As women gain political, economic and social freedoms, one would expect that they should feel even more contented relative to men. But this isn’t so.
The “paradox of declining female happiness” was pointed out by economists Betsey Stevenson and Justin Wolfers. They analyzed the happiness trends of US citizens between 1970 and 2005 and found a surprising result.
Evidence supports the idea that women’s rights and roles in the home in the US and Europe have not moved in step with changes in the workplace. Therefore, because women with jobs often do most of the chores and childcare, they shoulder a dual burden that cuts into their sleep and fun. There’s a greater pressure on women to meet responsibilities at home as well as work.
When the dual burden is carefully measured – as it has been across European countries – the results illustrate the influence that expectations have on how happy we feel.
Experiencing the dual burden leads working women in Sweden, for example, to feel more miserable than their counterparts in Greece, probably because Swedes’ expectations around gender equality are more ambitious. (Fewer than 35% of Swedish women do three-quarters of the housework, compared to 81% of Greek women.)
As women’s rights and opportunities have increased, it seems reasonable that women in industrialized countries have internalized ever more complex and optimistic expectations, and judged reality against these.
Asked how satisfied she is with her lot in life, the housewife of the early 1970s probably just reflected on whether things were going well at home. The same question today evokes evaluations across many areas of life.