The results are in. And the result, of the happiness battle of the sexes, is……
A draw! I know, boring! But unfortunately, men and women usually score approximately equal in happiness studies. There’s the odd study that puts men slightly higher, and the odd one that puts women slightly higher, but most studies fail to find a difference in happiness and gender.
What these studies all measure though, is the average. What is interesting is that women experience more unhappiness and negative emotions; more sadness, anxiety, shame and guilt. This is balanced out by their experience of stronger and more frequent positive emotions. So women experience a greater range and intensity of emotion than men, but when averaged out, it’s about the same.
There are other differences too. Another study investigated the link between happiness and gender by following a group of people over the course of their lives, and found that women tend to be happier in early life, and men tend to be happier in later life. The authors suggest two reasons for this. Firstly, women are more likely to have met their goals for their ‘goods and family life’ goals (the stuff and the family they want) earlier in life, while men reach them later.
The second explanation is the proportion of men and women in marriage or committed relationships tends to change as people get older, because the husband tends to be older than the wife. And as we’ve already seen, marriage is a potential cause of happiness.
So when it comes to happiness, the sexes come out equally. This saddens me, for it disputes one of my earliest scientific predictions. When I was 6, I hypothesised that “boys rule and girls drool.” Alas, my theory fails to find support once again.?
Diener, E, Suh, E. M., Lucas, R. E., Smith, H. L. (1999). Subjective Well-Being: Three Decades of Progress. Psychological Bulletin, 125(2), 276-302
Nolen-Hoeksma, S. and Rusting, C.L. (1999). Gender differences in well-being – In Kahneman et al (1999) Well-Being: The Foundations of Hedonic Psychology, New York: Russell Sage Foundation
Plagnol, A. C. & Easterlin, R. A. (2008). Aspirations, Attainments, and Satisfaction: Life Cycle Differences Between American Women and Men. Journal of Happiness Studies.