A recent article in The Times reported that women are less happy than men (May 31st 2009). According to a study published in May by the National Bureau of Economic Research in the United States, well being and life satisfaction do not match up with advances in social circumstances and material comforts.
After 40 years of fighting for equality, it seems that women have made some advances: the gender wage gap has partly closed; educational attainment has risen and is now surpassing that of men; women have gained an unprecedented level of control over fertility and technological change, in the form of new domestic appliances, has freed women from domestic drudgery. But when asked to rate their happiness the answers showed men were happier than women and in America women are less happy than they were 40 years ago!
When measures of women’s happiness started to dip, some sociologists reached for a simple solution known as the “second shift”. Women’s opportunities in paid employment had increased, but their domestic load had not correspondingly reduced. The belief was that they were going out to work then doing a “second shift” at home — no wonder they weren’t ecstatic.
Sorry, that won’t wash, say Stevenson and Wolfers. Surveys of how individuals spend their time show that for both men and women total work hours (combining paid or domestic) have declined since 1965. Perhaps it is more in the perception of how life should be that affects the feelings of women?
“Women do stub their toes on the work-life balance much more than men,” she said. “Even if they have solved it (in practical terms), they worry about it.
“So they are probably going to say, ‘Well, I’m not as happy as I could be because I’m carrying this burden of worry’.”
Though nobody has isolated a convincing reason for the decline in women’s happiness, there is a consensus of sorts. As Oswald put it: “The lead theory is that women’s lives have become more complicated in many dimensions, unlike men who have to balance a smaller number of balls.
“It is probably still true that men do fewer things well.”
Pine agreed: “One can always point to increasing pressures on women. We are now trying to have careers and families and look good for longer. It may be that in trying to have it all we are feeling that we may have set ourselves an impossible goal.”
Siobhan Freegard, founder of the website Netmums, discovered her own measure of how women’s happiness has declined. A survey of her site users indicated that levels of the “baby blues” experienced by new mothers have risen sharply since 30 years ago. So she set about asking experts to formulate a programme to help.
“In our research one key problem that emerged was that we all move around a lot now,” said Freegard. “About 60% of women no longer live near their extended family and the same proportion of women haven’t replaced that family support with a new social network. The whole breakdown of community is a factor.
So we set people tasks. Be part of networks. Join groups. Speak to an old lady. Talk to your shopkeeper. Phone someone you haven’t had a good chat with for ages and so on.”
The happiness of participants was tested before and after the programme — and at the end they were on average 16% happier.
Might such ordinary, everyday connections be more important to happiness than impossible dreams to have it all?
“We pushed so hard for equal rights, for having the right to work, for having equal status, we pushed hard to have choice,” she said. “But what we hear back from many mums is: I have no choice, I have to work, I don’t love my career, my childminder is taking half my salary and I’d rather bring up my children myself but I can’t afford to.
“I’m not saying women shouldn’t work. If you enjoy your job and it’s a fulfilling career, that is a positive choice. But if it’s not . . . it’s almost in some ways that we got it all, then found that actually it wasn’t quite what we wanted.”
Activate has been around for forty years and during that time we have always been encouraging our supporters to be connected with their communities and neighbours as well as spending quality time with friends. But we know that it is not in community or work/life balance or shared domestic roles that happiness is found. The only answer is Jesus, a relationship with Him is the key to contentment and lifelong fulfillment. Forty years on, let’s not lose sight of this vital message, women around us need Jesus more than ever!