Why Is Women’s Happiness Declining?

There’s been a spate of studies in recent years pointing to a general trend of declining Western female happiness, and a concomitant rise in male happiness. Self-reported happiness levels tend to go up and down rather haphazardly, but a long-term decline since the feminist devolution seems to be happening. A 2009 study called ‘The Paradox of Declining Female Happiness‘ attempts to answer why women are unhappier today than they were in the halcyon days of the 1950s.

The lives of women in the United States have improved over the past 35 years by many objective measures, yet we show that measures of subjective well-being indicate that women’s happiness has declined both absolutely and relative to men. This decline in relative well-being is found across various datasets, measures of subjective well-being, demographic groups, and industrialized countries. Relative declines in female happiness have eroded a gender gap in happiness in which women in the 1970s reported higher subjective well-being than did men. These declines have continued and a new gender gap is emerging—one with higher subjective well-being for men.

[T]trends in self-reported subjective well-being indicate that happiness has shifted toward men and away from women. This shift holds across industrialized countries regardless of whether the aggregate trend in happiness for both genders is flat, rising, or falling. In all of these cases, we see happiness rebalancing to reflect greater hap- piness for men relative to women.

The suggested reasons the study authors give follows:

First, there may be other important socioeconomic forces that have made women worse off. A number of important macro trends have been documented: decreased social cohesion (Robert D. Putnam 2000), increased anxiety and neuroticism (Jean M. Twenge 2000), and increased household risk (Hacker 2006). While each of these trends have impacted men and women, it is possible for even apparently gender-neutral trends to have gender-biased impacts if men and women respond differently to these forces. For example, if women are more risk averse than men, then an increase in risk may lower women’s utility relative to that of men.

Thanks to the patented Heartiste Naughty Boy Translator™, we can decode the above passage for the layman:

“Diversity is making women more neurotic.”

The second possibility is that broad social shifts such as those brought on by the changing role of women in society fundamentally alter what measures of subjective well-being are capturing. Over time it is likely that women are aggregating satisfaction over an increasingly larger domain set. For example, life satisfaction may have previously meant “satisfaction at home” and has increasingly come to mean some combination of “satisfaction at home” and “satisfaction at work.” This averaging over many domains may lead to falling average satisfaction if it is difficult to achieve the same degree of satisfaction in multiple domains. One piece of evidence along these lines is that the correlation between happiness and marital happiness is lower for women who work compared with those who are stay at home wives, and the correlation has fallen over time for all women in our sample.

HNBT: “Women have too many goddamn expectations.”

Finally, the changes brought about through the women’s movement may have decreased women’s happiness. The increased opportunity to succeed in many dimensions may have led to an increased likelihood of believing that one’s life is not measuring up. Similarly, women may now compare their lives to a broader group, including men, and find their lives more likely to come up short in this assessment. Or women may simply find the complexity and increased pressure in their modern lives to have come at the cost of happiness.

HNBT: “Contrary to feminist boilerplate, women really don’t want to spend their lives in direct competition with men climbing the corporate ladder and getting pumped and dumped until their wombs crust over like a sun-baked lake bed.”

Hope this hurts the right people!

PS: Mangan’s covered this topic as well.

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