The Public Interest

The declining well-being of American adolescents

David Eggebeen & Peter Uhlenberg

Winter 1986

THE 1960s and 1970s should have been a golden era for the development of American youth. Over these two decades we should have expected to see significant improvements in the well-being of adolescents. After all, indicators of what mainstream social scientists and policy makers regard as the important determinants of child welfare were going in the “right” direction. However, a comparison of youth in 1980 with youth in 1960 reveals that what “should” have happened did not happen.  Indeed, most indicators of well-being show a marked deterioration.  Could social scientists have overlooked the most crucial determinants of children’s welfare? Could a preoccupation with variables that are amenable to empirical measurement or to public policy manipulation have diverted attention from variables that are more important?

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