Thursday, September 27, 2007

Happiness Gap Between Women and Men

Fifty years ago, at a Smith College alumni reunion, Betty Friedan handed out a questionnaire asking classmates how they felt about their lives, which inspired the sacred text of gender inequality, “The Feminine Mystique.”

Now, according to the New York Times, researchers studying data about people’s satisfaction have made a discovery: “In the early 1970s, women reported being slightly happier than men. Today, the two have switched places.”

To explain why, the social scientists report: “Since the 1960s, men have gradually cut back on activities they find unpleasant. They now work less and relax more.

“Over the same span, women have replaced housework with paid work--and, as a result, are spending almost as much time doing things they don’t enjoy as in the past. Forty years ago, a typical woman spent about 23 hours a week in an activity considered unpleasant, or 40 more minutes than a typical man. Today, with men working less, the gap is 90 minutes.”

All this suggests that inequality has not disappeared but morphed. The educated women Betty Friedan found unhappy as housewives now have careers but are still doing most of the caring for homes, children and aging parents.

If there were a companion movement to Feminism, Masculinism might examine to what extent all this is due to unfair expectations of women or just the fabled insensitivity of men who are happy to spend their free time drinking beer and watching ball games on TV.

Behind such clich├ęs, at the brink of possibly electing a woman to run the country, there are complicated questions about family politics to be aired and considered. Perhaps Bill Clinton, Michelle Obama, Elizabeth Edwards, Judith Giuliani and Jeri Thompson can get together and start a national discussion.

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