Thirty years ago, when the women’s movement in the U.S. was gathering momentum, psychologists and economists who studied levels of satisfaction with one’s life found that women were slightly happier than men. On the whole, women took more pleasure in their daily activities than men did. In 2007, according to new research by economists at Princeton and the University of Pennsylvania, the situation has reversed itself: Men report being happier and more satisfied with their lives, overall, than women.
It seems that over the past three decades, men have managed to cut down on the amount of time they spend working hard, as well as time spent doing things they don’t enjoy. Their relaxation time has consequently expanded, resulting in an upswing of well-being.
Women, meanwhile, have generally added to their work load: full-time jobs on top of the ongoing burden of keeping the home and family intact. A recent study found that the average woman now spends 90 more minutes a week on tasks she finds unpleasant than does the average man, and that number has been rising.
The researchers suggest that women keep adding responsibilities while men are shedding them. For example, when it comes to elderly parents, women are expected to do the “heavy lifting”: helping pay bills, plan health care, assist in grocery shopping.
One possible reason for the relative dip in female happiness may be raised expectations: Not only must a woman thrive as a wife and mother, she must also rise to the top of the pile at the office. Not to mention maintaining her youthful looks in the age of Pilates classes, tummy tucks and Botox treatments. The consequence: a continuous feeling of failing to live up to some illusory “potential.”
What does the future hold? In 1976, 22 percent of high school senior girls reported being very satisfied with their lives, compared with 16 percent of their male peers. In 2007, the girls’ were still at 22 percent, while the boys have jumped to 25 percent.
It’s getting harder to be a woman in today’s world.