When I Was Your Age…

How do our children’s experiences compare to our own experiences at the same age? The 2008 Duke University Child Well-Being Index compared high school seniors from 1975-1977 to seniors 28 years later (an average of one generation apart).

There’s good news and bad news. Compared to their parents, America’s 21st century teens are much less likely to die from accidents, violence, or disease. They are much less likely to smoke cigarettes, binge drink, use illegal drugs, or to have children while teens. They are much less likely to either commit or be victims of violent crimes.

On the other hand, they are dramatically more likely to be sedentary, to be overweight or obese, and to already have obesity-related health conditions of middle age. Today’s teens are somewhat more likely to finish high school and to vote, but also more likely to commit suicide.

The Child and Youth Well-Being Index (CWI) tracks a total of 28 different objective statistics from among seven different domains of well-being in kids of all ages. Compared to 1975, health, social relationships, and emotional/spiritual well-being (which includes suicide statistics) are worse today. Safety/behavior, community connectedness, and economic well-being have all improved, along with a slight improvement in educational attainment.

The economic improvement numbers may be a bit misleading. True, the average family income has grown – but so has the percentage of families living below the poverty line. We are seeing greater disparity. Also, these numbers were gathered before the mortgage crisis, the surge in gasoline prices, and other economic problems of 2007-2008. I expect the real 2007-2008 numbers will be worse.

Each year the Foundation for Child Development delivers a composite score, the CWI, for the average well-being of children between the ages of 0 and 17 in the United States, compared to a baseline score of 100 in 1975. The latest score, calculated from 2006 statistics is 102.5. In other words, they estimate that our children are now a bit better off overall than we were at the same age. What do you think?

Land FC and the Foundation for Child Development. The 2008 Child and Youth Well-Being Index (CWI) Report. Duke University. July 22, 2008.

Published on: July 24, 2008
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Dr. Greene is a practicing physician, author, national and international TEDx speaker, and global health advocate. He is a graduate of Princeton University and University of California San Francisco.
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