Last fall, I sat back in my office to read a new journal article in American Economic Journal: Economic Policy. The article, by two professors at the Wharton School of Business, is called “The Paradox of Declining Female Happiness.” Its abstract begins with a very striking sentence:
“The lives of women in the United States have improved over the past 35 years by many objective measures, yet we show that measures of subjective well-being indicate that women’s happiness has declined both absolutely and relative to men.”
The tendency of women’s subjective well-being to decline – both absolutely and relative to that of men – has occurred throughout much of the world. Indeed, men may have been greater beneficiaries of the women’s movement than women themselves. Sexual freedom in the wake of the birth control pill has increased pressure on women to have sex outside of marriage. Abortion has decreased a woman’s bargaining power in the face of unwanted pregnancy.
Declines in happiness resulting from the pressures of single-parenthood would seem to affect both nonwhite women and uneducated white women disproportionately. But no such differences exist. Educated white woman are becoming less happy in the same proportion.
Given that the recent study on declining female happiness uses the GSS, or General Social Survey, feminists teaching in the area of sociology should be especially interested in its results. Those results show that in the 1970s women were more likely than men to report being “very happy.” But this difference began to disappear in the 1980s. By 2006, women were reporting an average level of subjective well-being that is clearly lower than that of men.
What is interesting to note is that happiness among blacks has been steadily increasing during the time that women’s levels of happiness have been declining. Thus, when the authors of this study raise the question of whether “modern social constructs have made women worse off” they call – whether intentionally or not – for closer scrutiny of feminism, rather than progressivism in general.
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