Has Feminism Been Bad For Women?
Ross Douthat wrote a column yesterday bemoaning the decline of female happiness. The takeaway is that women are less happy, both in absolute terms and relative to men, than they were before Betty Friedan published her manifesto. "All the achievements of the feminist era may have delivered women to greater unhappiness," Ross writes.
That is, I think, what we'd call a correlation/causation error. There's no evidence that women wouldn't be much more unhappy without the advancements of the past 50 years. Same goes for men, for that matter. Both groups would be, among other things, quite a bit poorer. And this data would be measuring something else for women: Happiness at home, rather than at home and at work. Meanwhile, some of the data directly contradict Ross's reading. "Male happiness has inched up, and female happiness has dropped," he says. But that's not universally true. The paper (pdf) he's using, by the economists Betsey Stevenson and Justin Wolfers, contains this graph:
What's striking about that graph is not that women are less happy. It's that men and women alike -- that is to say, everyone -- have grown markedly less happy over that time period. Women's satisfaction has dropped a bit more quickly, but not all that much. And the two sexes are much closer to each other than to their 1960s-era selves. Or take this data, on suicide rates:
As the authors say, "contrary to the subjective well-being trends we document, female suicide rates have been falling, even as male suicide rates have remained roughly constant through most of our sample." This is the sort of thing that economists might call "revealed preference." Happiness is a subjective measure. Suicide rates aren't.
Which is all to say that data this broad are, inevitably, a bit of a Rorschach test. A lot of variables go into individual happiness, after all. Among them, expectations. The Danish are famous for being very happy because they expect very little. Women might be less happy because they now have the opportunity to desire more from life. Or maybe not. The best we can say, really, is that the data are sort of interesting. What we can't say is that it confirms our suspicion that feminism was bad for women.
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