Does youth social action lead to a happier life?

New research reveals that the emotional health of children is the strongest predictor of a satisfying adult life, lending more weight to the importance of social action initiatives which enable young people to develop characteristics that can lead to higher levels of wellbeing and less anxiety.

Research conducted by a team from the Centre for Economic Performance led by Richard Layard tracked people from childhood through to adulthood, monitoring how satisfied they were with their lives.  They found that a child’s emotional health is the most effective predictor of a satisfying adult life, followed by social behaviour. The least important is academic achievement. Layard has argued that these are the opposite priorities of most educators and politicians. He argues that schools would do better academically if they paid more attention to the emotional health of their pupils.

Back in March, the Cabinet Office Behavioural Insights Unit released research about the value of social action which found that youth social action programmes were very effective in developing the key life skills of young people. The research findings demonstrated that young people who participated in the programmes had reported increased empathy levels and cooperation skills, having a more positive outlook and were more satisfied with life relative to other students. They also showed improved levels of well-being and, in one group, levels of anxiety reduced by more than a fifth in the young people who participated in youth social action.

As part of our Growing Giving Parliamentary Inquiry, the Creating an Age of Giving report made six recommendations focusing on what education institutions and charities can do to enable young people and future generations to get involved in social action and charitable engagement. These include linking social action to UCAS applications, getting more young people to become charity trustees and schools, colleges and universities embedding social action into the ethos and activities of their institution.

One of the key themes from the inquiry was that schools, colleges and universities should ensure that young people are encouraged to take up social action initiatives. However, this is not just important for charities, but actually beneficial for young people themselves. Step Up To Serve’s CEO Charlotte Hill has said that high quality youth social action brings about a ‘double-benefit’ – IE a benefit both for the people that young people are helping, and for the young person themselves.

The results of this research on the importance of emotional health and social behaviour are a significant and welcome addition to the evidence of the value of social action opportunities for future generations. Here at CAF and across the charity and education sectors we have a responsibility to ensure that the benefits of social action are acknowledged and acted upon by the institutions that have such a profound impact on shaping young people’s lives.

Kelley Temple

Posted 29 June 2015