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Posts Tagged ‘Betsey Stevenson’

In a meeting last week, another editor and I got to discussing the state of the food section of our paper. (Perhaps we were hungry.) He immediately went on a tangent (okay, we were hungry), talking about how he was so interested to learn recently of the history of food criticism; how the food pages, once the provence of women and full of “lightweight” stuff like entertaining tips and easy recipes, were revolutionized when Criag Claiborne took over as  food editor at the New York Times.

“So once a man took it on it became legitimate?” I asked in a teasing voice.

“Well…?” he offered.

“So once a man took it on it became legitimate.” I said.

Now, granted: (prior to the whole $4,000 meal debacle) Claiborne did, in many ways, revolutionize what it was to be a food writer — hell, it was no longer food writing, with Claiborne, it became criticism. Whether the food pages’ newfound legitimacy had more to do with the fact that a man was now in the driver’s seat–or the chef’s hat, as it were–or that this particular man was in the driver’s seat is a question I can’t answer.

But I do think it’s worth asking. And I got to thinking about a similar question yesterday, when I saw a piece in the New York Times about men taking jobs in traditionally female-dominated fields. It features male dental assistants, nurses (paging Gaylord Focker!), teachers. Which is cool. But this part is not:

But these men can expect success. Men earn more than women even in female-dominated jobs. And white men in particular who enter those fields easily move up to supervisory positions, a phenomenon known as the glass escalator–as opposed to the glass ceiling that women encounter in male-dominated professions, said Adia Harvey Wingfield, a sociologist at Georgia State University.

Must be nice. (Hell, I’d settle for stairs.)

Interestingly, many of the men featured in the article did not take their jobs because of a recessionary lack of better options, but actually swapped higher-paying, faster-track careers for the “pink collar” jobs for reasons that would fall under the headings of “career satisfaction” or better “work-life balance.” There’s a story of an ex-IT guy who left his $150,000 salary for a nursing job where he’ll make a third of that, and who got choked up talking about a little girl giving him a hug. There’s an ex-lawyer turned teacher who wanted more time with his family, even an Army vet turned nurse. From the NYT:

Several men cited the same reasons for seeking out pink-collar work that have drawn women to such careers: less stress and more time at home.

Which speaks to something a tad more positive. More like progress, glass elevator notwithstanding. The piece goes on to cite Betsey Stevenson, a labor economist at the Wharton School who we also happened to interview for our book. Here’s her take:

 [Stevenson] said she was not surprised that changing gender roles at home, where studies show men are shouldering more of the domestic burden and spending more time parenting, are now showing up in career choices.

‘We tend to study these patterns of what’s going on in the family and what’s going on in the workplace as separate, but they’re very much intertwined,’ she said. ‘So as attitudes in the family change, attitudes toward the workplace have changed.’

Intertwined. Ain’t that the truth? And hey, maybe now that men are tangled up in the juggle too, maybe ideals like “work life balance” will take on the flavor of legitimacy.

Just a little food for thought.

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This just in: Men are as miserable as women. At least that’s what we learn from a new study by Arizona State professor Chris M. Herbst, who suggests that men’s happiness has taken as big a dive as women’s over the past several years.

We think that’s good news.

Back in 2009, Penn economists Betsey Stevenson and Justin Wolfers published ground-breaking research that sent the interwebs atwitter. Titled “The Paradox of Declining Female Happiness” the study found that while, 35 years ago or so, women reported being happier than men, today women–regardless of marital or employment status or whether or not they have kids–report being unhappier than men.

At which point, the pundits swarmed: Was the women’s movement — responsible for ushering women out of the kitchen and into the workplace — to blame for this happiness gap? Were women themselves at fault for not taking proper care of themselves? There must be something wrong with you if you’re not happy, the media howled. Blame yourself! Blame feminism! Blame your choices! Whatever you do, don’t assume it’s the rational response to life itself or to a workplace that has not changed to accommodate the new reality: though women represent close to half of the workforce, the workplace still operates like a set from “Mad Men”as if the ideal employee is one with Betty Draper at home to take care of business.

Back to Herbst’s study: Not content to let women own their own funk, he used a different measure of well-being — happiness is notoriously hard to measure, if not define — to find that men’s life satisfaction had not only declined as much as women’s over the past two decades, but had gone south even more rapidly than women’s in recent years:

Men and women have also experienced comparable slippages in self-confidence, growing regrets about the past, and declines in virtually every measure of self-reported health. In a further departure from [Stevenson and Wolfers] results, I find that although the downward trend in life satisfaction became less severe for men and women over time, the slowdown occurred more aggressively among women. As a result, men’s life satisfaction began to fall more precipitously than that for women beginning in the late-1980s.

He suggests the reason may be a combination of several factors based on the erosion in social and civic engagement — coupled with economic insecurity.

Maybe so, but we think there’s something else at play. Because we’re optimists, we tend to think that all of this declining happiness business may be a sign of something positive: gender roles are shifting, and we — men and women alike — are working through the growing pains. As men begin to share more of the second shift in our dual-career families, are they also sharing more of the angst? And will that lead to positive change?

A new study out of the Families and Work Institute seems to suggest yes. According to “The New Male Mystique,” released last month, as gender roles have begun to shift—men’s stress over work-and-family conflict has increased. Last year, we interviewed Ellen Galinsky, President of the Institute and an author of the report, for our book and she told us that preliminary data on increasing stress levels among men suggested that the idea of work–life fit might move out of the pink ghetto and start being framed as change that benefits all of us.

Some might snipe that it’s time already that men feel the conflict too. But Galinsky believes that, as the generation of men who are (or who expect to be) more involved at home climb the ranks, they’re likely to be more amenable to family-friendly policies. She said her studies find that when supervisors—regardless of age or gender—have responsibilities for kids or elders, they are seen as more supportive of work–life policies, because, said Galinsky, “when you go through it yourself, typically you feel different about it.

What’s more, she told us, when men as well as women leave work to pick up kids—or if dad does the drop-off at the onsite daycare center— the stigma, and that maternal wall, starts to go away. “In an ideal world,” Galinsky said, “work would work for you and your employer, and there are some policies that would help you do that, but where the rubber hits the road is how your supervisor and coworkers treat you. You can work at a company that has fantastic policies, or live in a country that has fantastic policies, and you can still have a horrible situation. There has to be a culture where people value personal and family time.”

All of which goes to the heart of what’s often left out of studies of satisfaction and well-being: what has been dubbed a personal issue is really a political one. Maybe instead of kvetching about who’s happier than whom, what we ought to be talking about is changes in workplace structures and public policy.

And wouldn’t that just make all of us just a little bit more, you know, happy?

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Wharton School’s Betsey Stevenson and Justin Wolfers published a study in May that’s been dubbed “The Paradox of Declining Female Happiness.” The title kinda says it all, but the gist is that, while, 35 years ago or so, women reported being happier than men, today women–regardless of marital or employment status or whether or not they have kids–report being unhappier than men. And, as one might imagine, dozens of articles came out in the wake of that study, riffing on the whys.

From the Sunday London Times:

There’s plenty more opportunities for women than there used to be–but then again, that means you are always questioning whether the moves you have made are correct, or whether you should have done something else.

From BusinessWeek:

Over the last 50 years, women have secured greater opportunity, greater achievement, greater influence, and more money. But over the same time period, they have become less happy, more anxious, more stressed, and, in ever-increasing numbers, they are medicating themselves for it,’ says management thinker and author Marcus Buckingham… ‘Better education and job opportunities and freedoms have decreased life happiness for women.

I don’t know about you, but I’ve got a bit of a problem with that assessment. (Not least because it’s coming from a guy.) The Washington Examiner’s Marta Mossburg had this to say:

Too many choices or opportunities can paralyze rather than inspire. Men are used to this. For women, opportunity is still a relatively new phenomenon, and often a confusing one.

and

Women’s declining happiness in the face of greatly expanded freedoms should come as no surprise. But neither should a reversal of the trend once they have the time to get used to it.

That I can get behind. What about you? What do you think? Does this idea get your hackles up, or do you think there might be a kernel of not-so-convenient truth in there? Would you be happier if your only career options were teacher, secretary, nurse; what if our society was down with arranged marriages, for that matter? And, okay, we’ll be happier once we get used to it. Swell. But in the meantime, we’re living our lives now, wishing we were just a tad happier than we are… So how do we get there?

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