Cognitive Daily

Men happier than women?

A New York Times article makes the claim that men are now happier than women:

Since the 1960s, men have gradually cut back on activities they find unpleasant. They now work less and relax more.

Over the same span, women have replaced housework with paid work — and, as a result, are spending almost as much time doing things they don’t enjoy as in the past. Forty years ago, a typical woman spent about 23 hours a week in an activity considered unpleasant, or 40 more minutes than a typical man. Today, with men working less, the gap is 90 minutes.

John Grohol read the article and became suspicious. Are men really working less than they did in the 1960s? All the data he could find suggested the opposite. He tracked down the research behind the Times article. He found that both papers discussed in the Times are actually unpublished. The first paper, claiming that men work less now than 40 years ago, was clearly flawed. The second paper’s conclusions seemed a little more solid, but again didn’t seem to reflect the clear gains women have made in the last few decades. So Grohol did a little of his own analysis:

I ran the same analysis the authors did, but with the missing third set of data. Voila! The missing set of data from “Pretty Happy” shows a clear upward trend from 1972 to 2006, which far better accounts for the downward decline of the “Very Happy” responses amongst women. The “Not Happy” category remains virtually unchanged as a trendline. So yes, women are becoming more “Pretty Happy” and less “Very Happy.” Given these are completely subjective terms, and that women’s role in modern American society has significantly changed (largely for the better) since 1972, I’m not sure I’d read all that much into these data. Certainly not as much as the authors have.

The presentation had omitted the rating “Pretty Happy” and only considered women who said they were “Very Happy,” finding a small decline in those numbers. Are women really less happy than they were in the 1960s, with all the opportunities they have today? Grohol has what he believes is a simpler explanation:

Times have become more complex and simplistic questions that ask about people’s “general happiness” aren’t a very good nor accurate gauge of real happiness in our lives.

I’m not sure I’d dismiss the data as quickly as Grohol. Subjective ratings do tell us something, don’t they? Perhaps women are actually less satisfied with the array of choices available to them. But Grohol is certainly right in suggesting that the actual research isn’t nearly as clear-cut as the Times article suggests.


  1. #1 faisal shah murad sahar
    September 27, 2007

    human beings are always misrable in every situation. women or men everyone feels bad about his/her situation or we can also say that everyone feels good about himself and the situation he/she is in. so i think both are the same as far as the matter of self conciousness is confisered

  2. #2 Dave Munger
    September 27, 2007

    Faisal, did you read the post? If so, did you understand it? Or did you just post a random platitude about human misery in order to be able to link back to your forum?

  3. #3 boojieboy
    September 27, 2007

    Not sure of a citation I could give, but IIRC, studies that ask people to give subjective ratings of the level of their current emotional state consistently show that average reported emotional state is just a little bit to the positive side of a neutral point. IOW, most people are at least slightly happy most of the time. I do an exercise in my classes (including Research methods in Psych) in which I have students self report their current level of happiness, or sometimes they do this as a survey of others, and its one of those things like the Stroop effect: it ALWAYS gives the same result. Not sure of what circumstances would move the median/mean happiness level around much, but I haven’t seen it budge very much over the last seven years. Of course, these are students and their friends we’re talking about, so they are most certainly not representative.

  4. #4 Pazuzu
    September 27, 2007

    Well happiness is not only relative and subject, it’s also impossible to sustain. Just as sadness and despair. Eventually no matter how good or bad it gets you get accustomed to the situation you are in, this is the result of the psychological accommodation and the result of its flexibility. That’s why people will never feel happy in an abstract and absolute way. We only appreciate our situation and feel satisfied by comparison to other potential situations.
    Now in the situation of women well I didn’t get to check the study but let’s not forget two points 40 years ago women were either working for their emancipation, hoping that it will solve all their problems or they were conventional women that considered that they are happy if they have a husband to love them and kids to perpetuate the species.
    And seriously man, the times aren’t a good source of info, I remember the time when they wrote about eroticized looks of Lebanese women and linked it to disruption in the male/female ratio…. sick people!

  5. #5 Becky
    September 30, 2007

    So I’m going to advance this theory without the hard data or references on me to back me up: There have been numerous studies to show that women who have entered the workforce have not had a large drop in the amount of housework done per week in comparison to non-wage earners. At the same time, men with working wives have not increased their average time spent on housework very much. More paid labor + almost equal unpaid labor= more unpleasant labor. I think these happiness results could be directly related to this lack of parity.

  6. #6 Neighborcat
    October 1, 2007

    I’m single and do all of my own housework, and I’m on average fairly happy. WTF?