Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Measuring happiness by genders

Click on the title to this post to read an article in today's New York Times Business section, "He's Happier, She's Less So." The article reports on two different recent studies which both show that compared to 30 years ago, men are feeling happier and women are feeling less happy -- a reversal from the position in the 1970's. The article online includes handy links to the full text of both studies.

One speculation is that women have more lined up on their to-do list now than in the '70's. As more women are responsible for both caring for children and their aging parents as well, and carrying a full-time job, they have less time to do fun things. And men seem to be taking more time off now, and thus enjoying themselves more. Another theory, dubbed, the "hottie theory," is that high school girls still feel the same pressure girls felt in previous times from the mid-20th century on, to be sexually attractive -- a "hottie," and to seem effortless about it. But now, teenage girls also feel an equal pressure to do well in school, sports and extra-curricular activities. I do see my daughter and friends feeling a great deal of pressure about school performance, sports and extra-curricular activitis -- much more than my son felt. I don't know how long they can sustain the sort of killing pace I see -- I hope the pressure eases in college or after, but it looks like it's self-imposed, from some sort of societal cloud of expectations. I certainly never told either child that I expected such a pace!

Of course, these are surveys of the general population. I actually feel much happier right now than I did in the 1970's. But that's just me -- I suspect that many women my age might feel happier in their 50's than they did in their 20's. I seem to have read a good many studies (and here and here)that showed that to be true.

Do you feel happier now than you used to? Are you old enough to compare now with the 1970's? Do you think gender makes a difference?

The chart above is from the second "study" link, to a small business org website. It shows older women's happiness levels compared to younger women's levels from a self-reporting survey.


Marie S. Newman said...

I wish the chart you reproduced had addressed the issue of whether women feel overwhelmed. I know I do, at least some of the time. One thing I never experience is boredom, which I guess is a good thing. I think women are very hard on themselves. While it's good to have high standards, striving to meet them can take a toll. I can see the effects of perfectionism on myself and on my daughter, a high-achieving, motivated young woman. My husband and son do not aspire to perfection, and are perfectly content when things are good enough. No wonder men are happier than women!

Betsy McKenzie said...

Dear Marie,
Do you think the difference between your husband/son and you and your daughter (good enough vs. perfectionism) are gender based, or is it just the luck of the genetic draw who got which characteristics of the 2 parents? I think girls right now are tending to put more pressure on themselves, but maybe that's just because I see the girls my daughter associates with and they sort of select themselves by being driven perfecionists.
But I'm with you on the boredom! I haven't been bored since I entered law school. Overwhelmed is a good word for a lot of the years since then. Right now, I'm in a more subdued part of time.

Marie S. Newman said...

I have no idea whether it's genetics or gender, but I know it's real. And not just in my family.