In a Los Angeles Times article published last month, Barbara Ehrenreich, author of Nickel and Dimed, comments on a study by University of Pennsylvania economists Betsey Stevenson and Justin Wolfers in which they conclude that women have become steadily unhappier since 1972.
Stevenson and Wolfers parallel their findings directly with the 1970s women’s movements, suggesting that perhaps the feminist movement provoked depression in women.
In her article, entitled “Are Women Getting Sadder? Or Are We Getting a Lot More Gullible?” Ehrenreich points out that happiness is not something easily defined or measured. She believes the studies conclusion regarding the subjective growth in female despair is directly contradicted by suicide rates.
Since 1972, female suicide rates have been falling while male rates have remained roughly constant. Stevenson and Wolfson mention this contradiction in their study, but Ehrenreich has further criticisms regarding the “Paradox of
Declining Female Happiness.”
Ehrenreich points out that if the women’s movement instigated depression in women, one would expect more of an impact on happiness in those most exposed to feminist movements in the 1970s. There is no evidence, however, to suggest a difference in happiness between those immersed in the feminist movement and those individuals born in the period.
The debate is not over, though, as Wolfers responds to Ehrenreich’s criticisms here.