Thursday, July 31, 2008

Unhappy women

You know that I don't normally read USA Today, but I am staying in a hotel this week while attending a conference, and there it was on my doorstep each morning. This headline from yesterday's edition caught my eye: "Midlife crossroad: Women less likely to be happy." The story reports that women "start out as happy young adults but by midlife wind up the sadder sex" according to a new study related to financial circumstances and family life. The statistical model created from national data on 47,000 men and women shows that men become the happier sex at about age 48, following a gradual decline in women's happiness and a gradual increase in men's happiness over the years between young adulthood and middle age.

The study's lead author, Anke Plagnol at the University of Cambridge, describes the study's focus in a way that may explain this role reversal at middle age. She explains that the focus was on "the aspirations people have and how well they fulfill them . . . Satisfaction depends on how far people fulfill their aspirations." Wow, so this suggests that women don't fulfill their aspirations.

So what are those aspirations? According to the study, "women are more likely than men to fulfill their aspirations for material goods and family life, but later they may be divorced or searpated and less financially secure." Meanwhile, men like their family circumstances better as they age, while their financial circumstances also typically improve.

Another researcher not involved in this study, Arthur Brooks, a Syracuse University economist, says that marriage and religion are the two biggest factors in life satisfaction.

I'm surprised that no one here is talking about work as a source of satisfaction. I'm also disappointed that this point is not made explicitly: women become less happy in midlife because they don't have fulfilling work. The story links their unhappiness to lack of or diminished financial security. Why is this? well, divorce is mentioned, but women are not so economically vulnerable following divorce if they have maintained their own careers. So what is the role of work/career in relation to happiness? I suspect it's a lot more integrated with the other items articulated as sources of satisfaction than the USA Today piece suggests. But then what would we expect from USA Today?

Saturday, July 26, 2008

And here's Judith Warner on this idea that women are opting out of their careers when the economy effectively pushes them out

Read her Domestic Disturbances post here. It's cleverly titled, "The Other Home Equity Crisis."

Women (and girls) in the F.L.D.S.

They are the topic of the cover story in the NYT Magazine this week-end. See the story here, accompanied by many photos by Stephanie Sinclair for NYT).

Monday, July 21, 2008

Are women's careers another casualty of the poor economy?

See the NYT story here. The lede of Louis Uchitelle's story tells of how women in their "prime earning years" are leaving the work force, be it temporarily or for good, in a tough economy.

Here's a quote:

When economists first started noticing this trend two or three years ago, many suggested that the pullback from paid employment was a matter of the women themselves deciding to stay home — to raise children or because their husbands were doing well or because, more than men, they felt committed to running their households.

But now, a different explanation is turning up in government data, in the research of a few economists and in a Congressional study, to be released Tuesday, that follow the women’s story through the end of 2007.

After moving into virtually every occupation, women are being afflicted on a large scale by the same troubles as men: downturns, layoffs, outsourcing, stagnant wages or the discouraging prospect of an outright pay cut.

Uchitelle reports that women are responding to the these economic realiteis as men have, including by sometimes disappearing from the work force for a time. In that sense, what is happening isn't a gendered phenomenon, and it isn't really about choice. He notes that the trends are similar across educaiton levels, marital status, and the color divide.

Friday, July 18, 2008

"Saving Mothers, One at a Time"

That was the headline in this blog post that appeared in Nichols Kristof's "On the Ground Blog." It is by Sue Makin and is about her work as a missionary physician with women in a 190-bed hospital in southern Malawi. Here's an excerpt that gets at the gendered politics of health care delivery (and everything else, for what matter) in the impoverished country:
As Sam rightly points out, women in Malawi, regardless of age, are not empowered to make decisions about their own health. When they are sick or giving birth, they must wait for their husband or other male relatives to decide when they should be taken to the hospital. This leads to delays – particularly when the decision-making man has gone far away from the village – and many women who come to the hospital at all come late, when complications have already set in.

Supporting equality for women, "in the abstract"

See Judith Warner's comments about McCain's somewhat tepid support for women's rights, causes and issues here.