Reports and profiles aimed at comparing the well-being and living conditions of children within and across countries are based on child indicators which measure the children’s current lives. These reports, which are part of the child indicators movement, have become popular because they serve as useful monitoring and goal-setting tools for policymakers. Researchers focus on empirical discussions regarding how to measure well-being more accurately and how to increase the transferability of data to policy and put less effort into questioning underlying conceptualizations of children in detail. Quantitative studies focus on the main changes in the child indicators movement described as shifts “from negative to positive” or “from well-becoming to well-being”. There are no complementary qualitative in-depth analyses of the underlying assumptions about children and childhood. From a childhood studies perspective this is relevant because the unspoken representations not only show the changed adults’ views of children, they also shape the lives of children. Therefore, in national and international reporting systems the dominant conceptualizations of children are emphasized, and whether and how the described major shifts in the child indicators movement have occurred is questioned. A discourse analysis approach is used to examine three influential reporting systems: the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) report (2007), the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) report (2009), and the KIDS COUNT report (2011). The findings show a great variety in the realization of the shifts and also indicate consensus on still conceptualizing children as becomings and future adults.
This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.
Buy single article
Instant access to the full article PDF.
Tax calculation will be finalised during checkout.
Subscribe to journal
Immediate online access to all issues from 2019. Subscription will auto renew annually.
Tax calculation will be finalised during checkout.
Due to space constraints, only five out of six shifts are examined here. The last shift “towards a composite index of child well-being” is not relevant to the investigation presented in this article (Ben-Arieh 2010, p. 17). In the newest publications Ben-Arieh (2011) even speaks of nine shifts but the new ones are not essential to the study presented in this article.
Because of data limitations—similar to the other two reports—the stakeholders are obliged to dispense data which provide good information about child well-being but which are not comparable over all states or countries or which come from one-time surveys (see Lippmann 2005).
However, the reader cannot always understand the distribution, for example, why is the indicator “educational deprivation” linked to material well-being and not to educational well-being?
It is interesting to note that the report takes a strong interest in the self-assessment of children in their role as pupils. That means an aspect of education is in the foreground when the children make their assessments without them being asked, for example, whether they like their lives as a whole or like being children (even beyond school).
This view also is supported by the fact that the indicator “liking school” is not part of the education domain. When it comes to issues of education, whether pupils like school seems to be less relevant. It is more important that the average literacy score is high, the literacy inequality is low, and the youth NEET rate is low as well.
As mentioned earlier, here again the reader cannot always understand the attribution of the indicators, for example, the separation of health and safety on the one hand and behaviors and risks on the other hand. Both domains cover aspects of behavior and of health.
The analysis showed that irrespective of data constraints, to some extent the indicators have been wrong-headedly attributed to the dimensions within one reporting system. Furthermore, the wrong-headed attributions become obvious when comparing the three reports; one and the same indicator is attributed to different domains. UNICEF, for example, attributes “living in single-parent families” to relationships; in contrast, KIDS COUNT attributes it to adequacy of income. UNICEF considers “liking school” to be a matter of subjective well-being, while OECD attributes it to quality of school.
African Child Policy Forum. (2008). The African report on child wellbeing: How child-friendly are African governments? Addis Ababa: The African Child Policy Forum.
Alanen, L. (2005). Kindheit als generationales Konzept. In H. Hengst & H. Zeiher (Eds.), Kindheit soziologisch (pp. 65–82). Wiesbaden: VS.
Andrews, A. B., & Ben-Arieh, A. (1999). Measuring and monitoring children’s well-being across the world. Social Work, 44(2), 105–115.
Annie E. Casey Foundation. (2009). 2009 Kids count data book. State profiles of child well-being. Baltimore: Annie E. Casey Foundation.
Annie E. Casey Foundation. (2011). 2011 Kids count data book. America’s children, America’s challenge: Promoting opportunity for the next generation. Baltimore: Annie E. Casey Foundation.
Ben-Arieh, A. (2006). Is the study of the “state of our children” changing? Re-visiting after 5 years. Children and Youth Services Review, 28(7), 799–811.
Ben-Arieh, A. (2008). The child indicators movement: past, present, and future. Child Indicators Research. doi:10.1007/s1218700790031.
Ben-Arieh, A. (2009). The Child Indicators Movement—Identifying child-centered indicators for shaping child policies. Forum 21. European Journal on Child and Youth Policy, 13, 106–112.
Ben-Arieh, A. (2010). From child welfare to children well-being: The child indicators perspective. In S. Kamerman, S. Phipps, & A. Ben-Arieh (Eds.), From child welfare to child well-being. An international perspective on knowledge in the service of policy making (pp. 9–22). Dordrecht: Springer.
Ben-Arieh, A. (2011). How do we measure and monitor the “State of Our Children”? Revisiting the topic in honor of Sheila B. Kamerman. Children and Youth Services Review. doi:10.1016/j.childyouth.2011.10.008.
Ben-Arieh, A., & Frønes, I. (2007). Indicators of children’s well being: Theory, types and usage. Social Indicators Research, 83(1), 1–4.
Ben-Arieh, A., & George, R. (2001). Beyond the numbers: how do we monitor the state of our children? Children and Youth Services Review, 23(8), 603–631.
Betz, T. (2008). Ungleiche Kindheiten. Theoretische und empirische Analysen zur Sozialberichterstattung über Kinder. Weinheim: Juventa.
Betz, T. (2009). Informierte Kinderpolitik auf der Grundlage standardisierter Kinderbefragungen (Informed Child Policy on the Basis of Standardised Children’s Surveys). Forum 21. European Journal on Child and Youth Research, 4(12), 92–98. English Version: http://www.coe.int/t/dg4/youth/Source/Resources/Forum21/II_Issue_No4/II_No4_Children_surveys_en.pdf. Accessed 28 Oct 2011.
Betz, T. (2010a). Die Kindergesellschaft. Sozial Extra. Zeitschrift für Soziale Arbeit und Sozialpolitik, 34(11), 37–41.
Betz, T. (2010b). Modern children and their well-being: Dismantling an ideal. In S. Andresen, I. Diehm, U. Sander, & H. Ziegler (Eds.), Children and the good life: New challenges for research in children (pp. 13–28). Dordrecht: Springer.
Bischoff, S., & Betz, T. (2011). Die diskursanalytische Rekonstruktion von politischen Leitbildern bildungsbezogener ‚guter Kindheit‘. EDUCARE WORKING PAPER 1/2011. Frankfurt a. M: Goethe-Universität. http://www.uni-frankfurt.de/fb/fb04/we2/professionalisierung/Educare-Working-Paper-1-2011-Bischoff-Betz.pdf. Accessed 28 Oct 2011.
Bradshaw, J., Hoelscher, P., & Richardson, D. (2006). Comparing child well-being in OECD countries: Concepts and methods. Innocenti Working Paper No 2006-03. Florence: UNICEF Innocenti Research Centre.
Bradshaw, J., Hoelscher, P., & Richardson, D. (2007). An index of child well-being in the European Union. Social Indicators Research, 80(1), 133–177.
Brown Rosier, K. (2009). Children as problems, problems of children. In J. Qvortrup, W. A. Corsaro, & M.-S. Honig (Eds.), The Palgrave handbook of childhood studies (pp. 256–272). Houndmills: Palgrave Macmillan.
Christensen, P., & Prout, A. (2006). Anthropological and sociological perspectives on the study of children. In S. Greene (Ed.), Researching children’s experience (pp. 42–60). London: Sage.
Fattore, T., Mason, J., & Watson, E. (2007). Children’s Conceptualisation(s) of their Well-Being. Social Indicators Research, 80(1), 5–29.
Frønes, I. (2007). Theorizing indicators. On indicators, signs and trends. Social Indicators Research, 83(1), 5–23.
Hengst, H., & Zeiher, H. (2005). Von Kinderwissenschaften zu generationalen Analysen. Einleitung. In H. Hengst & H. Zeiher (Eds.), Kindheit soziologisch (pp. 9–23). Wiesbaden: VS.
Höhne, T., Kunz, T., & Radtke, F.-O. (2005). Bilder von Fremden. Was unsere Kinder aus Schulbüchern über Migranten lernen sollen. Frankfurter Beiträge zur Erziehungswissenschaft. Frankfurt a. M.: Goethe-Universität.
Jäger, S. (1999). Einen Königsweg gibt es nicht. Bemerkungen zur Durchführung von Diskursanalysen. In H. Bublitz (Ed.), Das Wuchern der Diskurse. Perspektiven der Diskursanalyse Foucaults (pp. 136–147). Frankfurt a. M: Campus.
James, A., & James, A. (2004). Constructing childhood. Theory, policy and social practice. London: Palgrave Macmillan.
Kajetzke, L. (2008). Wissen im Diskurs. Ein Theorievergleich von Bourdieu und Foucault. VS: Wiesbaden.
Keller, R. (2007). Analysing Discourses and Dispositifs. Profiling Discourse Research in the Tradition of Sociology of Knowledge. Forum: Qualitative Social Research, 8(2). http://www.qualitative-research.net/index.php/fqs/article/view/243. Accessed 14 Oct 2011.
Lippman, L. H., Moore Anderson, K., & McIntosh, H. (2009). Positive indicators of child well-being: A conceptual framework, measures and methodological issues. Innocenti Working Paper No. 2009-21. Florence: UNICEF Innocenti Research Centre.
Lippmann, L. (2005). Indicators and indices of child well-being: A brief history. KIDS COUNT Working Paper. Baltimore: The Annie E. Casey Foundation.
Mills, R. (2000). Perspectives of childhood. In J. Mills & R. Mills (Eds.), Childhood Studies. A Reader in perspectives of childhood (pp. 7–38). London: Routledge.
Moore Anderson, K., Brown, B., & Scarupa, H. J. (2003). The Uses (and Misuses) of Social Indicators: Implications for Public Policy. Child Trends Research Brief, 1, 1–6.
Noll, H.-H. (2002). Indikatoren einer mehrdimensionalen Armuts- und Reichtumsberichterstattung. In Bundesministerium für Gesundheit und Soziale Sicherung (BMGS) (Eds.), Dokumentation. Lebenslagen, Indikatoren, Evaluation – Weiterentwicklung der Armuts- und Reichtumsberichterstattung 1. Wissenschaftliches Kolloquium (pp. 80–96). Bonn.
O’Hare, W. P. (2008). Measuring the impact of child indicators. Child Indicators Research. doi:10.1007/s1218700890182.
OECD. (2009). Doing better for children. Paris: OECD Publications.
Olk, T. (2009). Children, Generation relations and Intergenerational Justice. In J. Qvortrup, W. A. Corsaro, & M.-S. Honig (Eds.), The Palgrave handbook of childhood studies (pp. 188–201). Houndmills: Palgrave Macmillan.
Spyrou, S. (2011). The limits of children’s voices: from authenticity to critical, reflexive representation. Childhood, 18(2), 151–165.
Thomas, J. (2009). Working paper: Current measures and the challenges of measuring children’s wellbeing. Newport: Office for National Statistics.
UNICEF. (2007). Child poverty in perspective: An overview of child well-being in rich countries. A comprehensive assessment of the lives and well-being of children and adolescents in the economically advanced nations. Innocenti Report Card 7. Florence: UNICEF Innocenti Research Centre.
UNICEF. (2010). The children left behind. A league table of inequality in child well-being in the world’ s rich nations. Innocenti Report Card 9. Florence: UNICEF Innocenti Research Centre.
Zeiher, H. (2009). Institutionalization as a secular trend. In J. Qvortrup, W. A. Corsaro, & M.-S. Honig (Eds.), The Palgrave handbook of childhood studies (pp. 127–139). Houndmills: Palgrave Macmillan.
Zinnecker, J. (1996). Kindersurveys. Ein neues Kapitel Kindheit und Kindheitsforschung. In L. Clausen (Ed.), Gesellschaften im Umbruch (pp. 783–794). Frankfurt a. Main: Campus.
This research is based on work supported by a grant from the Volkswagen Foundation which is funding the research project educare (“Models of a ‘good childhood’ and inequality in children’s lives. Childhood education and care from the perspective of policymakers, professionals in kindergartens and primary schools, parents and children”) which began in 2010. This research project is taking place at the Goethe-University in Frankfurt (Germany) in the Faculty of Educational Science and at the Center for Research on Individual Development and Adaptive Education of Children at Risk (IDeA).
About this article
Cite this article
Betz, T. Counting What Counts. How Children are Represented in National and International Reporting Systems. Child Ind Res 6, 637–657 (2013). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12187-013-9198-2
- Child indicators
- Childhood studies