Women's Happiness: What We Know for Certain
Some of you looked at the gradual climb in men's happiness and wondered whether '"feminism had benefitted men more than women." You may be right, though the data point the other way—in 1977, 35 percent of men in dual-earner couples reported feeling some kind of work/life conflict, whereas today 59 percent of men do.
However, we know what is causing men's slight increase in happiness, and it's not feminism. It's increased prosperity. Over the past 40 years, the Gross Domestic Product of the United States has climbed 3.1 percent per year and, though money neither buys nor sustains happiness for individuals, increases in national GDP do correlate to increases in national levels of happiness.
This makes women's decline even more startling. The tide of prosperity should have raised everyone's spirits, but instead, women's have gradually sunk lower.
Are women simply more honest about their feelings?
Maybe. Maybe men, in aggregate, are emotionally closed off, out of touch with their true emotions, and so, though they are actually as unhappy as women, they just don't know it or won't admit it.
But even if we accept this as true, surely it isn't a recent development. If emotional distance is simply part of being a man and emotional sensitivity is part of being a woman, these characteristics would have been as true 40 years ago as they supposedly are today. That would make them a constant. In which case it's hard to see how they could be the cause of these recent changes in women's happiness.
What we do know for certain is that women are harder on themselves than men. When nationally representative polls of women and men are asked the question, "Which do you think will help you be most successful in life: building on your strengths or fixing your weaknesses?" men split right down the middle, whereas 73 percent of women report they would focus on fixing their weaknesses. This too may be a constant—and I stress "may" be—but if it is, then it is a constant that creates a downward spiral of dissatisfaction. Since women, as a group, believe that success flows from drilling down into their weaknesses, and since, as has happened to women over the past 40 years, they've gradually acquired more and more domains in which they are supposed to succeed, a researcher would expect to see women characterizing themselves more and more by who they aren't, becoming more and more self-critical and more aware of their flaws and failings, all of which might well accelerate these dissatisfaction trend lines.