Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘Justin Wolfers’

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?

Read Full Post »

First, because we play fair in this space, a response to Barbara Ehrenreich’s commentary on the happiness gap — if you aren’t sick to death of it (FYI: we are) — from Justin Wolfers, one of the authors of the original study, in the New York Times. Read it here.

Second, a piece from Bloomberg by Sylvia Hewitt (You remember her from the piece Shannon posted a couple of days ago, yeah? If not, catch it here.) that again extols the virtues of flextime, points out that, though women will soon outnumber men in workforce, they are often the family’s sole breadwinner, shouldering “a disproportionate load of family responsibility and earn 20 percent less than men” All of which puts an “extra pressure on an already strained work-life balance.” Her solution, which benefits everything from families to the bottom line (and — hello, duh — the new majority of the workplace): more flextime.

Moreover, it’s been proven that flexibility is a powerful lure in recruiting and motivating top talent. Employees are able to concentrate without being interrupted by phone calls, meetings, and other workplace distractions. Eliminating watercooler gossip sessions — a significant time sink in a high-anxiety environment — is a huge boost to productivity. And knowing that an employer trusts and respects its people enough to help them do what it takes to perform better — through remote work options, staggered schedules, and reduced-hour arrangements — pays back in greater appreciation and loyalty.

Finally, last but hardly least, yesterday’s post ended with the question:

Sure, we’ve got the options we wanted, but why do we still have trouble navigating them? Which leads to my question: Why did our work stall, and how do we get rolling again?

The best answer, along the lines of “we need to get over ourselves” came from Colleen:

I think it all goes back to what my parents used to tell me when I complained as a child… Life isn’t fair. Or easy. Be careful what you wish for. Don’t wish your life away. The list goes on.

Sadly or maybe not, I think it is a part of human nature to always want more and to not be content with what you have. It’s what got us these F*%&ing choices in the first place, what makes us work through the imperfection of the choices now and what will make the choices even better in the future.

But, sometimes you just need a little time to vent… complaining feels good, it does! So, we feminists need to do what I did as a kid, lay down on the kitchen table, kick and scream and pound your fists for a minute or two, and then get to work.

Dig it. And have a good weekend.

Read Full Post »

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?

Read Full Post »

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 229 other followers