19 November 2010

Sibling relationships key to children’s happiness

Colchester Campus

Early findings from Understanding Society show that sibling relationships could be key in improving children’s levels of happiness.

Researchers at the Institute for Social and Economic Research (ISER) and elsewhere have been looking at some of the early data from the survey, which is funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) and run by ISER’s specialist survey team.

ISER researcher Gundi Knies found that teenagers from ethnic minority groups, who are normally thought to be among the poorest sections of society, are happier than their white British counterparts. The study does, however, confirm other, well-established, findings that life satisfaction is much higher for teenagers living with both natural parents.

Understanding Society makes other interesting observations too – that children’s happiness is greater when there are fewer other children in the household, and that sibling bullying is rife and causes considerable unhappiness. Dieter Wolke from the University of Warwick and Alexandra Skew from ISER found that sibling bullying was far more prevalent than bullying at school, and while sibling bullying remains high throughout adolescence, school bullying decreases between the ages of 10-15. The researchers note: 'By middle childhood, children spend as much if not more time interacting with siblings than with parents, and in many families aggression between siblings is frequent and a source of great concern to parents.'

The study has been designed to provide new evidence about British people, their lives, behaviours and beliefs. Following 100,000 people in 40,000 households year by year and asking them questions about a wide spectrum of areas relating to their working and personal lives, it found that seven in ten teenagers in Britain are actually ‘very satisfied’ with their lives.

Writing in the ESRC’s Britain in 2011 publication (pubished November 19 2010), former Daily Telegraph political and social affairs correspondent Sarah Womack, said: 'Most state action has so far been aimed at reducing child poverty, a policy predicated on the very natural assumption that if families are richer, the children in them will be happier. The Labour government calculated child poverty by household income but also suggested that ‘not being able to afford things that most people consider necessary’, like holidays, was a useful measure.'

But she added that early research using the Understanding Society data 'detected no association between the new poverty measures and life satisfaction, suggesting that few if any of the items included in Labour’s list of what is important to children – holidays, having a bedroom to oneself by the age of ten, friends round regularly for tea – make a real difference to children’s lives.'

Early data from the survey will be available to researchers in December via the University's UK Data Archive and further early findings will be published in 2011.

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