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Thursday, May 21, 2009

Are women less happy?

Betsey Stevenson and Justin Wolfers report

By many objective measures the lives of women in the United States have improved over the past 35 years, yet we show that measures of subjective well-being indicate that women's happiness has declined both absolutely and relative to men. The paradox of women's declining relative well-being is found across various datasets, measures of subjective well-being, and is pervasive across demographic groups and industrialized countries. Relative declines in female happiness have eroded a gender gap in happiness in which women in the 1970s typically reported higher subjective well-being than did men. These declines have continued and a new gender gap is emerging -- one with higher subjective well-being for men.

Interesting to see other bloggers (better known ones than I) commenting.

Gregory Mankiw notes

"It sounds like either the women's movement was a mistake or subjective happiness is not the right objective."

Andrew Gelman notes:

"If I were Betsey Stevenson, I might be a little unhappy that Mankiw referred to the authors unalphabetically as Wolfers and Stevenson!" and more substantively "I think he's right that subjective happiness is not an "objective." "

But if happiness isn't the objective, what is? Well, there are things larger than ourselves, and larger than our own happiness.

I don't know that one would expect people to be especially happy during a transition time -- e.g. a transition involving changes and a lack of clarity of what a "woman's role" is, or whether that term is even meaningful.

One might speculate about the happiness of freed slaves in the decades after the Civil War, although there probably isn't any quantitative data.

More recent examples of large societal transformations might involve eastern Europe, China, etc. which might have data.