Urban Wire Five Ways to Improve How We Measure Young People’s Well-Being
Kathryn L.S. Pettit, Hannah Sumiko Daly, Amelia Coffey
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Young people need resources and support to thrive both during adolescence and into adulthood. To work toward this, we need to be able to measure, track, and determine indicators that represent all aspects of well-being.

Policymakers, funders, researchers, advocates, and practitioners use indicators of youth well-being, such as young people’s characteristics, living conditions, and the resources available to them, to track how well-being differs over time and between groups. However, our recent research suggests we must think more expansively to ensure indicators capture all domains of youth well-being. We also need to think critically about how we’re using indicators to guide and evaluate our efforts. We’ve identified five strategies that can help the field better measure young people’s well-being.

1. Involve young people

All people using youth well-being indicators would benefit from having young people directly involved in defining concepts, determining measures, and interpreting results. That includes data drawn from national surveys, administrative data, or other primary data collection. When that’s not possible, people should be transparent about how the lack of youth perspective may affect the application and interpretation of a given measure.

2. Recognize how intersecting identities shape a person’s ideas about well-being

What people think is important to well-being may differ depending on their racial, cultural, and other identities. People designing and using youth well-being indicators should know this and ideally incorporate diverse perspectives early in any design process. When working with existing datasets, people can supplement those data by engaging with different groups of young people to explore their perspectives on well-being.

3. Center racial equity and the role of structural racism

Emphasizing racial equity in youth well-being indicators involves looking beyond individual behavior and acknowledging how structural racism shapes the community conditions and systems that influence young people’s outcomes. These external factors provide critical context for interpreting disparities in outcomes and identifying points of intervention for improving youth well-being.

4. Advocate for data disaggregation

People invested in youth well-being should advocate for filling gaps in existing data sources that have limited disaggregation by race and ethnicity and other identities, while balancing the desire for detailed information with privacy concerns.

5. Focus on positive perspectives and assets

Indicators have historically focused on people’s and communities’ deficits. The field needs to shift focus to design more positive indicators that center young people’s strengths and aspirations and the conditions that promote well-being in their communities.

Together these strategies can help the many people who use youth well-being indicators measure and track a more inclusive and equitable picture of the well-being of young people. Better understanding what young people need to succeed is essential to nurturing their development in adolescence, young adulthood, and beyond.


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Research Areas Children and youth
Tags Children's health and development Community engagement Neighborhoods and youth development Structural racism Youth development
Policy Centers Metropolitan Housing and Communities Policy Center Center on Labor, Human Services, and Population
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