Are All Indicators Created Equal? Alternatives to An Equal Weighting Strategy in the Construction of A Composite Index of Child Wellbeing

Nicholas Zill

Kenneth Land and his colleagues at Duke University have developed a Child Wellbeing Index (CWI) for the United States with support from the Foundation for Child Development in New York City (Land, 2006; Land, Lamb, & Mustillo, 2001; Land, Lamb, Meadows, & Taylor, 2005). The purposes of the CWI are to permit monitoring of changes in the wellbeing of American children and youth over time and to draw press and public attention to the situation of young people.

The CWI is based on 28 statistical data series on children that are regularly available from federal statistical agencies or university-based survey programs that are supported by the federal government (see Table 1 for a list of the indicators). The series cover such topics as child health and disability, educational achievement, preschool enrollment, financial wellbeing of families, teen crime victimization and criminal offending, teen substance abuse, teen religious observance, and young adult voting participation. Most of the indicators have been available on an annual basis since the mid-1970’s.

The purpose of this paper is to draw attention to problems that may arise with regard to the validity and acceptance of the CWI because of the use of the equal-weighting procedure. The paper describes several methods that might be used to corroborate or cast doubt on the notion that equal weighting is the optimum combinatorial strategy. The methods described could be used to produce an ordering of the child indicators in terms of their relative importance, as well as to foster important advances in the field of child indicators research.