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Indicators of Children's Well-Being

Indicators of Children's Well-Being

Robert M. Hauser
Brett V. Brown
William R. Prosser
Copyright Date: 1997
Published by: Russell Sage Foundation
Pages: 532
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  • Book Info
    Indicators of Children's Well-Being
    Book Description:

    The search for reliable information on the well-being of America's young is vital to designing programs to improve their lives. Yet social scientists are concerned that many measurements of children's physical and emotional health are inadequate, misleading, or outdated, leaving policymakers ill-informed.Indicators of Children's Well-Beingis an ambitious inquiry into current efforts to monitor children from the prenatal period through adolescence. Working with the most up-to-date statistical sources, experts from multiple disciplines assess how data on physical development, education, economic security, family and neighborhood conditions, and social behavior are collected and analyzed, what findings they reveal, and what improvements are needed to create a more comprehensive and policy-relevant system of measurement.

    Today's climate of welfare reform has opened new possibilities for program innovation and experimentation, but it has also intensified the need for a clearly defined and wide-ranging empirical framework to pinpoint where help is needed and what interventions will succeed.Indicators of Children's Well-Beingemphasizes the importance of accurate studies that address real problems. Essays on children's material well-being show why income data must be supplemented with assessments of housing, medical care, household expenditure, food consumption, and education. Other contributors urge refinements to existing survey instruments such as the Census and the Current Population Survey. The usefulness of records from human service agencies, child welfare records, and juvenile court statistics is also evaluated.

    eISBN: 978-1-61044-276-3
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-xviii)
  3. Foreword
    (pp. xix-xxii)
    Thomas J. Corbett

    Though the papers in this volume have been updated since first prepared for a national conference in 1994, the conference versions would have been timely and relevant had they been published in their original form. This is so because the challenges of developing, introducing, and using quality indicators of children’s well-being, always daunting, are virtually timeless.

    An increased sense of urgency surrounds the task of developing indicators of children’s well-being. Powerful reform themes in the United States are transforming the management and governance of social policy. For example, national welfare reform became a reality in 1996 with the Personal Responsibility...

  4. Preface
    (pp. xxiii-xxiv)
    Matthew Stagner

    • 1 Indicators of Children’s Well-Being: A Review of Current Indicators Based on Data from the Federal Statistical System
      (pp. 3-35)
      Brett V. Brown

      This essay was written to familiarize participants of the 1994 Conference on Indicators of Children’s Well-Being with the variety of indicators of children’s well-being currendy in use that are based on federal data. The indicators reviewed here were culled from existing federal government and private publications which feature descriptive measures of children’s well-being that are available through the federal statistical system. This review does not exhaust all of the important measures of child well-being that are available from the vast federal statistical system, nor does it tap the full range of measures that could be created. Rather, the collection represents...

    • 2 Criteria for Indicators of Child Well-Being
      (pp. 36-44)
      Kristin A. Moore

      Are the circumstances of children growing worse, or not?¹ Are U.S. families falling apart, or not?

      How people answer these questions will vary substantially, depending upon where they live, their economic situation, their age, their personal values, their political party affiliation, and whether their focus is on trends in children’s health, education, income, or family size.

      Yet, one could ask similar questions about the economy and get relatively consistent answers from different people. The economy, like the family, is diverse and complex. Different regions enjoy quite different levels of prosperity, and different industries have quite varied earnings situations and prospects...


    • 3 Population Indicators of Prenatal and Infant Health
      (pp. 47-75)
      Paula Lantz and Melissa Partin

      At the present time, approximately four million babies are born in the United States each year (National Center for Health Statistics 1993; Guyer et al. 1995). The health and well-being of these babies and their mothers is of critical importance. It is commonly accepted that the foundation for all aspects of life (physical, social, and emotional) is laid during its earliest stages. Children are indeed the future, and their well-being before birth and during infancy are of great importance to that future. In addition, the health status and well-being of pregnant women and their infants says much about a society,...

    • 4 Health Indicators for Preschool Children, Ages One to Four
      (pp. 76-94)
      Barbara L. Wolfe and James Sears

      Per capita health-care expenditures on young children are lower than those on any other age group.¹ Although preventive care is critical for preschoolers, children between the ages of one and four experience low rates of acute and chronic illnesses, and they are studied less than are their younger (infant) and older (school-aged) counterparts. Immunization rates are the one aspect of preschoolers’ health which has recently received substantial attention, an exception that is partially attributable to the sudden increase in the incidence of measles in 1990 (see, for example, Lewit and Mullahy 1994; Goldstein, Kviz, and Daum 1993).

      Children aged one...

    • 5 Health Indicators for Preadolescent School-Age Children
      (pp. 95-111)
      Barbara Starfield

      The long and honorable tradition of public health and vital statistics in the United States has provided the country with a wealth of information on the health status of its population and on trends over time in these characteristics. With new imperatives for greater accountability of the new health services systems, and with increasing evidence of inequity in the distribution of resources across the population, new types of data with new types of data systems are likely to be required.

      This chapter first will review the purposes for which health status measures are intended. Second, the different types of health...

    • 6 Adolescent Health Indicators
      (pp. 112-122)
      Arthur B. Elster

      A critical first step in identifying a set of indicators for assessing health and well-being is to determine the possible uses of such indicators. What are the advantages and what are the disadvantages? Above all else, we must ensure that we “do no harm.”

      It is reasonable to assume that health indicators measured accurately, regularly, and across a broad spectrum of the population can be a valuable mechanism for tracking progress toward achieving identified national goals. Used in this fashion, health indicators can help guide program planning, research, and education.

      Selected health indicators for children and adults have been used...


    • 7 Indicators for School Readiness, Schooling, and Child Care in Early to Middle Childhood
      (pp. 125-151)
      Deborah A. Phillips and John M. Love

      A national consensus has recently reemerged regarding the importance of education, fueled in part by a perception that our schools are not doing an adequate job of preparing an educated citizenry for the twenty-first century. At the same time, national attention has been riveted on notions of outcome accountability for a variety of reasons, ranging from frustration with the regulation of inputs to hopes that a reliable accountability system might provide persuasive evidence of the effectiveness of interventions for children and their families (Schorr 1994). As a result, indicators that assess and track the school readiness and schooling of our...

    • 8 Indicators of High School Completion and Dropout
      (pp. 152-184)
      Robert M. Hauser

      Whether or not a person has completed high school would appear a simple matter of fact, yet there are diverse indicators of high school completion and diverse opinions about trends and differentials therein. In this chapter, I note the importance of high school graduation as a national goal and as an indicator of prospects for successful adulthood. I review several ways of taking stock of high school graduation and the implications of these methods for assessment of trend. Then I turn to a more systematic review of indicators of high school dropout or completion. I suggest explicit conceptual and methodological...

    • 9 Postsecondary and Vocational Education: Keeping Track of the College Track
      (pp. 185-207)
      Thomas J. Kane

      Throughout the 1980s, the value of a college education increased dramatically as the earnings prospects of high school graduates dimmed. As a result, the stakes have been raised in the debate over college costs, access to college, and the payoffs to different types of postsecondary education. While high school graduation was the critical hurdle facing youth two decades ago, college attendance is increasingly the prerequisite for a decent standard of living today. Unfortunately, our data collection methods have failed to keep pace with these important developments in the labor market, leaving us guessing about many crucial questions regarding the well-being...

    • 10 Indicators of Educational Achievement
      (pp. 208-234)
      Daniel Koretz

      Conventionally, “educational achievement” is used in social science to mean mastery of knowledge and skills or, more narrowly, performance on specific tests of knowledge and skills. Thus narrowly defined, achievement stands in contrast to “attainment,” which typically is used to refer to the levels of schooling individuals complete. In keeping with this traditional if somewhat arbitrary usage, this chapter uses “indicators of educational achievement” to refer to some classes of educational tests—or, as it is now more fashionable to say, “assessments.” The chapter considers recent trends in the uses made of achievement tests; characteristics of available achievement measures; limitations...


    • 11 Indicators of Children’s Economic Well-Being and Parental Employment
      (pp. 237-257)
      Susan E. Mayer

      In contrast to measures of children’s own outcomes, parents’ income and employment are indirect indicators of children’s well-being. The usefulness of indirect indicators depends on establishing their theoretical or empirical links to important outcomes of children. Poor children fare worse than rich children on nearly every outcome that social scientists have studied. This has lead to the conclusion among many policymakers and child advocates that low parental income hurts children’s outcomes. Yet there is considerable disagreement about how much improving parents’ income alone would help children. It is also not clear that raising parental income from say, ten thousand dollars...

    • 12 Longitudinal Indicators of Children’s Poverty and Dependence
      (pp. 258-278)
      Greg J. Duncan and Leslie Moscow

      Monthly measures of unemployment and consumer-price inflation plus quarterly reports on aggregate disposable income are the best-known social indicators of household-sector well-being in most Western countries. Unique to the United States is the production of well-publicized annual reports on the extent of poverty among various groups, including children. The singular position of the United States in the routine compilation of poverty statistics results from a number of factors, including: a basic consensus that a comparison of a household’s total income and its family-size-based “official” poverty threshold says something meaningful about whether individuals living in that household have a minimum level...

    • 13 Parental Employment and Children
      (pp. 279-308)
      Judith R. Smith, Jeanne Brooks-Gunn and Aurora Jackson

      Negative child outcomes have been linked to living in poverty or economic disadvantage (Brooks-Gunn and Duncan 1997; Duncan and Brooks-Gunn, forthcoming; Haveman and Wolfe 1995). Low birth weight, higher levels of infant mortality, stunting, malnutrition, poor scores on cognitive standardized tests, and higher levels of behavior problems and school dropout all are associated with living in poverty. Children’s economic security is dependent on family income, parental employment, and government income transfers when family income and parental labor force participation are insufficient or nonexistent. In addition, the macro economy affects parent’s earning capacities, which affects children’s economic security.

      Several models describe...


    • 14 Demographic Change and the Population of Children: Race/Ethnicity, Immigration, and Family Size
      (pp. 311-327)
      Dennis P. Hogan and David J. Eggebeen

      The purpose of this chapter is to evaluate the status of our understanding of three important features of the population of children: race/ethnicity, immigration, and family size. Previous treatment of these indicators has been uneven, with no standard approach or measures. Family size changes and their implications for children, as well as race/ethnic variations in child living arrangements and the experience of poverty have received the most attention. In contrast, immigration has been virtually ignored (see Jensen 1994 for an exception). For example, the absence of information on Hispanic origins until recent censuses, and subsequent variations in its measurement, restricted...

    • 15 Family Structure, Stability, and the Well-Being of Children
      (pp. 328-345)
      Gary D. Sandefur and Jane Mosley

      The social demography of the American family has been one of the central foci in domestic population research for some time. The interest and importance of this issue is reflected in the annual publication of two current Census Bureau population reports—“Household and Family Characteristics” and “Marital Status and Living Arrangements”—as well as the reproduction of material from these reports in the annualStatistical Abstractsand theGreen Book.Further, the U.S. Bureau of the Census publishes pages and pages of tables on marital status, family structure, and living arrangements based on data from each decennial census. In addition...

    • 16 The Influence of Neighborhoods on Children’s Development: A Theoretical Perspective and a Research Agenda
      (pp. 346-371)
      Frank F. Furstenberg Jr. and Mary Elizabeth Hughes

      The influence of neighborhoods on children’s development recently has become a hot topic among researchers in the social sciences, largely due to the issues raised in Wilson’s seminal book,The Truly Disadvantaged(1987). Wilson’s thesis about the devastating impact of economic stagnation and urban disintegration put poverty research back on the social science agenda. A good deal of this renewed interest in poverty has identified the neighborhood as a critical element in the reproduction of social disadvantage, echoing themes emphasized earlier in this century by Chicago School sociologists (for instance, Park and Burgess 1924; Shaw and McKay 1942; Tannenbaum 1938;...

    • 17 Potential and Problems in Developing Community-Level Indicators of Children’s Well-Being
      (pp. 372-392)
      Claudia J. Coulton

      Children and their families live within local communities and these are important units for assessing child well-being. It is indeed at the level of the local community that many of the processes that affect children transpire. Children interact with neighbors; participate in local institutions; receive social, health and educational services; develop a sense of safety and belonging; form a vision of their opportunities; know what is expected of them and what they can expect from others. Parents’ implicit understanding of the importance of local community is reflected in the serious thought that many of them give to their residential choices....


    • 18 Indicators of Positive Development in Early Childhood: Improving Concepts and Measures
      (pp. 395-408)
      J. Lawrence Aber and Stephanie M. Jones

      According to Takanishi and her colleagues (see Chapter 20, this volume), research on adolescent development has yielded more concepts and measures describing maladaptation and problematic development than those describing adaptation and positive development. While not as extreme, much the same can be said of research on early childhood development. But for reasons put forward by Moore (Chapter 2, this volume) and Brooks-Gunn, Brown, Duncan, and Moore (1994), designers of systems of childhood indicators should balance their emphasis between measures of positive development and measures of problematic development.

      There are good conceptual and policy reasons to create an indicator system that...

    • 19 Indicators of Problem Behavior and Problems in Childhood
      (pp. 409-427)
      John M. Love

      In one brief seven-year span, between 1981 and 1988, the proportion of young people receiving treatment for emotional or behavioral problems increased by more than 50 percent (Zill and Schoenborn 1990). The implications of this rise for our families, schools, and communities lead to increasing concerns with problem behavior and other problems exhibited by America’s children. Unfortunately, what we know about these aspects of children’s well-being is inconsistent and incomplete. As this chapter shows, our understanding of children's problem behavior and problems from a national perspective is limited by the nature of the questions asked in national surveys, the sampling...

    • 20 Positive Indicators of Adolescent Development: Redressing the Negative Image of American Adolescents
      (pp. 428-441)
      Ruby Takanishi, Allyn M. Mortimer and Timothy J. McGourthy

      Prevailing images of American adolescents have clearly shaped decisions about which indicators of adolescent status are systematically collected. No good word or label that denotes the second decade of life in a positive vein currently exists. The word “adolescent” is almost always used in popular discourse to describe immature, irresponsible, and undesirable behavior of individuals, regardless of their age.

      The rarity of positive indicators of adolescent development is easily demonstrated. A cursory look at national reports of indicators of adolescent health and education reveals the predominance of negative outcomes (Center for the Study of Social Policy 1993; Hechinger 1992; Gans,...

    • 21 The Status of Adolescent Problem Behavior Indicators
      (pp. 442-454)
      Bruce P. Kennedy and Deborah Prothrow-Stith

      The adolescent period is a time ripe for experimentation with different behaviors and lifestyles. The central developmental task of adolescence is to use that experimentation to construct a coherent psychosocial identity. This emerging identity involves an increasing independence from parents and authorities through the development of personal, sexual, occupational, ideological, and moral commitments. Commitments to socially approved roles and their implicit value structures serve as the bridge between the adolescent and the social world of the adult, providing the basis for direction and meaning in the individual’s life course (Bios 1962; Erikson 1968; Prothrow-Stith 1991).

      With the emergence of increased...


    • 22 Potential and Problems in Developing Indicators on Child Well-Being from Administrative Data
      (pp. 457-471)
      Robert M. Goerge

      Investigating the potential and problems in the development of indicators of children’s well-being from administrative data is not a new activity (U.S. Department of Commerce 1981). However, during the last two decades, the subject of this activity has increasingly becomecomputerizedadministrative data. Until the 1980s, administrative data would have been thought of as paper flies rather than computerized data. It is arguable that only in the last ten years have information systems become “mature” and accessible enough to be good sources of data on children and their families. In this chapter, I discuss how administrative data are currently used...

    • 23 Context and Connection in Social Indicators: Enhancing What We Measure and Monitor
      (pp. 472-482)
      Marc L. Miringoff and Marque-Luisa Miringoff

      A British friend and colleague at the United Nations, with a long career in statistical analysis at a number of United Nations agencies, once noted during an address that the United States has the best system of economic reporting in the industrialized world and the worst system of social reporting. Allowing for hyperbole, his point was well taken, particularly in terms of the comparative impact of economic and social indicators on public dialogue and public policy.

      Economic indicators, unlike social indicators, are frequently and widely reported and combined into numerous indexes that give them meaning, context, and impact. Economists have...

    • 24 Children in Dire Straits: How Do We Know Whether We Are Progressing?
      (pp. 483-500)
      William R. Prosser and Matthew Stagner

      In this chapter we outline a set of propositions about how indicators of child well-being might be created by social scientists and used by policy advocates. In particular, we are concerned with indicators for troubled children who find themselves in the social service system because of delinquency, abuse or neglect, or educational failure. We refer to these indicators as “psychosocial” indicators of child well-being.

      We have four aims. First, we try to clarify terms and discuss the evolving history of indicators. Second, we look at the multiple uses of indicators. Third, we explore and critique examples of psychosocial indicators now...

  12. Index
    (pp. 501-508)