Thursday, September 27, 2007

Men Are Happier Than Women, Research Shows

Modern times seem to be riddled with growing gaps - the income gap, the achievement gap, the tolerance-of-celebrity-gossip gap. Now here's another one to worry about, according to today's New York Times: the growing happiness gap between men and women.

Two new research papers arrive at this conclusion. One tracked traditional happiness data by asking people how satisfied they are with their lives. It found that women, who in the early 1970s reported being slightly happier than men, are now slightly less happy.

The other analyzed time-use studies over the past four decades to determine how much time men and women spent doing things they found unpleasant. Since the 1960s, men have gradually cut back on tasks they dislike. They now work less and relax more.

Meanwhile, women have replaced housework with paid work (or not replaced as much as added onto), and as a result are spending more time doing things they don't enjoy.

The obvious explanation would seem to be the old "second shift" theory, that women just added their jobs onto their already long and laundry-filled to-do lists. But, according to the Times, this overlooks the fact that women aren't actually working more today than they were 30 or 40 years ago - they're just spending more time on paid work and less on cooking and cleaning.

(In the index, both men and women seemed to dread their jobs. They ranked time at the office above only trips to the doctor and washing dishes in terms of enjoyment. Both would much rather cook or do laundry.)

But the gender happiness gap appears long before working life. As "life has generally gotten better over the last generation" -- the Times boldly asserts, using "less crime, longer-living grandparents and much cooler gadgets" as evidence - male high school seniors have gotten happier. About 25 percent say they are satisfied with their lives, up 16 percent from 1976. Meanwhile, only 22 percent of their female peers say they're happy, about the same in the 70s.

I would posit this may have something to do with how dismally bad men's fashion was in 1976. But the experts who talked to the Times chalk it up to the "hottie theory" - the pressure for high school girls to be hot above all else. Back in the 70s, that's all you had to be. Now you have to be a Harvard-bound, track star, volunteering-at-the-homeless-shelter-on-weekends hottie. That's enough to bum anyone out.

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