In my piece called "What's happening to women's happiness?" I highlighted two longitudinal trends—a) women are less happy than they were 40 years ago, as compared to men, and b) as women get older, they get sadder—and I asked what might be causing these trends. 

Some of you didn't think this was much to fuss over: ("It's not depression or neurosis we're talking about here. It's only sadness.") But many of you took these trends seriously. (While a life of utter contentment is a fool's goal, who would ever wish on those they love a life of increasing unhappiness?) As you can see from the responses, thousands of you here and elsewhere offered explanations. 

Obviously, no one explanation is entirely sufficient, and many are spiced with speculation. In this post, I'll take the five most frequently asked questions and tell you what we know for certain.

Are these trends increasing or decreasing?

They are increasing. According to the U.S. General Social Survey, women begin their lives more satisfied than men and then become less satisfied with every aspect of their lives as they age.

This used to be true. Today, statistics show that women don't even begin their adult lives happier than men. Yes, in Churchill's words, "There are lies, damned lies and statistics." But still, it's hard not to conclude that contemporary life is disproportionately stressful for young women, that this stress puts them at an immediate disadvantage and that this state of affairs is damaging, wasteful and needless.

So, if you find it hard to relate to the gradual decline in women's happiness, if you always feel focused and successful, with plenty of energy and time, and what few doubts you have are quickly drowned out by the many moments of real fulfillment, well done to you.

Just know that, in aggregate, the next generation of women doesn't feel as you do.


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