Emancipation – Does it Make Women Happier?

December 1, 2010 Katharina Lochner
image female vs male jobs

Women have more opportunities than ever. What is the impact on their happiness?

Today, women are well-educated and can make a career, and their wages are approaching those of men. Many companies are striving for more women in management positions, and there are more and more female professors at universities. Compared to the 1970s, when women were still expected to be housewives and raise children, there is progress towards equal opportunities for men and women. However, does this increase in opportunities make women happier?

The Paradox of Declining Happiness Study by Betsey Stevenson and Justin Wolfers says no. The study shows that female happiness has been subject to decline since 1972, both in absolute terms and relative to men in the United States, and relative to men in the European Union. The only exception are African American women in the U.S. – they are happier today than they used to be in the 1970s.

On the basis of this article, Louisa Jewell wanted to find out what the reasons for this decline in happiness might be. She found four of them.

  • Women often feel overwhelmed, not only because they go to work and are responsible for family and household at the same time, but also because there is an increasing number of aspects of life that are important to them. They are not only striving for success at work and trying to be a good mother, wife, and housewife at the same time. It is also, for example, important to them to make a contribution to society or to be a leader in their community. And there are a lot of other domains they consider important. So life has become more complicated for them, happiness is a broader concept than it used to be.
  • Although a lot of progress has been made towards the equality of men and women, there are still few women in management positions. Lack of authority or control at the job, which women due to this fact experience more often than men, is assumed to lead to higher job stress levels in women compared to men. Stress in turn is detrimental to happiness.
  • By the media, certain ideals of beauty are promoted that many women compare themselves to. The feeling of not meeting the standard increases dissatisfaction and decreases happiness.
  • The so-called paradox of choice suggests that the greater the number of alternatives one can choose from, the greater the accumulation of regret for options not taken. So as women have more opportunities to choose from, they are also more subject to this mechanism, which results in less happiness instead of more.

For improving female happiness, Louisa Jewell gives some suggestions:

  • There is no need to be perfect in every domain of life. Focusing those domains that are important to us is a better option.
  • Finding a career that corresponds to personal values leads to mutual enrichment of work and private life. Finding a company that has a family-friendly culture contributes to this.
  • Limiting one’s media exposure, especially to women’s magazines, prevents one from comparisons that lead to dissatisfaction.

Being mindful after making a choice and drawing one’s attention to the moment prevents one from regretting not having taken another option.

About the Author

Katharina Lochner

Dr Katharina Lochner is the former research director for the cut-e Group which was acquired by Aon in 2017. Katharina is now a researcher and lecturer at the University of Applied Sciences Europe in Iserlohn, Germany. In her role at cut-e, she applied the research in organizational and work psychology to real-world assessment practice. She has a strong expertise in the construction and evaluation of online psychometric tools.

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