Subjective well-being of children is critical as it not only influences their developmental and psychosocial outcomes, but it also impacts their happiness and welfare in adulthood. Poor subjective well-being is a function of multiple risk factors, comprising elements of material hardship, maladaptive interpersonal relationships, and lack of safety. Not all children around the globe, however, are faced with similar risks as each country is different in providing resources and delivering social services. Thus, knowledge of risk factors experienced by children that is unique to each country is crucial for designing targeted prevention and intervention policies at the international level.
Wave 2 of the International Survey of Children’s Well-Being—a dataset of 16 countries (N = 19,212, Mage = 12.02, Male = 49.4%, Countries = Algeria, Nepal, Estonia, Spain, Colombia, Turkey, Ethiopia, South Korea, Germany, England, Israel, Romania, Norway, Poland, South Africa, and Malta)—was analyzed. Latent Profile Analysis was used to examine typologies of risk factors, the independent variables. Risk factors were composed of material hardship (9 items), school bullying victimization (2 items), environmental unsafety (5 items), and low social support (5 items). Subjective well-being, the dependent variable, was measured by the Student life satisfaction scale (5 items). Multilevel modeling was conducted using children-level data (level-1) and country-level data (level-2), while controlling for age, gender, and migration status.
Risk factors were clustered into four latent subgroups. The “low risk” group (60.9%) showed lowest level on all risk factors. The “victimization” group (15.0%) experienced the highest level of victimization in school, whereas the “material risk” group (12.6%) showed the highest level of material hardship. The “environmental & social support risk” group (11.5%) was characterized by both the highest level of environmental unsafety and social support problems. Multilevel modeling results indicated that all groups showed significantly lower levels of life satisfaction than the “low risk” group: “material risk” group (β = -12.56, p < .001), “victimization” group (β = -14.12, p < .001), “environmental & social support risk” group (β = -22.16, p < .001). Country variability in the association between latent risk groups and subjective well-being were statistically significant. Norway (8.7%) and Spain (8.2%) occupied the highest proportion within the “low risk” group, Ethiopia took up two-fifths (40.3%) of the “material risk” group, Romania (11.6%) and South Africa (11.1%) took the highest proportion in the “victimization” group, and South Korea (19.1%) marked the highest proportion in the “environmental & social support risk” group.
The current study is unique in identifying four latent subgroups of risks using data from 16 countries. For the most part, children exposed to unsafe environments and with poor social support appeared to be most vulnerable compared to children exposed to other types of risks. The composition of countries for each latent group, however, differed. Such results further highlight the importance of meeting country-specific needs particularly when designing international policies and when strategically investigating target areas for children who are at risk of low subjective well-being around the globe.