Published: June 5, 2018

Download: Life Course Centre Working Paper: 2017-18


Tony Beatton and Paul Frijters.

Non-Technical Summary:

This study questions the change in happiness levels amongst young adolescents. Because it is generally considered that many adult survey questions are not suitable for children, we developed child-specific scales to measure the effect of personality, wealth, and, the ‘natural environment’, ‘school’ & ‘satisfaction with friends’ domains on the happiness of the children. Using an internet-based survey, supported by the Department of Tourism, Regional Development and Industry Queensland State Government, we collected unique data from 389 Australian children aged between 9 and 14.

Collecting data from children is fraught with ethical, logistical and truthful self-reporting roadblocks. To avoid the issue of untruthful reporting when confronted with outside survey collectors, our collecting procedures follow the literature by folding it into the children’s normal teaching program, wherein school teachers took their classes to local railway stations to visit a ‘Smart Train’ that went from urban Brisbane throughout regional Queensland, with carriages containing university research displays; one of which explained happiness.

Adding to previous findings that Australian happiness levels decline between the age of 15 and 23 by almost 0.7 on a ten-point scale, we found an even steeper happiness decline before the age of 14. The children’s ‘school’ and ‘interaction with friends’ happiness domains explained over 40% of the decline in childhood happiness. The decline in childhood happiness is steepest when the children transition from the first to second year in high school. Unlike adults, perceived relative wealth does not make a significant difference to childhood happiness. As expected: extraverted (friendly, outgoing) children are happier, but unexpectedly; so are conscientious (orderly, systematic, efficient, neat, organised, and efficient) children, perchance because the rewards for such behaviour are higher for school children than for adults.


October 6, 2017