Better child well-being policies with better data: New OECD Child Well-being Dashboard and updated Data Portal
By Chris Clarke (Chris.CLARKE@oecd.org) and Olivier Thévenon (Olivier.THEVENON@oecd.org), Centre on Well-being, Inclusion, Sustainability and Equal Opportunity (OECD)
Good policies need good data, and policies aimed at improving the well-being of children are no exception. Developing policies that promote children’s well-being requires sound information on multiple areas of their lives, including their material living standards, their health, their social lives and their education and learning (OECD, 2021). Data on the settings and environments in which children grow up – their families, their schools, their communities and their local areas – are important too, given growing evidence on the importance of these environments as drivers of well-being.
The good news is that data on children’s well-being have come a long way in recent decades (OECD, 2021). At the international level, the growth of large-scale child-centred data collections have helped push forward what we know and understand about many aspects of children’s lives. At the national level, in many countries, a growing number of country-specific surveys and datasets have helped do something similar.
But the growth of information on children and their lives raises new challenges: how to make sense of the range of information that is now available, and how to monitor how children are actually doing across the many areas that matter for their well-being? With this in mind, the OECD has recently released two data-focused resources – an updated OECD Child Well-being Data Portal, and a new OECD Child Well-being Dashboard – that aim to help countries better understand how they are performing on child well-being.
The OECD Child Well-being Data Portal and OECD Child Well-being Dashboard
The OECD Child Well-being Data Portal (https://oe.cd/cwb-data) is the OECD’s hub for comparative data on child well-being. It is structured based on the OECD Child Well-being Measurement Framework (OECD, 2021), and it builds on the latest available data from OECD databases and a range of leading international child surveys and data collection programmes. The updated Data Portal contains over 200 comparative measures on child well-being outcomes and drivers of well-being stemming from children’s environments. Data are available where possible for all OECD Members and Partners, OECD Accession countries, and EU Member states.
Complementing the Data Portal, the new OECD Child Well-being Dashboard (https://oe.cd/cwb-dashboard) is a tool for policy makers and the public to monitor countries’ efforts to promote child well-being. The Dashboard uses a selection of key indicators from Data Portal, to provide a broad picture of how countries are performing on child well-being, both in comparison to other OECD countries and for different groups of children within a country.
The Dashboard contains 20 key internationally comparable indicators on children’s well-being outcomes across four core areas – material well-being; physical health; cognitive and educational well-being; and social and emotional well-being. It also contains contextual indicators on key drivers of child well-being and child-relevant public policies. Wherever possible, to help countries monitor well-being inequalities across groups of children, data are provided both for all children and disaggregated by key demographic and socio-economic characteristics, including gender, migrant status, and household income or socio-economic status.
Indicators for the Dashboard have been selected based on their importance both for children’s well-being now and for their development, skills and well‑being outcomes in later life. While the Dashboard looks to cover the well-being of children of all ages, limitations in data availability mean that most indicators focus on those in the middle of their childhood and adolescence.
The well-being of disadvantaged children
The OECD’s recent policy paper Starting Unequal: How’s Life for Disadvantaged Children? (OECD, 2022) demonstrates the kinds of insights that can be drawn from the Child Well-being Dashboard and Data Portal.
The indicators used in the paper illustrate a stark reality for children growing up in disadvantaged households. Across well-being areas, children from disadvantaged backgrounds consistently experience poorer outcomes than children from more advantaged backgrounds. For example, disadvantaged children are more likely to experience poor health outcomes, and they are over-represented among overweight and obese children and those reporting poorer self-rated health. They also experience worse educational outcomes, and are far less likely to perform well on international student assessments, such as OECD PISA. Children from disadvantaged backgrounds more often report poorer social and emotional outcomes, including weaker perceived support from family, lower self-belief, and lower life satisfaction. While some of these inequalities are well‑known and well documented (e.g. those in child health and education), others are less well-known (e.g. gaps in self-belief) and highlight the widespread and pervasive impact of disadvantage.
The Dashboard’s contextual indicators help to illustrate how these well-being inequalities are rooted in the poorer conditions that disadvantaged children often experience at home, in school, with friends and in the community. For example, the data show how disadvantaged children are more likely to miss out on important family activities and experience poorer quality relationships with parents. On average across OECD countries, 36% of disadvantaged 11-15‑year-olds report finding it difficult to talk to their parents, compared to 28% among the most advantaged. They show how, at school, disadvantaged children frequently experience poorer quality learning environments, are more likely to experience bullying, and more often feel like they do not belong. On average across the OECD, as many as one in three 15-year-olds from disadvantaged backgrounds report not feeling like they belong at school. The data also show how disadvantaged children more often grow up in poorer quality local areas, placing limits on their opportunities to build friendships and participate in community life. For example, on average across European OECD countries, 11% of low-income children live in areas where there are problems with crime and violence – more than 50% higher than the rate for high-income children.
Why further child data development matters for policy
Well-being indicators and dashboards like the Child Well-being Dashboard are more than a statistical exercise. They provide policy-makers and other stakeholders with a more complete picture of children’s lives, and can help to structure and organise thinking around policy development (Durand and Exton, 2019). By providing a common frame of reference, well-being indicators can help governments establish shared goals and policy priorities, in turn supporting strategic alignment and promoting co-operation across departments and agencies (Exton and Shinwell, 2018). They can also be combined with a range of other policy-making tools (e.g. impact assessments, cost-benefit and cost-effectiveness analysis) to promote more holistic and coherent approaches to policy development (Durand and Exton, 2019).
Like all empirical activities, well-being indicator sets and dashboards are limited by the available data, and despite the progress made in recent decades there are still many important gaps in what we know about children’s lives, especially at the international level (OECD, 2021). Children in vulnerable situations are particularly poorly covered, including children exposed to violence, in alternative care, and with a disability (UNECE, 2022). The lives of young children are also poorly documented, as are several aspects of children’s material and social and emotional well-being (OECD, 2021). Data quality and comparability also often remain a challenge, and improving them requires data producers to share their experience on data needs and good data collection practices.
The OECD is committed to helping countries push the data agenda on children and their well-being forward. In addition to its work on the Child Well-being Dashboard and Data Portal, the OECD is working with a number of actors, including from OECD Members’ national statistical offices, to improve the quality, comparability and availability of international data on children. Improving child data is crucial if countries are to design policies that address childhood disadvantage and promote child well-being in all its dimensions.
- Durand, M. and C. Exton (2019), “Adopting a Well-Being Approach in Central Government: Policy Mechanisms and Practical Tools”, in Global Happiness and Wellbeing Policy Report 2019, https://s3.amazonaws.com/ghwbpr-2019/UAE/GH19_Ch8.pdf.
- Exton, C. and M. Shinwell (2018), “Policy use of well-being metrics: Describing countries’ experiences”, OECD Statistics Working Papers, No. 2018/07, OECD Publishing, Paris, https://dx.doi.org/10.1787/d98eb8ed-en.
- OECD (2022), “Starting Unequal: How’s Life for Disadvantaged Children?”, OECD Papers on Well-being and Inequalities: Child Well-being Policy Paper, OECD Publishing, Paris.
- OECD (2021), Measuring What Matters for Child Well-being and Policies, OECD Publishing, Paris, https://dx.doi.org/10.1787/e82fded1-en.
- UNECE (2022), Statistics on Children: Spotlight on children exposed to violence, in alternative care, and with a disability, United Nations Economic Commission for Europe – Conference of European Statisticians, Geneva.