“Happiness Gap” Truthiness Check

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In a previous post I posed the question:
Why is less educational achievement and diminished career success making men happier?

Over at Language Log the “happiness paradox” data is debunked:

If we sum up all the GSS responses across years, we get these proportions of answers to the question “Taken all together, how would you say things are these days : would you say that you are very happy, pretty happy, or not too happy?”

Very happy Pretty happy Not too happy
Male 31.2% 56.7% 12.1%
Female 32.4% 55.1% 12.5%

In the responses for 1972, 1973, and 1974 (the earliest dates available), the overall proportions were:

Very happy Pretty happy Not too happy
Male 31.9% 53.0% 15.1%
Female 37.0% 49.4% 13.6%

In the responses for 2004, 2006, and 2008 (the most recent dates available), the proportions were:

Very happy Pretty happy Not too happy
Male 29.8% 56.1% 14.0%
Female 31.2% 54.9% 13.9%

The best way to describe this, I think, would be to say something like:

In the early 70s, women self-reported their happiness at levels somewhat higher than men did. Specifically, 5.1% more of the women reported themselves “Very happy”, while 1.5% fewer reported themselves “Not too happy”.

30-odd years later, in the mid 00s, women’s self-reported happiness was closer to men’s, though it was still slightly higher. 1.4% more of the women reported themselves “Very happy”, while 0.1% fewer reported themselves “Not too happy”.

To Arianna Huffington, this means that “women are becoming more and more unhappy”, while “men … have gotten progressively happier over the years”. To Maureen Dowd, this means that “Before the ’70s, there was a gender gap in America in which women felt greater well-being. Now there’s a gender gap in which men feel better about their lives.”   Ross Douthat described these numbers with the generalization “In postfeminist America, men are happier than women.”

All of these statements are either false or seriously misleading.   Maybe, if you look at the data through a sophisticated statistical model, you can support a conclusion about the relative signs of the long-term-trends for males and females.   But any way you slice and dice it, there’s not much there there.

–Ann Bartow

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