What is ‘child well-being’?

One of the literatures where children are routinely discussed is the literature of the sociology of the family. Many studies in that field offer evidence about impacts on children in assessing family arrangements, processes, and events. But what evidence is chosen, and what is not, speaks to the images of children prevalent in that field.

My research examined 114 articles that appeared in the pre-eminent journal in the field, the Journal of Marriage and Family, over the period 2010-2020. Only a single article, available in Early Access, used a ‘subjective well-being’ measure (i.e., asked kids how they were doing), while a dozen asked about young people’s views – mostly about their relationships with their parents. What’s more, only one of these articles considered the views of young people under the age of 10 (many spoke with them when they were in their early 20s) – and that one study was an observational study of infants. So, none of the studies actually asked children under 10 to express their views or evaluations. Instead, ‘well-being’ was most commonly measured using screens for mental health disorders or with results in school.

You can read the whole paper here:

I want to do some further work on the paper, refining my account of the two critiques it considers, considering a wider selection of papers from JMF (to ensure I haven’t missed anything), and reworking how I deal with the measures of parental relationships, which proved particularly tricky. I’m considering whether the paper would be stronger if it compared JMF with other prominent journals, like the Journal of Family Issues or the Journal of Family Studies. Then there’s the question of whether the speculations at the end would suffice for publication or if I actually need to try to test them in some manner.

But it’s pretty clear: the JMF has not substantively responded to the critiques of developmental measures that have emerged from childhood studies and child indicators research.

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