Monday, July 28, 2008

Are Men Happier than Women?

An interesting article from the New Scientist blog, Short Sharp Science.

Are men happier than women?

by Tamsin Osborne, New Scientist contributor

I've just received the rather troubling news that I am doomed to be unhappy in later life. Or at least that's what a study published in the cheery sounding Journal of Happiness Studies implies.

The researchers claim that women start their adult lives happier than men, but from the age of 48 onwards are more glum.

Anke Plagnol, a sociologist at the University of Cambridge, and Richard Easterlin, an economist at the University of Southern California, compared survey responses from two separate data sets – one containing information on aspirations and attainments, and the other on satisfaction and happiness.

They concluded that the mid-life changeover in happiness levels comes down to unfulfilled desires.

Apparently, women are happy with their lot earlier in their lives, whereas men have bigger financial goals and tend to be unfulfilled during their 20s, both financially and in their family lives, which makes them miserable.

But by middle age, men have fulfilled their financial and family life goals and have cheered up, whereas women are more likely to be unfulfilled and unhappy.

The authors think a major factor underlying this is the shift in the proportion of men and women in relationships: men are more likely to be single in their 20s, and women are more likely to be alone in middle age.

They admit that this rests on the assumption that being married actually makes people happy, but they point out that if marriage is something you really want (and they found that 90% of both genders did), then being single might get you down.

There's also the point that people in relationships are likely to be better off financially.

Of course, it's quite possible that family life just suits men better than women, who often get the bulk of the childcare responsibility and often have to somehow fit in a job as well.

It is pretty amusing that, despite the fact that the research found men to have at least as much money, if not more, than women throughout their lives, they still had lower financial satisfaction. There's no pleasing some people!

These findings tie in with previous reports that, despite having more, recent generations are less satisfied with their lot than previous, poorer generations.

So perhaps the moral of this story is set your sights low and you won't be disappointed.
I wonder how much of this is cultural (women postponing their lives and happiness for the family), how much is hormonal (shifting balances of testosterone to estrogen ratios), how much is social, and how much might be gender-based in terms of personal fulfillment (or outliving spouses).

There are so many possible factors that might contribute to these findings. But it is disturbing to think that aging women are unhappy because they have never fulfilled their desires in life. That sucks.

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