We talk a lot here about whether our consumption-based economy and culture makes people happy. Because, since consumption of resources is the root cause our planet's woes, it would be an awful shame if it turned out that we were wrecking the planet without even increasing human happiness.
And it turns out, by the way, that this may be exactly the case. I've written before about how, in spite of a growing economy and commensurate increased resource use, American life satisfaction has flatlined.
Now a new study out of Wharton, published in the National Bureau of Economic Research, shows that women's happiness in the developed world has not just stalled, it is actually going down. Under the title "The Paradox of Declining Female Happiness," authors Betsey Stevenson and Justin Wolfers point out:
By most objective measures the lives of women in the United States have improved dramatically over the past 35 years. Moreover, women believe that their lives are better; in recent polls asking about changes in the status of women over the past 25 or 50 years, around four in five adults state that the overall status of women in the U.S. has gotten better (and the remaining respondents break two-for-one towards “stayed the same” over “worse”).22 Additionally, the 1999 Virginia Slims Poll found that 72% of women believe that “women having more choices in society today gives women more opportunities to be happy” while only 39% thought that having more choices “makes life more complicated for women.” Finally, women today are more likely than men to believe that their opportunities to succeed exceed those of their parents.
Yet trends in self-reported subjective well-being indicate that happiness has shifted toward men and away from women. This shift holds across industrialized countries regardless of whether the aggregate trend in happiness for both genders is flat, rising, or falling: in all of these cases we see happiness rebalancing to reflect greater happiness for men relative to women. This finding of a decline in women’s well-being relative to that of men raises questions about whether modern social constructs have made women worse off, or alternatively about the interpretability of subjective well-being data analyzed over long-time periods. Despite findings of higher well-being among women in countries with less gender discrimination (Bjørnskov, Dreher and Fischer 2007), the decrease in gender discrimination since the 1970s has not improved the (subjectively perceived) lot of women.
These are just two paragraphs, of course, from a 45-page paper. Stevenson and Wolfers discuss many potential reasons for the potential drop in subjective well-being amongst women.
But my reason for mentioning this study is that it points to the failure of long-standing governmental policy that puts at its center the idea that increasing economic--and therefore resource--throughput will bring increased happiness. If it worked, why would the larger half of our adult population be unhappier. Maybe there should be different policy emphases?
Because if women--for whatever reason--have grown more unhappy over the last 30 years then, to my way of thinking, we have yet more evidence for the fact that we are trashing the planet for a way of life that doesn't even make us happy.
Trash the planet. Trash women's happiness.
What do you say we start looking for a way of life that makes both the planet and the people happier?
Meanwhile, what are your thoughts on the relationship of our way of life and women's happiness?
Photo courtesy of The Week.
Colin Beavan (that's me!) is now leading a conversation about finding a happy, helpful life at Colinbeavan.com. If you want to know how people are breaking out and and finding authentic, meaningful lives that help our world, check it out the blog here and sign up to join the conversation here.