The Frontal Cortex

Are Men Happier than Women?

From David Leonhardt:

There appears to be a growing happiness gap between men and women.

Two new research papers, using very different methods, have both come to this conclusion. Betsey Stevenson and Justin Wolfers, economists at the University of Pennsylvania (and a couple), have looked at the traditional happiness data, in which people are simply asked how satisfied they are with their overall lives. In the early 1970s, women reported being slightly happier than men. Today, the two have switched places.

Mr. Krueger, analyzing time-use studies over the last four decades, has found an even starker pattern. 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.

These trends are reminiscent of the idea of “the second shift,” the name of a 1989 book by the sociologist Arlie Hochschild, arguing that modern women effectively had to hold down two jobs. The first shift was at the office, and the second at home.


  1. #1 agnostic
    September 26, 2007

    You’re going to observe a fair amount of heterogeneity by class — in the upper classes (including “upper-middle,” and most people reading SB), men are workaholics. Longitudinal studies of gifted adolescents & young adults show that men are more likely to prefer working over 50 hours per week.

    As you move down, that’s when you really start to see what the quote describes. And since these groups are far more numerous, their patterns obscure what’s going on among the elite.

    From the personality research, we know that women are more likely to experience both positive and negative emotions. On average, they score higher than men on these facets of Extraversion and Neuroticism, respectively.

  2. #2 Mark P
    September 26, 2007

    “They now work less and relax more.” This struck me as inconsistent with other things I have read. Are men working less now, and what research shows that to be the case?

  3. #3 Chuck
    September 26, 2007

    So what happened to Kevin Spacey’s character in American Beauty and Ron Livingston’s character in Office Space is happening to men at large?

  4. #4 Mark P
    September 27, 2007

    There is a nice analysis of this story and of some of the research here:

    Apparently there is less to it than meets the eye.

  5. #5 Daniel
    September 27, 2007

    Speaking as a man, I think the hardest thing about being a woman (besides the labor pains) would be the clothes situation. In the old days, women had to wear constricting and complicated clothes. Those times are gone, but still, it is sure alot easier for a man. We have a few uniforms that we can pick from and always look acceptable (a business suit, jeans and t-shirt, for example) and being a slob is sort of considered a masculine trait. But each and every woman must tailor a look that is “right for her” and even then, it is never right, it is always open to scrutiny and criticism. That would make me unhappy.

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    January 16, 2008

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    January 17, 2008

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    January 22, 2008

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