

  •  Doctor Esteban  CalvoDoctor Esteban Calvo
    Disagree
    Both personality traits and social circumstances are influential on well-being

  •  Professor Alois  StutzerProfessor Alois Stutzer
    Neither agree nor disagree
    The focus should be on the processes/institutions that are in place when decisions about the curriculum are taken.

  •  Professor Nick  PowdthaveeProfessor Nick Powdthavee
    Completely agree
    See previous comments.

  •  Professor Leonardo  BechettiProfessor Leonardo Bechetti
    Completely agree
    I agree that the essence of wellbeing is generativity that consists in the capacity of creating good relationships with other human being and feeling capable of changing the environment in which we live

  •  Professor Bruno  FreyProfessor Bruno Frey
    Disagree
    None

  •  Professor Arie  KapteynProfessor Arie Kapteyn
    Disagree
    that is way too narrow

  •  Professor Ruut  VeenhovenProfessor Ruut Veenhoven
    Agree
    None

  •  Professor Ronnie  SchobProfessor Ronnie Schob
    Neither agree nor disagree
    In al liberal society we should regard parents' sovereignity concerning child education. The line between paternalistic interventions and complementary educational offers is hard to draw.

  •  Doctor Anna  AlexandrovaDoctor Anna Alexandrova
    Completely disagree
    There is no sufficient evidence to think that extraversion and control are that crucial, plus this sounds like engineering children so that they meet various socially desirable goals. They deserve better.

  •  Doctor Jan-Emmanuel   De NeveDoctor Jan-Emmanuel De Neve
    Disagree
    None

  •  Professor Heinz  WelschProfessor Heinz Welsch
    Neither agree nor disagree
    Such interventions (by governments?) into children's personality are a critical ethical issue that cannot be resolved in a 'psycho-technocratic' manner. They are problematic from a liberal, non-paternalistic perspective.

  •  Professor Stephen  WuProfessor Stephen Wu
    Disagree
    While certain personality traits may be correlated with higher wellbeing (such as extraversion), it is difficult to establish a causal effect of teaching kids to become more outgoing on their wellbeing. As for locus of control, I have more confidence in the causal link between gaining a stronger locus of control and improved wellbeing. So answering this question depends somewhat on the specific traits.

  •  Professor Martin  BinderProfessor Martin Binder
    Disagree
    While I think it can be helpful for individuals to learn skills that help to improve coping with adversity and have psychological resources to deal with what life throws at them, I am not sure I want to see public policy interventions that "generate personality traits" in people. I am also not sure that personality is generated by discrete policies/interventions.

  •  Professor Mariano  RojasProfessor Mariano Rojas
    Completely disagree
    I do believe that interventions in childhood require focusing on two main areas: the school and the family. We need school programs that strenghten the knowledge and skills to live a happy life; and we need a social organization that allows for the presence and full involvement of parents in the nurturing of their kids. I would not aim at changing personality traits or at trying to homogenize the traits of all kids. I do not think aiming at changing personality traits is happiness enhancing or desirable at all. Furthermore, I do not think that homogenization of personalities is good for happiness. I think this statement is lacking a system-view of society. We should try to promote happiness allowing -and even encouraging- the inherent cultural and personality differences in humankind.

  •  Professor Dan  HaybronProfessor Dan Haybron
    Disagree
    Aside from helping to create good citizens by promoting prosocial traits etc., I'm not sure governments should be in the business of personality engineering. Perhaps if it helps people learn the skills they need to fulfill their own values, but that's different from aiming to create certain sorts of personalities. It also isn't clear that these particular traits are realistic or desirable for all individuals or cultures. Society and individuals may benefit from a diversity of personality types, including introverts and those oriented more towards taking life as it comes rather than focusing on personal control. (One also might think that if anything, perhaps we should foster a population less in need of control given our environmental problems.) As well, whether a given trait promotes well-being may depend heavily on the aspect or type of well-being you're talking about. Peace of mind or serenity may not be fostered so well by the same traits that promote high-arousal emotion or life satisfaction.

  •  Professor Ada  Ferrer-i-CarbonnellProfessor Ada Ferrer-i-Carbonnell
    Neither agree nor disagree
    Although I agree on that these personalities are important, I would tend to argue that we need to provide childhood with a rich and stable environment that generates well-being (and thus later happiness and productivity), as well as increases the probability to develop these sort of personalities.

  •  Doctor Maarten  Vendrik Doctor Maarten Vendrik
    Disagree
    Generating personality traits such as extraversion and high locus of control in children indeed seems important in generating higher well-being in child- and adulthood, but insights in psychology suggest that such personality traits are part of the character of a child, and hence are only partially malleable. To the extent that generating such personality traits is not possible, promoting self-acceptance by the child seems important for her/his current and later happiness. In my view, a more promising avenue for interventions in childhood may be all kinds of government policies to improve the conditions in which children grow up, including advice and support to parents for a mentally and physically healthy upbringing of their children.

  •  Doctor Anke   Plagnol Doctor Anke Plagnol
    Neither agree nor disagree
    My answer depends on the definition of "personality traits". I don't think that extraversion can be taught and it might be very counter-productive to attempt to teach children who are not natural extroverts to be more extraverted (as this might stigmatise them). However, interventions could focus on teaching children strategies to deal better with life circumstances and life events which can affect well-being, for example by developing a growth mindset. Some teachers already implement growth mindset strategies in their classrooms.

  •  Professor Wenceslao  UnanueProfessor Wenceslao Unanue
    Disagree
    I disagree. As I mentioned before, interventions should focuses on emotional education (e.g., gratitude, mindfulness), relationships, compassion and altruism.