The Decline of Women’s Happiness Part II


Pink flowerIn part I of Marcus Buckingham’s article on “What’s Happening to Women’s Happiness?” two trends seemed to be emerging regarding the general happiness barometer for women; 1) women are less happy than they were 40 years ago, as compared to men, and 2) as women get older, they get sadder.

There doesn’t seem to be a clear answer to why this trend exists (not all women are going through this, but a significant number are).   It is good to be aware of this trend so that women don’t feel isolated or believe it is just them.

Women’ Happiness: What We Know For Certain

by Marcus Buckingham
Are these trends increasing or decreasing?

They are increasing. According to the U.S. General Social Survey, women begin their lives more satisfied than men and then become less satisfied with every aspect of their lives as they age.

This used to be true. Today, statistics show that women don’t even begin their adult lives happier than men. Yes, in Churchill’s words, “There are lies, damned lies and statistics.” But still, it’s hard not to conclude that contemporary life is disproportionately stressful for young women, that this stress puts them at an immediate disadvantage and that this state of affairs is damaging, wasteful and needless.

So, if you find it hard to relate to the gradual decline in women’s happiness, if you always feel focused and successful, with plenty of energy and time, and what few doubts you have are quickly drowned out by the many moments of real fulfillment, well done to you.

Just know that, in aggregate, the next generation of women doesn’t feel as you do.

What is causing men’s happiness to rise?

Some of you looked at the gradual climb in men’s happiness and wondered whether ‘”feminism had benefitted men more than women.” You may be right, though the data point the other way—in 1977, 35 percent of men in dual-earner couples reported feeling some kind of work/life conflict, whereas today 59 percent of men do.

However, we know what is causing men’s slight increase in happiness, and it’s not feminism. It’s increased prosperity. Over the past 40 years, the Gross Domestic Product of the United States has climbed 3.1 percent per year and, though money neither buys nor sustains happiness for individuals, increases in national GDP do correlate to increases in national levels of happiness.

This makes women’s decline even more startling. The tide of prosperity should have raised everyone’s spirits, but instead, women’s have gradually sunk lower.

Are women simply more honest about their feelings?

Maybe. Maybe men, in aggregate, are emotionally closed off, out of touch with their true emotions, and so, though they are actually as unhappy as women, they just don’t know it or won’t admit it.


But even if we accept this as true, surely it isn’t a recent development. If emotional distance is simply part of being a man and emotional sensitivity is part of being a woman, these characteristics would have been as true 40 years ago as they supposedly are today. That would make them a constant. In which case it’s hard to see how they could be the cause of these recent changes in women’s happiness.

What we do know for certain is that women are harder on themselves than men. When nationally representative polls of women and men are asked the question, “Which do you think will help you be most successful in life: building on your strengths or fixing your weaknesses?” men split right down the middle, whereas 73 percent of women report they would focus on fixing their weaknesses. This too may be a constant—and I stress “may” be—but if it is, then it is a constant that creates a downward spiral of dissatisfaction. Since women, as a group, believe that success flows from drilling down into their weaknesses, and since, as has happened to women over the past 40 years, they’ve gradually acquired more and more domains in which they are supposed to succeed, a researcher would expect to see women characterizing themselves more and more by who they aren’t, becoming more and more self-critical and more aware of their flaws and failings, all of which might well accelerate these dissatisfaction trend lines.

Are women unhappy because they are trying to become men?

Some of you suggested that what was causing the decline was women straying too far from their natural role as caretakers of the home and family, that, in a sense, women were better off 40 years ago, when the challenges of running a home and raising kids gave women a unique, valuable and, above all, focused role to play. (As I mentioned in my previous post, 42 percent of men and 39 percent of women do believe that it is natural for women to play this role.)

I have my own opinions on this: that while, for obvious reasons, women are compelled to make a greater biological investment in bearing and raising babies than men, this does not apply to raising toddlers and teenagers, nor to running the home, and that, even if it did, what is natural is not necessarily right. (It is natural for the strong to dominate the weak, but it is rarely moral.)

However, my opinions are beside the point. What we know for certain is that returning women to the role of primary caretaker won’t make most women happier. We know this because whenever and wherever the research is done on this subject, the results are always the same: Women with no kids are, in general, happier than women with kids. I realize this sounds perverse—who doesn’t love their kids?—and yet the research has been repeated so many times, in so many countries, there’s no escaping it. Kids, it turns out, are a bundle of stress. They may give our lives trajectory, and meaning, and purpose, but their gift to us is not happiness. Of course, this does not apply to all women—some women feel as though they were put here for the sole and express purpose of raising their kids and nothing, no professional dream or accomplishment, can compare to the joy of this. What the data show, though, is that these women are in the minority.

And the kids appear to be aware of this. A recent study of a thousand 3rd- through 12th-graders asked: “If you were granted one wish that would change the way that your mother’s work affects your life, what would that wish be?” In a parallel study, their mothers were asked to guess what their children would wish for. Here’s what they found: “Most mothers (56 percent) guessed that their children would wish for more time with them. In fact, only 10 percent of children made that wish. Their most frequent wish: ‘I want my mom to be less stressed and tired’ (34 percent).”


I have discovered for myself that when I reach inwardly and truly take some time to ask myself “is this what I truly want”, I do get an answer.  A voice inside of me knows how I have been detoured from what matters to me.  Trust your inward voice and possibly you will not become part of this trend.  It is okay to march by the beat of YOUR drum!

Own Your Happiness!

2 Responses to “The Decline of Women’s Happiness Part II”

  1. 1 Virginia

    I am not surprised that a man would not understand the unhappiness levels of women. Nor am I surprised that the very premise of the question is framed from an unabashedly statistical rather than more holistic or dare I say, female point of view. Your question is a backlash against women, implying that we would be happier minding our own business and staying at home. It says “I told you so”, in no uncertain terms.

    In the seventies, our view of the future was naively optimistic. We felt we would finally be recognized as individuals of intelligence and be valued for our logic and leadership capabilities. Our mates would share equally in raising our children and not find younger replacements for us as we grew older (something not mentioned in your statistics). And we would be respected, whether our work was outside of the home, or in the home. We would not sell out to the ideology of the corporate structure, but would change the system to respect the individual and have a healthier planet to boot.

    Women in politics would demand the end of wars as a tool of male domination and power. The blood of our brothers would not be shed by deceptions wrapped in a flag. Women who chose religious lives would become Ministers and Priests instead of more subservient sisters or nuns. And we were going to break away from the ever cheerful, amenable facades we wore which were necessary for keeping the peace in our male dominated households.

    Despite the limited progress women have made in an entrenched male power structure, it has not brought about the egalitarian, ethical, life affirming change that we know is still necessary. The women who have succeeded in power have too often done so by playing by the established old boy rules instead of rewriting them. Now we are living with the consequences of our concessions to corruption and male power.

    Making our way through the mine field of male culture has not meant that we have gained influence as much as we have traded it in for another version of societal conditioning. Male dominated group think transitioned into sociologically sophisticated, “it takes a village” group think where children were taught their values by state education, not by their overburdened parents. But we did not bear our children to have them taught values in school that contradict our own.

    Nor, in our wildest dreams for a scientifically advanced, healthy world, did we bear our children to be crippled by toxins in vaccines that we were told would safeguard their health. We did not bear our children to have their bodies, and ours contaminated by the chemicals and pollutants in our air, our water, our food and everything that affects our daily lives. Our planet has been ravaged by the very progress that we were told would save the world, and by the very profiteers who now own the environmental movement and it’s political muscle. And you wonder why we are unhappy?

    We did not raise our children have no economic future except as soldiers whose job it would be to use civilians as guinea pigs for sound control weapons or depleted uranium or massive chemical exposure. Weapons which in turn would contaminate our soldiers as well. Nor did we raise them to lose their humanity for the creation of an effective killing force for corporate profit. Our soldiers are broken and may never meet the potentials they were born with. And no land contaminated by this kind of war will be productive for growing food, for raising healthy families or making peace.

    We watch as countless wars and false flag engagements rob us of our wealth and of our sons and daughters and their future. And we are angry for our daughters who are raped in military service at a rate which exceeds one in three. Instead of serving as they had intended to establish peace (albeit ill defined), they are the victims again, of the entrenchment of male violence.

    We have been betrayed and now see the truth of it. We played a part in letting our society descend into this quagmire and you want to know why we are sad.

    We are not happy because our gains have come in what is still a male dominated world. We do not have equality. We are not happy because we witnessed the depth of corruption, in our (too soon to be global) culture, which is the antithesis of the ethics we require. We are sad that our daughters and sons are another generation of pawns on a chessboard. Our political system has fallen to a point almost unrecognizable as that of a free people and we are ashamed of the evil that our country has done in our name.

    We are saddened but wiser and our anger will transform into loving determination. We shall have the world we want. It won’t be controlled by a illegitimate global government or a wealthy power elite. It will no longer be shaped by consensus building toward a collectivist hive. It will be founded on the freedom and wisdom of every individual, every couple, family, community, county, state and nation….in that order. Only in that way, can each of us, male or female transform into the wise and ethical beings that we know we can be.

  2. 2 Lu Martinez

    Dear Virginia – I hear you, thank you for taking the time to be so eloquent. There are many reasons why the “disappointments” have occurred for women. The old “thought-forms” under the masculine energy have prevailed for many centuries. However, I want to share that I truly believe the shift from the old fear, control, greed, aggressive based “thought-forms” have begun their transformation. I have come across many males and females with higher “thought-forms” and it both excites me and gives me much hope.

    You shared – “We shall have the world we want. It won’t be controlled by a illegitimate global government or a wealthy power elite. It will no longer be shaped by consensus building toward a collectivist hive. It will be founded on the freedom and wisdom of every individual, every couple, family, community, county, state and nation….in that order. Only in that way, can each of us, male or female transform into the wise and ethical beings that we know we can be.”

    I agree that transformation starts at the individual level and integrates into all other types of forms (couple, family, community…etc.). The higher vibrational frequencies that we have and will be experiencing for some years will help in accelerating our “individual” transformations…within the next couple of decades I truly believe we will look back and say “boy we never thought these changes would come along in my life time.”

    I have come across a great site called Sounds True which has audios (and transcripts) of wonderful interviews with people who I believe have made many transformations in their lives and will continue to do so as long as they allow it. Link is

    I quote the following interview with Rick Jarow, PhD, alternative career counselor, an associate professor of religion at Vassar College, and author of Creating the Work You Love: Courage, Commitment, and Career; In Search of the Sacred; Alchemy of Abundance; and more.

    Rick Jarow: Another reason why people aren’t getting what they want is because they don’t know what they want. Most of the things that people say that they want are reactions to cultural propaganda. How many of us have really done the work and dug deep into ourselves and talked to our contemporaries, our families, and our friends and really come out with, what do we want? Because what I want has to be in relationship to you. In LA and everyplace else, one of the first things people learn in manifestation is to manifest parking spaces. But what if someone else needed that parking space more than you? What if someone really needed that space? So without some kind of ethical underpinning, without some kind of community connection, without some kind of we the I manifesting what I want is almost satanic. Sorry, but . . . I’m getting dramatic. [laughs].

    Tami Simon: It’s okay, keep going, man, keep going.

    Rick Jarow: My working definition of the devil is the private pursuit of happiness because it’s going to lead to amazing misery. You’ll be King Midas, you’ll have everything you want. Everything will manifest in front of you like Tom Cruise in Vanilla Sky and there’s no other. It’s the ultimate loneliness. It’s the ultimate opposite of being one with everything and everyone…

    Peace, freedom, kindness, patience, and generosity are what I’m looking for and it’s interesting, I used to see it as my freedom is the absence of anxiety. Like I don’t need money, I don’t want money, I don’t not want money. I want to be free with money. I don’t want to be anxious about money. That would be my freedom—not how much I have. Likewise with a relationship. Likewise with my house or my car. And so one barometer for me is the absence of anxiety, but the other one is the ongoing feeling of the manifestation of kindness. Because kindness to me is the overflow. It means that I’m full and to me the fullness is being the witness of the divine grace happening at every moment. Being the ongoing present witness of the unfolding of miraculous reality, and that I can be there whether you’re in your penthouse in New York City or whether you’re dying of cancer in the hospital. That I want to be there with you with an open heart. That’s what I’m going for. So the process for me is every day to be really conscious of what triggers me and what closes my heart. To understand that, to breathe through that and to understand that I can let it go because walking around this world with a closed heart didn’t do me any good.

    There are many more males and females that I believe are leaving the old way of being and thinking and wanting to create NEW communities, politics, medicine…etc.

    Wishing you well in your continued transformation.

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