More on Happiness in 2010: Not So for Women?

Laura Carroll, Childfree Choice

Just a few days ago (December 30) I posted on Dr. Robert Holden, who contends that while we are chasing after happiness more than ever, our happiness levels have not risen in recent years. Turns out there is a lot more evidence about happiness levels for men and women not only in recent years, but in the last 40 yearsMarcus Buckingham’s article, “What’s Happening to Women’s Happiness?”  sheds some amazing light on women’s happiness.

Since 1972, the United States General Social Survey has asked a representative sample of 1,500 men and women of all ages, education, income and marital status to rate their happiness on a scale of 1-3 (1=not too, 3=very happy).  Other countries have done their own surveys as well; in the last 40 years more than 1.3 million men and women have been surveyed in the U.S. and in developed countries around the world.

Here are three top findings:

1) (quoting Buckingham) “Since 1972, women’s overall level of happiness has dropped, both relative to where they were forty years ago, and relative to men. You find this drop in happiness in women regardless of whether they have kids (italics are mine), how many kids they have, how much money they make, how healthy they are, what job they hold, whether they are married, single or divorced, how old they are, or what race they are.” This research finding refutes previous research I have seen that indicates that women without children who work outside the home are the happiest of all.

2) ” ..Wherever researchers have been able to collect reliable data on happiness, the finding is always the same: greater educational, political, and employment opportunities have corresponded to decreases in life happiness for women, as compared to men.”

3) “By the time women reach age 47, they are, overall, less happy with their life than men, and the trend continues on down from there.”

Why, as women get older, do they seem to get sadder? Research tells us it’s not because women work longer hours than men. It also tells us it is not because of gender-based stereotyping (e.g., thinking that men should be the primary breadwinner and women should be the primary caretaker of home and family). And it’s not because women may very well carry more of the burden of the workload at home.

I hypothesize that part of the reason is that our society sends such a strong message to women that  “younger is better.”  There’s all the botox, and plastic surgery (including genitalia so it looks “virgin”!), but the fact is women know they are getting older.  Trying to fight that and buying into “younger is better” only serves to make women feel less good about themselves, which does a number on their happiness.  I wonder what would happen instead if our society valued more, women in “full bloom” — how might that impact their levels of happiness?

Why do you think women tend to be less happy than men, and that it declines as they get older?

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