Happiness gender gaps

In happiness research, the recorded differences between men and women are small. In Australia, however, women are on average slightly happier than men, though the difference can be tiny – 0.2 on a 0-10 scale in the 2005 Australian Survey of Social Attitudes, the most recent data I can find.

In the United States, according to this recent paper (pdf) by Betsey Stevenson and Justin Wolfers, there used to a be a happiness gender gap favouring women, but now it favours men. Compared to 35 years ago, men are on average happier and women unhappier. As Stevenson and Wolfers say, this is a curious result. At least on most of the conventional measures, those were better years for women than for men.

According to The New York Times report of the research:

A big reason that women reported being happier three decades ago — despite far more discrimination — is probably that they had narrower ambitions, Ms. Stevenson says. Many compared themselves only to other women, rather than to men as well. This doesn’t mean they were better off back then.

But wouldn’t men face the added problem also of having to compare themselves to women? Boys now do worse in the classroom than girls, yet statistics reported in the Stevenson and Wolfers paper show that that same trend is apparent in school kids as it is in adults. Though competition with women is less tough in the workplace than in education, men have lost a lot of relative status since the 1970s without, it seems, any negative consequences for their average subjective well-being.
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