The Better Half

Most of the women reading this will likely conclude this headline refers to them, and they’d be right. However, it’s not the half that feels better about life. Despite advancements in women’s health, job equality, graduation rates, life expectancy and other areas, female happiness in America is on the decline.

Have you heard the phrase, “When Momma’s happy, everybody’s happy?” The opposite is also true. When wives are miserable, we tend to bring the family down to our level. Ross Douthat of the The New York Times recently reported research from economists Betsey Stevenson and Justin Wolfers discussing “The Paradox of Declining Female Happiness,” in America and its possible reasons.

I’m interested in your input about why women’s happiness is declining. Do you agree with this trend, and if so, what are the causes?

Current trends are likely only part of the explanation. For instance, the NYT cites the decline of the two-parent family as a likely cause for lower life satisfaction of single mothers. However, declining happiness rates cut across race, class and economic levels. Other reasons discussed may include the increasing female workload; despite more women working outside the home with ever greater responsibilities, they still do the majority of household chores. Yet, the economists show similar workload patterns for men and women.

Douthat says both feminists and traditionalists will find a lot of economic data in the report to help them prove their own claims. However, he urges the two groups to find common ground and join forces. He even suggests some new stigmas may be in order—but unlike what they were a generation ago—that would create a modern “social revolution that ostracizes serial baby-daddies and trophy-wife collectors as thoroughly as the ‘fallen women’ of a more patriarchal age.” He doesn’t expect this to actually occur, calling our current society a “kindler, gentler, more forgiving country than it was 40 years ago” and one unlikely to accept sexual stigmas of any kind.

Do you think the declining happiness rates have everything to do with family structure, or are women seeking the wrong kind of satisfaction? My inclination is to think it’s a combination of factors. Many women strive for the nice house and suburban lifestyle, with pedicures and shopping trips on Saturdays, then once they achieve that lifestyle find it rather unfulfilling. Women of lower socioeconomic groups are working harder than ever to provide for their families with no rest in sight. Decreasing personal connections (which are different from online “friends”) and spreading of extended families also affects how women are able to cope with common stresses of marriage, work and parenting. “Busy” or “stressed” seem to be modern badges of honor.

Even in our chaotic lives and families, there has to be room for joy. (See past post on “Is your family seeking happiness or joy?) Do you see women as fairly unhappy or happy overall? How do you fit into the spectrum? How important is happiness to you?  For men, do you feel happier than the women in your life, or are they just more vocal about life’s challenges?

Link to the NYT article, Liberated and Unhappy.

One response to “The Better Half

  1. I completely agree…if my husband and I have a little tiff before work – EVERYONE suffers…they all get his wrath…all because of me (oops…)

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