Friday, September 18, 2009

Today's Women are Less Happy...

Someone posted a link to this article this morning on CAF and I clicked over to see what it had to say. It compared surveys from women in 1972 and women today, when asked to rate their level of happiness. Across the board women were less happy today and men stated that they were happier (if you go to the article there's even a little graph that shows men's happiness levels going up and women's happiness levels going down). Of course, if you read my blog regularly, you probably have a good idea of where I am going pin the blame...

Feminism, which supposedly freed women to do whatever we want, whenever we want, can't work out a way to force or manufacture happiness. It seems that the freedom to leave our families, to work and be mothers and juggle every responsibly under the sun, to control our reproductive systems and to kill our unborn children, still hasn't made us happy. Imagine that.

What's Happening To Women's Happiness?
by Marcus Buckingham
September 17th, 2009

Imagine it is 1969 and we're in a thriving American city. Let's choose Detroit. The '60s were good to the Motor City, and the future would have looked bright as new chrome. Now, imagine stopping a working woman on Detroit's Woodward Avenue, perhaps a young bank clerk, and asking if she would cast her mind forward, decades into the future. Not to picture the flying cars and space-themed restaurants that always seem to pop up in visions of the future, but to think about the role of women at work, in business, in government, in life. What do you think she would have said?

1969 was an intense, rousing time for women in America. Betty Friedan had published The Feminine Mystique a few years earlier, and had founded the National Organization for Women in 1966. And Gloria Steinem had just published the essay in New York Magazine that clearly separated the modern Women's Movement from other oppressed groups, "After Black Power: Women's Liberation," in which she called for meaningful work, equal pay, and the goal for all women to be freed from the role of only "servicing men and their children."

Fast forward 40 years: no matter how optimistic the guesses of our "woman-on-a-Detroit-street," I bet they wouldn't have outstripped what's actually happened.

Women rising

I doubt she would have guessed that by the early twenty-first century, women would be running the governments of countries as powerful and widespread as Germany and Ireland, Bangladesh and New Zealand, Chile, Mozambique, and Jamaica. Or that the wife of one U.S. president would spend months in 2008 as the national favorite to become president herself and, barely failing in that quest, would become an outspoken Secretary of State, or that the Speaker of the House would be a woman, or that John McCain would choose a moose-hunting, helicopter-riding, crowd-pleasing mother of five as his running mate because she'd stared down oil companies as governor of the tough state of Alaska.

How about education? I'm sure she would have forecast that more women would be completing high school and attending college, but do you think she'd have predicted that during the 2008 school year, 59 percent of all the bachelor's degrees and 61 percent of all the master's degrees would be earned by women, not by men? Or that by 2009, four out of the eight Ivy League universities--Harvard, Brown, Penn and Princeton--would have female presidents?

And work? Again, she would probably have bet that, in the future, more women would be working, but would she have guessed that October will be the first month in which women outnumber men in the workforce, that women would be holding more management and supervisory positions than men, by a margin of 37 percent to 31 percent, that in like-for-like work women and men with the same amount of work experience would be earning the same, and that women's pay would actually be increasing faster than men's? I doubt it.

Yet the biggest surprise would have come if you had asked her just one more question. Given all the evidence of women running corporations and universities, hospitals, media empires, branches of government, army divisions, and countries, do you think women in the future will be happier?

Of course they will be happier, she would have said. With all these opportunities and achievements, how could they not be?

Well, as it turns out, too easily.

Happiness lost

Each year since 1972, the United States General Social Survey has asked men and women: "How happy are you, on a scale of 1 to 3, with 3 being very happy, and 1 being not too happy?" This survey includes a representative sample of men and women of all ages, education levels, income levels, and marital status--1,500 per year for a total of almost 50,000 individuals thus far--and so it gives us a most reliable picture of what's happened to men's and women's happiness over the last few decades.

As you can imagine, a survey this massive generates a multitude of findings, (see the full report by Wharton Professors Betsy Stevenson and Justin Wolfers) but here are the two most important discoveries.

First, 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, 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. (The one and only exception: African-American women are now slightly happier than they were back in 1972, although they remain less happy than African American men.)

To read the full story click


  1. This is really interesting. I wonder, however, how the study measures happiness. My feeling is that they were looking at possibilities and achievemnts of women in the public sphere versus traditional roles and then made links between these categories and feeling of happiness. Maybe the problem is not in women doing all these things but their possible belief that 'doing things' is an end in itself that provides fulfilment and feeling of happiness. Which of course it does not. I would be quite unhappy if I didn't have a chance to get far in higher education and if I couldn't apply for certain jobs. These opportunities make me feel very satisfied on a certain level but as a Christian I know they are not enough and that without God I will never be complete and entirely happy. So I am very grateful to feminists for making certain things possible. (I would appreciate them even more if they respected a wider range of choices women make, including prioritising family over career, etc. And that is often not the case. Makes me wonder if we girls ever have a true choice that will be respected and supported in western society).

    So what I'm really getting at is not feminism but secularism as primary evil of modern life. It has completely distorted the idea of what happiness is and leads people to believe that certain lifestyles and achievements lead to personal fulfilment.

  2. Hi Natasa,

    They got the statistics by asking women to rate their own happiness, which some people were pointing out on CAF could mean that women thirty years ago just wanted to put on a good face and act happy.

    I think that early feminism was definitely a good thing (i.e. sufferage and the right for education and equal pay). However, I think the next step many feminists took was to try to make women the same as men, rejecting the God's plan for families, while insisting that women should be able to act like men (and not just men, but the worst men.. having indiscriminate sex, ect.). And I definitely agree with you that many don't seem to thing having putting family over career is an option. I've gotten comments from my friends about how "you didn't go to college to be a stay at home mom."

    Many of my college friends are die-hard feminists (I was a poly-science major) and they all seem so angry all the time. It's so sad, because feminism really started out as such a necessary and good thing... it's the road it's gone down in the past thirty years that I disagree with...

    And that part of feminism, in my opinion at least, had major contributions in our current secular lifestyle (particularly starting with no-fault divorce and the wide distribution of contraceptives).

  3. I'm also in pol-sci (submitting my PhD in 2 months- can't wait). I completely know what you mean about feminists in the academic world, and especially in this particular area. Yes, a lot of anger indeed. It is quite sad how they tend to put other women off. In my department there are many of us who believe in some basic feminist ideals but the attitudes of professed feminists has really alienated us. It is a clique that does not respect women who don't blindly follow their agenda. So much for female solidarity, no?

    I can imagine you get comments about your 'wasted' education. I think that is another problem with much of the modern world - everything is so utility driven. People are not interested in education unless it will get them to a specific job and enable them to earn lots of money.

    I also often hear comments about my waste of time in life. I mean, a PhD in social sciences doesn't get you rich. What is the point? I might start replying that it will be useful in case I decide to homeschool my children :-) (I don't have any yet but can't wait to be a mother.)

    I'm so glad that I can finally discuss such issues with other Catholic women. The blogosphere is a blessing!

  4. Congratulations on finishing up your PhD! That is such an accomplishment! We plan on homeschooling too and I've thought about using that response the next time someone mentions a wasted education!

    It really is great to meet everyone here! I know my college friends think I'm boring/crazy since I've converted, so it's nice to find people who I can really relate to and discuss things with!

  5. Thank you very much. It will be such a relief to submit it. I'm sure you hear all about the joys of grad school from your husband lol.

  6. I think most of these surveys show people are generally less happy, I guess it’s just a reflection of increased choice and expectations (which are rarely fulfilled) and rampant materialism.

    In the case of women this is especially true, as the feminist movement opened up a world of lifestyle choices and expectations, the “have it all” mentality which whatever your perspective was just never realistic for most women. Working women are left feeling unfulfilled if childless, or guilty and inadequate as mothers and “stay at home” mothers are made to feel failures for not having a “proper” career.

    I'm sure the widespread use of contraception, especially the Pill and the resulting so called “sexual revolution” far from being empowering or liberating has also been the cause of widespread unhappiness among women leading as it has to promiscuity, infidelity and often childlessness (through pressure to delay until the “right time”).


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