TIME magazine just published a special report, “The State of the American Woman.” The Rockefeller Foundation, in collaboration with TIME, conducted a landmark survey of gender issues to assess how individual Americans are reacting. What they wanted to know was whether the battle of the sexes was really over, and if so, did anyone win? I guess it depends on how you define winning, because one of the more challenging aspects of this report is what was said about women’s happiness:
Among the most confounding changes of all is the evidence, tracked by numerous surveys, that as women have gained more freedom, more education and more economic power, they have become less happy. No tidy theory explains the trend, notes University of Pennsylvania economist Justin Wolfers, a co-author of The Paradox of Declining Female Happiness. “We looked across all sectors — young vs. old, kids or no kids, married or not married, education, no education, working or not working — and it stayed the same,” he says of the data.
This has also been reported elsewhere. For example, Maureen Dowd of The New York Times wrote an op/ed piece in September about the same trend, titled “Blue is the New Black.” These media reports have in common the Wharton study released in May titled, “The Paradox of Declining Female Happiness.” In my opinion, the Wharton study uncovered one important reason for declining female happiness in an age that upended what feminist Betty Friedan saw as the problem back in 1963: the trapped housewife syndrome. Now that women are no longer bound by what Friedan saw as the primary problem of women, you’d think we’d all be happier. But the Wharton study noted the emotional ties to home still affect women:
Arlie Hochschild’s and Anne Machung’s The Second Shift (1989) argued that women’s movement into the paid labor force was not accompanied by a shift away from household production and they were thus now working a “second shift”. However, time use surveys do not bear this out. Aguiar and Hurst (2007) document relatively equal declines in total work hours since 1965 for both men and women, with the increase in hours of market work by women offset by large declines in their non-market work. Similarly, men are now working fewer hours in the market and more hours in home production. Blau (1998) points to the increased time spent by married men on housework and the decreased total hours worked (in the market and in the home) by married women relative to married men as evidence of women’s improved bargaining position in the home. However, it should be noted that the argument went beyond counting hours in The Second Shift. Women, they argued, have maintained the emotional responsibility for home and family: a point that is perhaps best exemplified by the familiar refrains of a man “helping” around the house or being a good dad when “babysitting” the kids. Thus even if men are putting in more hours, it is difficult to know just how much of the overall burden of home production has shifted, as measuring the emotional, as well as physical, work of making a home is a much more difficult task.