Are men or women happier?


Announcer: Welcome to Stuff Mom Never Told You from Howstuffworks.com.

Molly Edmonds: Hey, and welcome to the podcast. This is Molly.

Cristen Conger: And I'm Cristen.

Molly Edmonds: Cristen, today we're gonna talk about happiness so I want you to stay in a good mood, but I do have a small confession to make to you. Sometimes, when I am in the vicinity of your home, which I know where it is but I won't say on the podcast -

Cristen Conger: Thank you, Molly.

Molly Edmonds: I'm compelled to rob it.

Cristen Conger: To, like, rob it?

Molly Edmonds: To rob your house. There's one thing that I would want to take from your house if I could.

Cristen Conger: I think I know what that is Molly becaseu the last time you were at my house, you tried to steal it.

Molly Edmonds: Yeah. It's this yearbook picture of Cristen, and it's the most adorable photo ever.

Cristen Conger: Because I was an adorable child.

Molly Edmonds: But she was - was it third grade?

Cristen Conger: No, Molly, I think that was K-4.

Molly Edmonds: Okay, so she's around that age, she's young and cute, and she's just got the biggest grin you could possibly imagine.

Cristen Conger: Yeah, I was really proud of myself at that phase because I just lost both my front teeth, and I had a rocking mullet, and I was wearing my favorite t-shirt dress that my mom had made me with a matching bow. That picture was taken right after playtime as well, so I was just as happy as could be.

Molly Edmonds: You were ready to go.

Cristen Conger: Yeah.

Molly Edmonds: It's the kind of photo that I would want to try and sell to a photo agency because they could use it as the stereotypical happy child, whereas my yearbook photo, the smile is a little bit more forced, I'm usually caught off guard by the photographer. It doesn't capture my true, happy essence.

Cristen Conger: Well Molly, researchers have been doing a lot investigation into how much your smile reflects authentic happiness, did you know? Because right now, the science of happiness is exploding; it started back in the 1990s with a guy name Martin Seligman, who is the former president of the American Psychological Association. He decided that instead of figuring out why people become depressed, and looking so much at these negative emotions, why not find out more about happiness and what makes us happy. What are the characteristics shared among the happiest people? So we have this relatively new branch of psychology called positive psychology that really focuses on the science of happiness. They pay a lot of attention to smiles. You've run across some of these studies, right Molly?

Molly Edmonds: Yeah. I found this study recently about - they basically go back to these yearbooks. They're gonna go back and look at adorable little Cristen, and semi-smiling little Molly and they might look at us in 20 years and see if we're still married. They're saying that your marriage can predict - I mean, your smile can predict your marital success, which is a lot of weight to put on a 5-year-old child. I hope one day to say to my kid, better smile or you're getting divorced.

C risten Conger: That's a life lesson there Molly that you'll impart to your children. Yeah, speaking of these smile studies, there was one that I found that tracked 141 high school seniors into middle age, and I think these were all female students. They characterized the smiles in the photographs as either duchenne smiles, which are caused by more muscle contractions and reflect authentic joy, supposedly.

Molly Edmonds: Like Cristen's photo.

Cristen Conger: Like my photo. I was just a duchenne child. Whereas Molly probably had more of a "Pan American" smile, which is a little more rigid, imposed -

Molly Edmonds: A little forced.

Cristen Conger: A little forced, Molly, so in the study they found that - down the road, this study found that the duchenne smilers reported more life satisfaction and had more marital and relationship success than the Pan American smilers. Which, I say take it or leave it. Can a yearbook photo really predict that much?

Molly Edmonds: Well, that's the thing about studying happiness in general, is it's so subjective. The best they can say is that if you smile authentically when you are a child, it just means that you might be a happier person overall, which means that once you get married, you might be more willing to work it out, have a positive outlook on your marriage. So it's a lot of, sort of, gross generalizations in my opinion. But you can't deny that everyone studying happiness, who can get a grant to do so, they're studying whether certain cultures are happier, whether certain ages are happier, and of course, this comes down to one of the biggest difference of all, and that's why we're gonna discuss it today: Are men or women happier?

Cristen Conger: There were a lot of large-scale happiness studies that have been going on; like, he mentioned global studies. For instance, there's this thing called the, I think it's the world happiness map, that has mapped out the happiest places in the world: Denmark is No. 1. I don't know why, but they are, so maybe I'm gonna go to Denmark for my next vacation. They've broken down all this data into male and female trends, and overall, in a lot of these large-scale surveys, as a group, women come out on top a little bit.

Molly Edmonds: A little bit more happy.

Cristen Conger: Yeah, and this is based on the Pew Global Attitudes Project that surveyed 38,000 men and women across 44 countries, and the Nielson Happiness Survey that was conducted in 51 countries. But Molly, once we start breaking those groups down into different age groups and different nationalities, some differences do emerge, correct?

Molly Edmonds: Right. Women from certain countries, including, kind of surprisingly to us, Pakistan, Japan, and Argentina are much, much happier than the men living there.

Cristen Conger: It seems like the women in these surveys tended to focus more on personal and domestic issues that they might have more control over.

Molly Edmonds: Right, where they're saying the men are just burdened by the weight of the world. They look out and there are wars, there's a recession, and that weighs more heavily on the men, whereas women are just worried about grocery shopping. But see, then once you kind of flip that and take these sort of ideas about what men and women are preoccupied with and take it to the United States, that's where the women don't hold up quite as well.

Cristen Conger: The University of Pennsylvania researchers in 2008 found that American women today aren't as happy as they were 30 years ago. And this is kind of surprising when you look at happiness data for Americans in general because we've been doing these kind of surveys since about 1970, 1972, and American's happiness level has been just pretty much flat line. We're about as happy as we were 30 years ago supposedly, but women aren't doing quite as well.

Molly Edmonds: And like you said, it's pretty surprising because think of all the things that women have accomplished in the past 30 years. We've got a lot more women in the workplace, which seems to indicate that women have more license to sort of follow their dreams, have a career, be on equal footing with men that they're not just sitting at home raising children. So some, in my mind, snotty researchers are saying those '50s stereotypical housewives didn't know what they were missing. They were kind of blindly happy, and now that women are getting out in the workforce and having dreams come true or not come true, they're less happy basically.

Cristen Conger: Yeah, the horizons are broadened, so you have more of an idea of what you don't have, rather than a more limited sphere of things you can control. The University of Pennsylvania researches equated this shift in m ood or happiness of American women to a nation that has gone from a 4 percent to 12.5 percent unemployment rate. It's that same kind of drop in morale.

Molly Edmonds: And it's not just the University of Pennsylvania. Maybe they're just unhappy, but they found the same thing at Princeton, so maybe the whole northeast is unhappy. But basically, what Princeton did was they looked at common activities like gardening and watching television, things that should make you happy, versus things that you just sort of have to do, like, paying bills, household chores, and it seemed that women were spending more time on the ungratifying tasks, about 90 more minutes than men, on average. So some researchers say that this might reflect more still the second shift idea that women have to work, that's very gratifying to them. They go off to work, they might be happy with that, but then they've got to come home and have this second job of taking care of the house, whereas men have been able to sort of just stay with the same level of housework, job, sitting in front of the television.

Cristen Conger: And Molly, if you look at this research broken out into the different activities that men and women are doing, I think it also reflects the impact of the aging boomer population. A lot of these women are now having to not only come home and possibly care for children, but they're also having to care for aging parents. There was a pretty stark contrast between the enjoyment level between men and women of spending time with their parents. Twenty-seven percent of women found time with parents as being more burdensome and more of a chore, whereas only 7 percent of men found it to be unenjoyable in this survey.

Molly Edmonds: Because they're less likely to be the main caregiver, so they can go over, watch television, hang out, whereas if a woman goes over, she might be more likely to be paying all their bills, arranging mediations for the week. So what this research really kind of indicates is that women have a lot more, so they have to juggle a lot more. Yes, they have this new career that might be fulfilling, but it's a ball in the air with all these other balls.

Cristen Conger: Exactly, and when you break down specific age groups of women, there is yet another interesting trend that emerges because at first, when we're younger - and Molly, you and I are in our mid-twenties right now. If we average it all out, we are going to be probably happier than men at this age, and -

Molly Edmonds: Hooray.

Cristen Conger: Hooray, yeah. I mean, it's a pretty generalized statement, but the thinking behind that is women are more apt in their younger years to get things that they'll find fulfilling, such as finding a mate, settling down, starting a family, building a home. Whereas men are at the bottom of their career ladders, having to slowly, painfully climb up it and try to make more and more money. Which, I don't know that I buy that completely, but that is the general logic behind it. There was a study in the Journal of Happiness Studies that established 48, at the age of 48, when men's happiness actually starts to overtake women's happiness.

Molly Edmonds: And so, while women are on this downward slope, men in the meantime have gotten into management positions, life is just chugging along, and then to even add to their happiness, at age 64, men appreciate their families even more than women.

Cristen Conger: Yeah, it's like they're finally at the top of their careers, they can kick back. Hopefully, they've saved up for retirement, and now they can really start looking around them and saying, hey, look at my beautiful family, look at my young adorable grandchildren, this is so great, and women are still supposedly grappling with -

Molly Edmonds: Identity.

Cristen Conger: Yeah, unfulfilled dreams and identity.

Molly Edmonds: Thanks researchers.

Cristen Conger: Yeah, but Molly, it's not all bad.

Molly Edmonds: Tell me why.

Cristen Conger: Okay, first of all, all these happiness surveys, I mean, it's just - you're gonna find conflicting results in them, such as a 2008 University College of London Survey found that women over 50 years old are more optimistic than their male counterparts.

Molly Edmonds: So it might depend where you live.

Cristen Conger: Yeah, it could be geography. Maybe it's just the American dream ain't so cheerful after all for the ladies.

Molly Edmonds: Dark, Cristen.

Cristen Conger: I know.

Molly Edmonds: But I know you like darkness because you like the idea of anti-happiness, right?

Cristen Conger: I do a little bit. This whole idea of positive psychology and searching for the new science of happiness has kind of been overblown so much that there's now this backlash of anti-happiness literature that's coming out that's saying, hey, okay, we all want to be happy, and that's fine, well, and good, but let's not forget that sometimes the best times in life are met because you've overcome a struggle. There can be definite value in having to overcome hardships in life that make things really worth living and really genuinely joyful.

Molly Edmonds: Right, but we'll go ahead and buy into this happiness idea, and I know that you are very much in love with The Grant Study.

Cristen Conger: Yeah, there's this awesome study, and yes, I just said awesome study. It's a 72-year study that's taken place at Harvard University that tracked over 200 male students since they were freshman at Harvard. Now, I mean, a lot of these guys have actually gone, they've died, a lot of them are in old age in their 80s, and it has tracked their happiness throughout life to try to find out what makes a happy man. One of the biggest findings that's come out of this research - because, you know, these are Harvard graduates. Some of them didn't all have wealthy upbringings, but leaving Harvard, you would think that they were all kind of on this equal footing to succeed. At the end of the day, 72 years later, the biggest finding from this study is that it's not social aptitude, or intelligence, or social class that leads to happy aging. Relationships, Molly -

Molly Edmonds: Relationships.

Cristen Conger: - matter more than anything else. And this is something that I've seen in all of these happiness articles that have come out. At the end of the day, the biggest predictor of happiness isn't male or female, or smart or unintelligent, or what have you, it's the social networks that you build. It's when things go wrong, are you gonna have a network there to help you recover?

Molly Edmonds: Sounds good. So if I could sum up everything I've learned so far in this podcast, you need to smile big for your yearbook photo, and then when you order the prints, you give them to as many people as possible to start building your social networks, right?

Cristen Conger: There you go, and pass your yearbook around to get them to sign them so you build - yeah, make more friends. Molly, we do have one more silver lining for all this happiness research. By and large, when we get older, people are just happy. Older people, male or female, are happier than younger people, and that's because despite, maybe, unfulfilled career dreams or hardships along the way, hopefully by the time we're in our 70s, we can sit back and look at all the things that have happened and say, well, I've made it this far. That's something to be happy about.

Molly Edmonds: And if all else fails, just look at cute pictures of kittens on the internet.

Cristen Conger: Kittens, that's happy.

Molly Edmonds: That's very happy.

Cristen Conger: Hey, you -

Molly Edmonds: Hey, you know what makes me happy?

Cristen Conger: Talking at the same time? Listener mail.

Molly Edmonds: Listener mail is very happy-making.

Cristen Conger: Yeah, listener mail, nice listener mail at least, makes Molly and me happier than a lot of other things at work, it seems, so let's read some mail.

Molly Edmonds: So the first mail I wanted to read came as a response to our Is Roller Derby Sport or Spectacle podcast. It's from Monica, who writes, thanks so much for doing an episode on roller derby and explaining what that current sport is like today. People still have so many misconceptions as to what derby is, and she thinks that we are correct when we said that it is sport and spectacle. She says, it's insanely hard work, it's athletic, it's sexy, it's empowering. And then Cristen, special message to you since you were talking about your roller derby dreams, she told you, don't give up on skating. Monica just started skating for the first time last November. She was all over the rink falling and being lapped by 5-year-olds, and she assumed she was crazy for even trying. But just a couple months later, she's a skater; she can pick it up, so do not give up. I would say if you want to see Cristen on roller derby, let's write in; let's make it a write-in campaign.

Cristen Conger: Thank you Monica for those encouraging words. We had another former roller girl, Roxilla Rampage of the Jet City Roller Girls write in, and she said, I listened to your podcast about roller derby, and one important thing that was not mentioned was the amount of time that these women dedicate to the sport. As a former roller girl, I would spend a minimum of six hours each week for practice, and/or bouts, and that was at the low end of time dedicated to the sport. This is not the type of hobby for people who are just looking to be a weekend warrior. And I will say that when I talked to Tanya Hyde with the Atlanta Roller Girls, that was one thing we talked about, was that girls are out there skating probably five times a week. I'm sure that's at least six hours. These women are always out there skating, getting better, and then competing in bouts.

Molly Edmonds: So something for you to keep in mind, Cristen.

Cristen Conger: Yes, time management.

Molly Edmonds: And then one last email. We do not have this person's name, but we loved the email. She listened to the podcast, What does a feminist look like, and she quite agreed with a lot of what we talked about, particularly about how modern-day women do not want to be labeled as feminists because of the negativity surrounding the word, especially teenagers. She wrote, I usually do not like labels, and especially stereotypes, but I am proud to call myself a feminist. I am Mexican, which is a very male-dominated culture, and that has influenced my beliefs especially. I do not shave my legs, but I don't mind wearing a little black dress now and then. I am 15 and have been voicing my opinions on the subject ever since I was young, and at times, a naïve 10-year-old. And the podcast inspired her to go out and buy a "This is what a feminist looks like" t-shirt. So a 15-year-old ready to put the feminist label on her, even with the negative stereotypes, and I'm sure she was not that naïve a 10-year-old. She sounds very mature.

Cristen Conger: Awesome.

Molly Edmonds: So if you guys want to write us, we've got an email address.

Cristen Conger: It's momstuff@howstuffworks.com, and if you want to read more about happiness and how to get happy, you should head on over to Howstuffworks.com.

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