Liberated Women Are Sad

Says Ross Douthat, or rather the study he cites:

In the 1960s, when Betty Friedan diagnosed her fellow wives and daughters as the victims of “the problem with no name,” American women reported themselves happier, on average, than did men. Today, that gender gap has reversed. Male happiness has inched up, and female happiness has dropped. In postfeminist America, men are happier than women.

This is “The Paradox of Declining Female Happiness,” the subject of a provocative paper from the economists Betsey Stevenson and Justin Wolfers. The paper is fascinating not only because of what it shows, but because the authors deliberately avoid floating an easy explanation for their data.
He then goes on to dismiss two interpretations and then suggest precisely two:

A strict feminist and a stringent gender-role traditionalist alike will probably find vindication of their premises between the lines of Wolfers and Stevenson’s careful prose. The feminist will see evidence of a revolution interrupted, in which rising expectations are bumping against glass ceilings, breeding entirely justified resentments. The traditionalist will see evidence of a revolution gone awry, in which women have been pressured into lifestyles that run counter to their biological imperatives, and men have been liberated to embrace a piggish irresponsibility.
It does not occur to him that the freedom to be honest and complain is actually a part of that revolution he's talking about. "Being unpleasant" and "being unattractive" are heavy weaponry when used against a group of people who must make their way in the world by being pleasant and attractive, as opposed to by their intelligence, strength, and hard work. A woman in the 60s who sat down and said, "my life is unfulfilling and I am unhappy," would have to deal with the consequences of "being that way." A woman today has less to worry about. It's even (almost) fully acceptable today (in certain circles) to complain about how motherhood sucks and having children ain't all it's cracked up to be. This is a case where freedom equals the ability to mention that you're unhappy.

So perhaps there's maybe just one more way to interpret that data after all.

(Oh, and as for men's happiness inching up, has he considered how much smaller a percentage of the male population today is made up of war veterans who've had to deal with killing people, watching friends die, and fearing death themselves in battle zones? Just a thought.)

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