Happiness advice from my wife

by on September 26, 2007 at 7:20 am in Economics, History | Permalink

My wife, a PhD microbiologist, told me once that when she was at work she felt guilty about not being at home with the kids and when she was at home with the kids she felt guilty about not being at work.

This problem may explain a surprising finding from Betsey Stevenson and one of your leading candidates for "most wanted economist blogger," Justin Wolfers.  Stevenson and Wolfers have a new paper showing that happiness is up for men but down for women.   They write:

By most objective measures the lives of women in the United States have improved over the
past 35 years, yet we show that measures of subjective well-being indicate that women’s happiness
has declined both absolutely and relative to male happiness. The paradox of women’s declining
relative well-being is found examining multiple countries, datasets, and measures of subjective wellbeing,
and is pervasive across demographic groups. Relative declines in female happiness have eroded
a gender gap in happiness in which women in the 1970s typically reported higher subjective wellbeing
than did men. These declines have continued and a new gender gap is emerging–one with
higher subjective well-being for men.

One reason is suggested by Stevenson in a NYTimes article on her research with Wolfers and similar independent research from Alan Krueger. 

Ms. Stevenson was recently having drinks with a business school
graduate who came up with a nice way of summarizing the problem. Her
mother’s goals in life, the student said, were to have a beautiful
garden, a well-kept house and well-adjusted children who did well in
school. “I sort of want all those things, too,” the student said, as
Ms. Stevenson recalled, “but I also want to have a great career and
have an impact on the broader world.”

Opportunity brings opportunity cost.

In the NYTimes article David Leonhardt correctly notes that "Although women have flooded into the work force, American society hasn’t fully come to grips with the change."  Alas, all he has to offer as solution is the usual platitudes about subsidized daycare and how men should do more of the housework – peculiar solutions to women’s unhappiness with increased opportunities.  Leonhardt should instead have talked to my wife.

As I wrote this post, I asked my wife about her feeling guilty at home and at work but she told me she no longer feels this way.  "Really?" I asked,  "Why not?"

"I decided to act more like a man and get over it," she responded. 

export September 26, 2007 at 7:41 am
Jeff September 26, 2007 at 8:06 am

I hereby offer as a prize the contents of my wallet to anyone who can tell me the meaning of life, with the following stipulations:

1)no god
2)no work
3)no kids

these have been tried and rejected.

shawn September 26, 2007 at 10:11 am

…..unless you ask Cobain.

Johns September 26, 2007 at 10:33 am

There’s a relevant truism (myth? You decide) that says, “no man can be happier than his wife.”

Anonymous September 26, 2007 at 10:34 am

Hugh Heffner?
1.) no god
2.) no work
3.) no kids (unless you count all his girlfriends)

David Zetland September 26, 2007 at 10:43 am

sorry — the meaning of life IS kids (ie, genetic success). Without that, you must find an artificial — and therefore unstable and unfulfilling — reason to live. That’s what gave us philosophy, utility and the three-year car lease. Get over it, acknowledge that we are all useless, and do your best to cope.

I have a counter-argument that women’s sex lives have gotten better as they have achieved more choice and control. That’s precipitated the current problem with “what to do next?” now that women are not starting families at 20.

8 September 26, 2007 at 11:11 am

Be careful what you wish for, you just might get it.

Katie September 26, 2007 at 12:54 pm

Hugh Hefner has kids.

Jason Malloy September 26, 2007 at 1:41 pm

sorry — the meaning of life IS kids (ie, genetic success). Without that, you must find an artificial — and therefore unstable and unfulfilling — reason to live.

You’re standing on precarious ground, to say the least, when you start barking ex cathedras about who and who does not “have a reason to live”. Different people find their fullfilment in different ways: children, spouse, friends, art, job, leisure, pleasure, charity, politics, and so forth. To assert otherwise is not only insufferably arrogant, but demonstrably wrong. I can go into the General Social Survey and see for myself that children are barely significant (if not detrimental) to subjective well-being, much less the only “genuine” (whatever that means) source of happiness.

xx September 26, 2007 at 2:26 pm

I hereby offer as a prize the contents of my wallet to anyone who can tell me the meaning of life, with the following stipulations:

1)no god
2)no work
3)no kids

I think you should ask those weird guys in Burma who have been on TV lately. They’re supposed to know something about this stuff.

jb September 26, 2007 at 3:16 pm

Unless your ideology reproduces by asexual budding from teachers to students, as economics does.

The current Western civilization is dependent on convincing people to live according to its tenets, not breeding people who will do so automatically.

8 September 26, 2007 at 4:26 pm

The current Western civilization is dependent on convincing people to live according to its tenets, not breeding people who will do so automatically.

You mean like in Iraq?

A_Female_Brain September 26, 2007 at 5:55 pm

Dear Jeff:
I think you owe me the contents of your wallet. As any rational atheist knows, the answer is that there is no meaning to life. You exist, that’s it. What you make of your time is entirely up to you, hence free will. Make nothing of it, que sera sera.

This peculiar seeking of “meaning” is such a human affliction. Do you see other creatures wandering the earth bemoaning the meaning of their lives? No way, they are out there eating or being eaten.

You can submit my prize c/o Alex Tabarrok. Thanks!

Ray G September 27, 2007 at 1:20 am

That act like a man remark hits it right on target.

The guilt for not being at home is internally generated. The guilt about not being at work is externally generated.

The internal is natural, and can genuinely be described as guilt.

The external is not natural and can be better described as peer pressure; the impetus to live up to certain myths of our modern delusions.

Any men here struggling with inner-turmoil about spending more time taking care of the kids and their daily needs?

The Kids September 27, 2007 at 7:23 am

Mom, a PhD microbiologist, go self-actualize!
We’ll just straighten up around here and do our homework.

Katie Shen September 27, 2007 at 12:53 pm

The guilt for not being at home is internally generated.

You may believe it’s a “natural,” “internally generated” feeling, but yourself, a force external of any woman, are perpetuating it! How can you separate the so-called natural, internally generated causes of this guilt from the guilt you yourself encourage and cause?

PRice September 28, 2007 at 2:12 pm

Hello people:

I’d like to invite you all over to http://www.freedomainradio.com where we were also discussing this article.

Anon September 28, 2007 at 6:03 pm

Its really amazes me that neither psychologists nor economists haven’t raised the possibility that the sexual revolution reduced the bargaining power of women in their most valuable asset to men–sex–by deregulating the market for sex. After the sexual revolution, men no-longer had to give up their life time income for it–supposing that women were in fact using sex to bargain for other things,eg, “intimacy”, “emotional and financial security, that alone would diminish their happiness significantly. Maybe Freud was wrong!

Anon

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yoyo October 23, 2008 at 11:17 pm

DI instruction, hmm. I will contend that the though of teaching by script is a method which seems counterintuitive. Certainly I am not the only one who has heard that saying, “What is good for everyone, is good for no one.”

Of course reading that, I think of those things that are good for everyone – oxygen, water, and love.

Bringing things back to education – I also think that reading, writing and numeracy is good for everyone. And indeed become better for everyone the more people who can use them.

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