Monday, October 29

Why men are getting happier (and women more miserable)

Adult females actually report lower levels of happiness now than before they streamed into the workplace in the 1970s and '80s, according to a study by two economists at the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School, which has been making waves in academia since it was published in September. Previous studies of rising stress among females tended to focus on the simple burden of time allocation: instead of choosing one or the other, fully 73 per cent of Canadian women raise children and go to work. And numerous studies suggest women still bear the brunt of child-rearing and household duties even if they work — hence all the anxiety.

A TD Economics report said that participation in the workforce of Canadian women aged 25 to 44 jumped from 50 per cent 30 years ago to nearly 82 per cent in 2005. In fully 28 per cent of some 4.6 million couples surveyed, women had higher salaries than their husbands, compared to 11 per cent in the late 1960s — a figure broadly reflective of similar trends across the Western world. On average, U.S. women now earn 76.9 per cent as much as men (63.6 per cent as much in Canada), marking steady growth from the 59.4 per cent they earned in 1970.

Education saw even more sweeping change. By 2004, 62 per cent of all B.A.s in Canada were granted to women. Even more impressive is the revolution at medical school. According to the Association of Faculties of Medicine of Canada, the majority of students at 13 of Canada's 17 med schools are women. At Université Laval's faculty of medicine in Quebec City, for example, female enrolment has hit 70 per cent for the past two years, after peaking at a record 80 per cent in 2005, while on five other campuses last year more than 60 per cent of first-year medical students were women. And the laundry list of advancements goes on. Reliable birth control; more freedom at work; better vacuums and washing machines — all played their part in making women's lives easier. Yet the lift in women's spirits you might think would result is nowhere to be seen, say Betsey Stevenson and Justin Wolfers, co-authors of the Wharton study, "The Paradox of Declining Female Happiness." "We found that in the 35 years in which women made the greatest progress, they got less happy," Wolfers said in an interview from Philadelphia. "The big question is why."

One popular theory, to borrow a phrase from the financial world, is irrational exuberance. Through media imagery and peer pressure, goes this thinking, women have been encouraged in recent years to seek it all — be smart, accomplished, a good mother, a good lover and manage to look svelte and fashionable all at the same time — never realizing that the headlong pursuit of perfection would cause bone-numbing fatigue. Stevenson and Wolfers accept this explanation, but only to a point. "The natural thing for people to assume is, of course, women are less happy than men because they have to juggle a career and kids and they're tired," says Stevenson. "But this is not just a story about moms. It might be about women pushing themselves to excel."

Full Story at MacLean's

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