Can American Women Have It All and Be Happy?

By Zhou, Ling-Yi | Phi Kappa Phi Forum, Spring 2013 | Go to article overview

Can American Women Have It All and Be Happy?


Zhou, Ling-Yi, Phi Kappa Phi Forum


Extensive evidence demonstrates that patriarchy runs less rampant in the United States due to civil rights, social reform, and the feminist movement, among other causes. Indeed, American women have made astonishing strides in many, often male-dominated, arenas over the past few decades. The question arises, then: have their feelings about their lives expanded for the better as their roles in society have grown?

The inference from certain statistics might connote yes: that American women feel good about themselves amid all this headway. Take employment. They comprised 46.7 percent of the labor force in 2010, up from 38.1 percent in 1970, reports the Pew Research Center. (1) Females outnumber males in management, professional, and related occupations (51.4 percent, and within that category as human resources managers (73.6 percent), medical and health services managers 71.4 percent), social and community service managers 71.3 percent, psychologists (71.2 percent. and education administrators (65.2 percent), according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. (2) That same fact-finding agency for the federal government documents that wives who earn more than their husbands shot up from 23.7 percent in 1987 to 37.7 percent in 2009. (3) And women count as the primary breadwinners in 39.3 percent of American families, tallies The Shriver Report: A Woman's. Nation Changes Everything. (4)

Data across other venues suggest similar gains for American women to be pleased about, even if more needs lo be done. In politics, a record number of women serve in (he newly elected 113th Congress: 20 in the Senate and 81 in the House of Representatives, (3) whereas only 2 and 18 did so respectively in the 95th Congress some 35 years earlier. (6) And dozens of women have held cabinet or cabinet-level positions since the 1970s. (7) In higher education, the female-male undergraduate student ratio flipped from about 42:58 in 1970 to 57:43 in 2010, finds the National Center for Education Statistics, (8) which also calculates that in 2009-10, women earned 57.4 percent of bachelor's degrees. 62.6 percent of master's degrees, and 53.3 percent of doctoral degrees. (9) In 2011-12, women totaled 46.7 percent of law students and received 47.3 percent of law degrees, per the American bar Association. (10) (Thirty-one percent of active judges on the federal courts of appeal and about 30 percent of active district court judges are women, via the National Women's Liu Center. (11)) In science and engineering, women accounted for half of all bachelor's degrees, upwards of 15 percent of master's degrees, and 41 percent of doctoral degrees in 2010, tabulates the National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics. (12) And they graduate with nearly half of all medical and law degrees contrasted with less than 10 percent 30 years ago, says Time magazine. (13) What's more, female athletes skyrocketed. One in 27 girls played high school sports in 1972 and almost one in three do now; less than 30,000 women played college sports in 1972 and more than 190,000 did in 2011. (14) It's worth mentioning, too, that between 1973 and the end of 2011, women in the military rose from two percent to 14 percent in the enlisted ranks and from lour percent to 16 percent among commissioned officers. (15)

Given this far-reaching progress. American women are happier now, right? Not necessarily. In fact, just the opposite, discovered public policy experts Betsey Stevenson and Justin Wolfers. Their broadly cited 2009 article (16) analyzed answers from thousands of American women and men regarding questions about happiness and satisfaction about marriage, health, finances, employment, and other aspects of their lives, posed in the General Social Survey that was taken from 1972 to 2006. (17) "At the start of the sample, women reported higher levels of subjective well-being than did men. However, by 2006, this earlier gap had reversed and women's subjective well-being in recent years is lower than that of men," the academics write.

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