Are modern women miserable?

Hit close to home, anyone?

Since 1972, women’s self-described levels of happiness have fallen a few percentage points and now rest below that of men, on average, in every age category. It is particularly pronounced in those ages 30 to 44 — not coincidentally, women dealing with child rearing and aging parents, while reaching a critical point in their careers.

This drop in female happiness is pervasive — it also holds true regardless of marital status, education and employment. The only exception researchers were able to tease out was among African Americans. No one’s certain why African American women report higher levels of happinness than they did in the ’70s, but it’s an intriguing aberration that merits follow-up.

While the gap is not huge, research co-author Betsey Stevenson said it was stunning given that by objective measures, the status of women’s lives has improved in recent decades. “We would have expected their happiness to shoot up, not fall,” she said.

Meanwhile, at Princeton University, another economist and a team of psychologists simultaneously stumbled across a gender “happiness gap” while analyzing dour decades worth of data on what Americans do with their time and how they feel when they’re doing it.

Working-age women, for example, increasingly spend more time on paid work, caring for adults and watching TV — and less time cooking, ironing, dusting, entertaining and reading — than in the 1960s. But the data also reveals that men are spending less time on paid work and relaxing more — including watching more TV. In essence, men have gotten the knack of spending less time doing things they consider unpleasant.

Women, on the other hand, spend more time with family and friends but find it more stressful than men do. (Of course, such time often involves child or elder care, or hostessing, and could rightfully be categorized as work as well.)



7 thoughts on “Are modern women miserable?”

  1. If modern women are miserable, they ought to reflect on how much more difficult things used to be – imagine washing clothes in the river, working in the fields from sun-up to sundown, making clothes out of nothing, being glad when the traveling salesmen happened to have pins and needles that you needed… no antibiotics, thirteen children and six or seven of them dying at early ages of pneumonia (I have a manuscript of my grandmother’s describing her early years and all the baby cousins dying, the men working in the coal mines, the hard gritty reality of no money and the company store… wasn’t that long ago – we have much to be thankful for.

    YOU, though, are a remarkable person dealing with indescribable hardship, yet you maintain your spirit – you may not know it but our hearts are with you. Anybody who’s whining ought to walk a mile in your shoes.

  2. I enjoyed this typo:
    stumbled across a gender “happiness gap” while analyzing dour decades worth of data 😉

    It’s often not possible to rationalize away unhappiness, no matter how much worse other people’s lives are elsewhere and elsewhen. Also, from the article, “The reason things seemed better back when they were worse,” Schwartz says, “is because people with few choices and lowered expectations could expect to be pleasantly surprised.” Heh.

  3. I like the typo too. In fact, I’m just going to call the last 10 years of my life the Dour Decade. It makes me laugh and then, heck with the miserable.

  4. The Dour Decade – sounds like a miniseries to me!

    Rose, that must be an amazing albeit heartbreaking read about your grandmother’s life. I remembering working my way through Angela’s Ashes and wondering how one goes on. I appreciate what you said, but I’m ever aware of the luck that runs concurrently with the struggles in my life.

    I was thinking, though, about how I automatically apologize for expressing unhappiness about any part of my life – because I know “it could be so much worse.” The thing is, I want a lot of out of life and I want to do a lot well. Lately when people point out how much worse it could be, despite my agreement, a part of me reacts like like a kid who’s told to clean his plate because other children are starving in China: I get the contrast, but it’s not always relevant to what is happening in my own personal here and now.

    If I had a successful business and spent a lot of time analyzing what was working and what wasn’t and how I could improve it, I don’t think anyone would tell me to just be grateful I’m not bankrupt, but because I obsess about how to get the most out of life, I’m guilt-ridden about that form of ambition.

    Dang… I’m tired, and Nick and Bobby are debating about blood sugar treatment behind me. I can’t find the words to convey the thoughts that made so much sense a couple hours ago when Sandy and I made our quiet way through the dunes.

  5. See, now I’m asking myself, “Did that sound bitchy?” I truly don’t mean to sound ungrateful or whiny, but I do sometimes relate to the idea that one can have what appears to be a cushy life and yet still struggle with that elusive peace/joy/grace that we long for. Whether that struggle stems from internal or external pressures varies; what can be done to cultivate joy in different situations does as well. But that’s my quest in my own life…

    OK, I think I’ve pulled enough lint out of my belly button for the moment.

  6. I don’t think that sounds bitchy. We all struggle with how to express we want more yet still acknowledge how lucky we are to have what we have.

    I think the lint in my belly button was a bit tangled when it came out. Hope that sentence made sense;>

  7. It did to me – but I may not be the best test subject!

    To quickly continue my eating metaphor (quickly, because deadline looms and 16-hour workday awaits), perhaps one of the problems with even a successful “modern life” (and hence, a resulting unhappiness) is that we’ve gone from struggling to put food on our plates to having more food than we can even eat – good food, too – but no time to take pleasure in eating it. Afraid to waste it – what could be more shameful? – and not wanting to appear ungrateful, we race through our meal without the means to savor it. And we know we’re still missing out on something vital – which is better than starvation or hunger, certainly, but still crucial to peace of mind.

    It’s an interesting article in any case. The paradox of choice, gender wage parity, the idea that we must cling to illusions to be happy… lots of fodder for thought.

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