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.
During the course of my first reading of this fascinating article it was (perhaps) an odd coincidence that I was interrupted by a female student standing in the hall just outside of my office discussing the content of her sociology course with her course instructor. She was actually praising the professor for the profound impact the course was having on her thinking about gender roles. Among the relevant remarks were the following:
“I never really knew, until I took your course, that marriage was oppressive in the sense that it benefits men more than women.”
“I never really considered the fact that a wedding dress is an expression of latent heterosexism.”
“I never really considered the impact of large expensive weddings on the workers who, for example, make wedding dresses. I had never known about the wedding industrial complex as a form of capitalist exploitation.”
It should be noted that the course was taught by a professor who would not allow her daughter to buy a pink bike when she was a little girl. Instead, she made her buy a blue one as an expression of rebellion against gender stereotypes.
Marxism has played an increasingly vital role in the women’s movement in academia, and elsewhere, in recent years. A “critical” discussion of Marxism is, therefore, a good starting point for those who wish to ask whether “modern social constructs have made women worse off.”
Marxists make the fundamental error of assuming that the principal source of evil is the social institution. This is antithetical to the Judeo Christian assertion that the principal source of evil is the human heart. So the Marxist is inclined to attack social institutions without regard to their status within the Judeo Christian tradition.
Aside from this misguided premise - that social institutions are the principal sources of evil in this world – the Marxist feminist is prone to logical error as well. It arises from an inordinate emphasis on equality as an end in the realm of social policy. The fact that women somehow benefit less than men from marriage could be disputed factually. But it is irrelevant.
Both married men and married women are happier than their unmarried counterparts. And, for married women, there is an added bonus: They are clearly safer from violence than unmarried women.
In the final analysis it should surprise no one that blacks are happier in the aftermath of the black civil rights movement. That movement was led by Christians like MLK and it was based on Christian principles.
In contrast, the feminists have placed their faith in Karl Marx. Their movement has become increasing pro-Marxist and has tried to replace marriage and family with promiscuity and abortion. And some still wonder why women are less happy than in years gone by.
Christianity ended slavery and it ended segregation. It is even powerful enough to end feminist anger and reverse the decline in female happiness.