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June 2004Vol. 5, No. 5Child Well-Being Shows Slight Improvement

The overall quality of life for America's children has improved slightly since 1975, according to a report released by Duke University and the Brookings Institution. Children have experienced significant improvements during the past three decades in material well-being, safety and behavioral concerns, and participation in school or work. This is balanced by little change in educational attainment, and a decline from the 1975 baseline levels in other areas such as health.

Each year, the Foundation for Child Development Index of Child Well-Being (CWI) Project at Duke University examines trends in American children's quality of life in seven domains:

  • Material well-being (e.g., poverty, family income)
  • Health (e.g., infant mortality, rate of overweight children)
  • Safety/behavioral (e.g., teen birth rate, rate of violent crime offenders)
  • Educational attainments (e.g., reading and math test scores)
  • Participation in school or work (e.g., rate of persons with high school diploma, rate of preschool enrollment)
  • Social relationships (e.g., rate of children in single parent homes)
  • Emotional/spiritual well-being (e.g., suicide rate, rate of weekly religious attendance).

These domains are measured by 28 key indicators. The composite index, an average of the seven domains, gives a sense of the overall direction of change in children's well-being relative to the base year of 1975. Some key trends noted in the report include:

  • Improvements in the safety/behavioral domain are largely due to decreases in the rate of children and youth who are serious criminal offenders and victims of violent crime.
  • Decline in the health domain is linked to the large increase in the number of children in this country who are obese.
  • Although reading and math scores have not changed significantly, other related indicators have improved, such as the number of 3- and 4-year-olds enrolled in preschool.

A copy of the report, The Foundation for Child Development Index of Child Well-Being 1975 - 2002, with Projections for 2003, is available from the Brookings Institution's website at

Additional information on the CWI is available from the Duke University website at