A GROWING gender gap between boys’ and girls’ happiness has been highlighted by a report from the Children’s Society.
The Good Childhood Report, published on Wednesday, states that 14 per cent of girls in the UK are unhappy with their lives, and more than a third — 34 per cent — are unhappy with their appearance.
These figures have been steadily rising over the past five years, since the Children’s Society began polling tens of thousands of children each year. Between 2009 and 2014, the number of girls unhappy with their lives has gone up by 21 per cent, from a total of 234,300 to 283,200.
Dissatisfaction among girls with how they look has also risen by eight per cent in the same time-span.
In contrast, boys’ well-being appears not only generally lower, but also more stable. The proportion of boys who are unhappy with their lives has remained at 11 per cent throughout all the Children’s Society’s surveys, and only 20 per cent do not like their appearance.
An international poll by the charity last year found that England ranked last out of 15 nations for happiness with appearance, and also had the largest gender gap.
The chief executive of the Society, Matthew Reed, said: “It is desperately worrying that so many of our young people are suffering rather than thriving. Girls are having a particularly tough time, and it’s clear that concerted action is needed to tackle this problem.”
There was better news overall, however. More than eight out of ten children (82 per cent) were found to be “flourishing” — they had high scores for both their own assessment of their happiness and for their psychological well-being.
Ten per cent were “languishing”, by feeling themselves to be doing badly, as well as performing poorly by other more objective markers.
The growing unhappiness of British girls is also suggested by statistics on mental health. The Good Childhood Report says that there is a much stronger relationship between unhappiness with life or appearance and mental-health difficulties among girls than among boys.
Government research seen by The Times suggests that girls are twice as likely as boys to suffer from mental-health problems, and that the proportion of girls with anxiety or depression had risen by ten per cent in a decade.
Research by the Office for National Statistics has suggested that teenage girls are twice as likely as boys to spend more than three hours each night on social media.
One girl told the Children’s Society: “We’re expected to be perfect, like Barbie dolls or something, and if we don’t then we get bullied.”
Another said: “I was so behind with my work, I gave up. I didn’t care about it. I would just sleep all the time, it just felt like my life was fading away. . . I felt like screaming but no one was listening.”
The Children’s Society’s research also suggests that emotional bullying, such as name-calling, is twice as commonplace as physical bullying, and much more likely to be experienced by girls than boys.
The charity has recommended that the Government “introduce a legally binding entitlement for children and young people to be able to access mental-health and well-being support in educational settings”.