You’ve come a long way, baby! Remember that advertisement? Well, it’s actually true, according to “The Paradox of Declining Female Happiness.” But the same recent study says that women are generally not as happy as are men:
“The gender wage gap has partly closed.” [Women’s] educational attainment has risen and is now surpassing that of men; women have gained an unprecedented level of control over fertility; technological change in the form of new domestic appliances has freed women from domestic drudgery; and women’s freedoms within both the family and market sphere have expanded.”
This statement sounds like it’s doing no more than stating the obvious. However, the twist in the report is the happiness or satisfaction, based on subjective criteria, has decreased among women along with the expanded opportunities.
This leads to the question now being debated. What exactly is the reason for the unhappiness? Feminists claim that the reason is that women may have greater opportunities in the work force while maintaining the majority of the burden of domestic responsibilities.
However, those on the other side of the political spectrum read these results differently. Katherine Kersten, a writer with the Star Tribune, responds to the feminist claim:
“Sorry, the data don’t bear this out, according to the Wharton study. Since 1965, it says, men and women have experienced relatively equal declines in total hours worked. Women are working more hours in the market but significantly fewer at home, while men are working fewer hours in the market and more at home.”
So, if it’s not about women doing “double duty,” working both in and outside of the home, then what is it? Kersten offers another perspective on the issue. She says that what’s happened is a series of trade-offs that have left women short-changed. The feminist call for sexuality without commitment and for the rejection of the institution of marriage affected both men and women and, as a result, men followed suit, avoiding the obligations of marriage and family. This trend led to the next one, as the divorce rate doubled within the decade between 1965 and 1975. The damage done to marriage devastates men, women, and children. However, according to Kersten, women and children paid a very high price:
“Maybe we women got the whole happiness thing backwards. Years ago, we assured ourselves of a golden road ahead if we could throw off all that had tied us down and limited our options in the past. But perhaps there was something in those ties themselves — those ‘prisons’ of family, marriage and other fundamental obligations — that had the power to bring us closer to our true goal.”
There is no simple answer to why women are not as happy as are men post “feminist revolution.” However, as a new mother, I have to admit that as a culture we seem to have lost the value of focusing just on family if that’s what we’d like to do. I know very few women with that kind of freedom. Oh for the good ‘ol days!