Happiness Paradoxes

The Wilson Quarterly, Autumn 2008 | Go to article overview

Happiness Paradoxes


THE SOURCES: "Paradox of Declining Female Happiness" by Betsey A. Stevenson and Justin Wolfers, in American Law and Economics Association Annual Meetings, 2008, and "Social Inequalities in Happiness in the United States, 1972 to 2004: An Age-Period-Cohort Analysis" by Yang Yang, in American Sociological Review, April 2008.

GEORGE MCGOVERN AND George Wallace were running for president, Bangladesh had just become a count, and The Godfather was on movie screens when the first researchers from the National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago began asking Americans whether they were "very happy," "pretty happy," or "not too happy." Thirty-six years later, the pattern of the annual answers they have given looks paradoxical.

Over the last three decades women have narrowed the pay gap with men, blasted ahead of them in education, and seen a slight rise in the amount of time their husbands spend tending house. Yet they are less happy than they were before these changes occurred, according to Betsey Stevenson and Justin Wolfers, of the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania. The researchers express the female happiness shortfall in complex statistical equations. But its magnitude is roughly equivalent to the difference in misery between a state with 4 percent unemployment and one with 12.5 percent.

Stevenson and Wolfers suggest that women might be less happy than in the past because of increased anxiety as they straggle to balance traditional female roles with new competition in the unisex marketplace. …

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