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World

How childhood is similar and how it is different around the world

Thousands of children in 15 countries across four continents completed questionnaires on how they see their lives. The "Children's Worlds" study reveals fascinating differences - as well as similarities.

For two years, the

Children's Worlds Study

explored children's opinions and perspectives on a wide range of topics, including their subjective well-being, with the goal of collecting solid data on how children feel about their lives.

More than 53,000 children, aged 8 to 12, were questioned in 15 countries on four continents.

"The diversity of the countries is a strength of the survey, and it has enabled us to learn new things," said Gwyther Rees, visiting associate at the Social Policy Research Unit at the University of York and one of the authors of the study.

Across the globe

13 countries were selected according to certain categories - for instance, a Social Democratic, a liberal and a conservative country - from different parts of Europe, Africa, Latin America, Asia and the Middle East. Algeria, Colombia, Ethiopia and Nepal were chosen because they "were not yet included in any welfare regime typology."

In addition to the 13 countries funded by a grant from the Jacobs Foundation, children in South Africa and Poland also joined the survey.

"There are quite a lot of similarities between several of the European countries involved: Germany, the UK, Poland, Estonia and Norway all seem to form a cluster, " Rees told DW, adding that the findings in those countries are very different to the three countries in Africa involved in the research.

Interesting contrasts

In Europe, the UK researcher said, there are gender differences in how young people feel about themselves as they become teenagers. Often girls feel less positive about themselves than boys in terms of their looks.

African Kids in school

School is fun for some, but not so much for others, the study found

"If you only research in Europe, you might assume that that's an inevitable part of growing up," Rees said.

However, the researchers found that in particular in the African countries and in Columbia, those gender differences don't exist. "Girls are as happy with the way they look as boys are."

As a result, Rees added, we need to think about why girls in England feel so much less positive about their appearance than boys - "because it's not inevitable."

The Children's Worlds authors and researchers hope the people who influence children's lives will show an interest in the findings: policymakers, parents and teachers.

Happiness and satisfaction

Differences in attitudes to school are another striking example.

In a number of the European countries,that was one of the areas that young people were "least positive" about. "Young people in Africa and Nepal are more likely to say that they like going to school," Rees said.

When asked to rate their happiness and satisfaction "with life as a whole", Romanian children topped the list, while South Korean children seemed least happy.

child peeks out from behind tent

This South Korean boy looks supremely pleased

But such basic comparisons must be taken with a grain of salt, the study's author cautioned, explaining that rating such questions higher or lower may very well have to do "with cultural differences in how these questions are thought about."

The researchers also asked about time use - and again, the study comes up with fascinating differences. Surprisingly, Rees said, sports and exercising are the favorite pastime in some countries, for instance in Poland. Which perhaps is no coincidence: "The research in Poland showed that there had been a lot of initiatives over the last few years to improve sports facilities for children."

"There might be a message for other countries about the kind of measures that governments can take in order to improve young people's activity levels, the researcher said.

In some countries kids spend less time with leisure activities, but help around the house, or help care for other family members.

Future benchmark

The Children's Worlds project was initiated in 2009, but this is the first report, and there are plans to do the next survey in 2017. "It will be interesting to see how patterns change over time. For instance in Internet use, we know children in European countries have much more access to the Internet," Rees said.

The survey on children's well-being has not gone unnoticed, either.

"Other countries have started to approach us, saying they'd be interested in doing the survey, too."

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