Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Trends in happiness by sex

Leave it to Ross Douthat, the Times's newest contestant on the Replace William Safire show, to write about a new NBER paper by Betsey Stevenson and Justin Wolfers that reveals disturbing trends in subjective happiness by sex.

The authors document that female happiness appears to have declined in absolute terms and also relative to that of men in the U.S. since 1970, and the decline relative to men during that period is also found in Europe. This is striking in light of how many measures of gender equality have improved, although as Douthat points out, objective measures are quite different from expectations, aspirations, or perceptions of glass ceilings and progress in breaking them down. It is particularly interesting that the U.S. trend does not seem to be confined to those hardest-hit by the stresses of work and family, single moms.

A relative decline is plenty for policy implications. But what's also intriguing is that the researchers find very different trends in male happiness in different countries. An outlier in their study is western Germany, where men and women reported equal deteriorations in happiness, thus no change in the sex gap in happiness.