Sad all over

And, in case you're wondering, this finding is neither unique to this one study, nor is it unique to the United States. In the last couple of years, the results from six major studies of happiness have been released:
  • United States General Social Survey (46,000 people between 1972-2007)
  • Virginia Slims Survey of American Women (26,000 people between 1972-2000)
  • Monitoring the Future survey (430,000 U.S. twelfth graders between 1976-2005)
  • British Household Panel Study (121,000 people between 1991-2004)
  • Eurobarometer analysis (636,000 people between 1973-2002, covering fifteen countries)
  • International Social Survey Program (97,462 people between 1991-2001, covering thirty-five developed countries)
All told, more than 1.3 million men and women have been surveyed over the last 40 years, both here in the U.S. and in developed countries around the world. 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.

It feels strange to write that sentence, as though I'm mistyping or having a "backwards day," as my daughter would say. But I'm not. Though the trends in the data certainly don't suggest that all women are less happy as compared to men than they were back in 1972, the fact is that, across more than a million people, the trends are there, and they are going in the opposite direction than most would have predicted. And the sizes of these trends are meaningful. According to Stevenson and Wolfers, if you assume a strong link between being unhappy and being unemployed (which there is—the longer you're out of work, the more depressed you become,) the decline in women's happiness is as if women's unemployment has risen from 10 percent to 18 percent.

Happy girl to sadder woman

The second discovery is, this: though women begin their lives more fulfilled than men, as they age, they gradually become less happy. Men, in contrast, get happier as they get older. (These findings are drawn from the work of Professors Richard Easterlin and Anke Plagnol, who took the same U.S. General Social Survey data and sliced it in a different way. You can find their working paper here).


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