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?

1 comment:

Jen said...

I'm sure the issue is more complex than USA today reports, however, I'm not so sure women are always financially "secure" simply because they maintain a career before divorce. Wage inequity still exists and a lot of women have part time jobs. Moreover, if those women have trouble collecting child support, it adds to the burden. I also wonder if a larger percentage of women end up with child custody after divorce. I think women are less likely to remarry as well, meaning they take on financial burdens mostly alone.

But like you said, I'd like to know more of the nuances about why women were unhappy....

what about the feminine mystique?