Who are the happiest kids in England? Twelve-year-old boys who eat meals with their families, according to a survey of 32,000 youngsters.

Researchers at the National Foundation for Educational Research asked the English pupils, aged between 10 and 15, whether they agreed, disagreed or were unsure about the statement: “I feel happy about life at the moment.”

Their responses showed that children are most likely to say they feel happy if they are able to talk to their parents about their worries. The second most likely factor was having one or two good friends. Children who have a good diet and often sit down for a meal with their family also more likely (1.6 times more) to say they are happy. Evidently the kids with the highest combined scores on those measures were those 12-year-old boys.

Boys in general were 1.4 times more likely to say they felt happy than girls. Perhaps that is because girls are more likely to worry about their looks — something that went hand in hand with unhappiness in the survey. There was also a decline in the happiness of children as they grew older.

The most likely reason for children to say they are unhappy is being worried about their parents or family, the researchers found.

No surprise there. What will surprise the social scientists and advocacy groups who trace all the ills of children and families back to “poverty” is the finding that economic status made no difference over all to the happiness of children in the study. Taking as their measure of poverty whether a child was receiving free school meals, researchers found:

Children who were not on free school meals were 7% more likely to say they were happy than those on free school meals. The researchers said that, after they had controlled for other factors such as the children’s worries, there was no difference between the two groups. Some 17% of the total number of children polled were on free school meals.

Study leader Tom Benton said:

“Our analysis confirms that If we are interested in the happiness and wellbeing of young people we need to look beyond how much money they have.

“In particular, growing up in a supportive and safe environment, both within the home and elsewhere appear to be far more important. Parents making the effort to spend time with their children are a major positive influence on their chances of being happy.”

*Earlier in December, in a UK government-commissioned report, Labour MP Frank Field said that income poverty was no longer an adequate measure of deprivation.

He writes: “Poverty is a much more subtle enemy than purely lack of money,” adding he does not believe poverty is the dominant reason why disadvantage is handed down from one generation to another. Parenting was more important than income or schooling to a child’s life chances.

And, heaven knows, Britain has spent enough money on anti-poverty measures:

The government has transferred £134bn to families since 1999 and the money was producing only modest results, a fall from 3.4m to 2.8m children in poverty.

Carolyn Moynihan

Carolyn Moynihan

Carolyn Moynihan is deputy editor of MercatorNet