Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Are Men Happier Than Women?

According to the NY Times the answer is yes.

This intriguing — if unsettling — finding is part of a larger story: there appears to be a growing happiness gap between men and women.

Two new research papers, using very different methods, have both come to this conclusion. Betsey Stevenson and Justin Wolfers, economists at the University of Pennsylvania (and a couple), have looked at the traditional happiness data, in which people are simply asked how satisfied they are with their overall lives. In the early 1970s, women reported being slightly happier than men. Today, the two have switched places.

Mr. Krueger, analyzing time-use studies over the last four decades, has found an even starker pattern. Since the 1960s, men have gradually cut back on activities they find unpleasant. They now work less and relax more.

Over the same span, women have replaced housework with paid work — and, as a result, are spending almost as much time doing things they don’t enjoy as in the past. Forty years ago, a typical woman spent about 23 hours a week in an activity considered unpleasant, or 40 more minutes than a typical man. Today, with men working less, the gap is 90 minutes.
I find this research interesting for while feminists focus on the wage gap between men and women, I am more interested in whether there is a happiness and life satisfaction gap between the sexes.

I was just about to post this conclusion when I figured I better do my due diligence and see what other blogs had to say on this. And in this case, I found the Language Log to have a fine and contradictory analysis of this article.

I agree with this blogger that when you look at the underlying data (click on the graphs for a larger version), it looks like men and womens' happiness are fairly similar and that there is a lot of noise in the data (and surprisingly the data shows there are actually more very happy women than men in the US currently). While I can see how the trend line shows decreasing female life satisfaction vs. men, I think that you add another 5-10 years of data and that trend will be completely gone. And when it does, that will allow for another research report to be published showing how womens' happiness is increasing compared to men. :)

This is another example of where I wish the media would spend more time looking at the actual data and trying to question is accuracy rather then spending time analyzing the results and trying to come up with explanations for it. As documented on Language Lab this article has become a Rorschach inkblot test for internet commenters, where everyone rushes to come up with explanations for women's supposed decrease in happiness, but the explanations tell more about the commenter world view than they do about the results. And I am pretty sure that if the article claimed the opposite result that women were getting happier compared to men that people would be able to come up with explanations for that just as easily.

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