Gawd Maddy, please, learn some economics!

So Maddy has found that women\’s self-reported happiness or satisfaction with life has been declining while that of men has remained reasonably stable.

She\’s thrashing around trying to find a reason for this.

But we know the reason. It\’s called the Paradox of Choice: or, if you prefer, a manifestation of opportunity costs.

The choices available to women have expanded hugely in the last few decades (to pretty much the level that men have enjoyed for longer): that\’s why self-reported happiness has declined. For if you have more choices then there are more things not only that you can do but more things which you cannot, for you are already doing those things which you have chosen to do.

You thus rue those paths not taken, feel that you\’re missing out because you decided to become an accountant rather than a solicitor, took the holiday to Barbados while Cypurs also sounded like fun.

There\’s no mystery here at all: yes, it really is true, more choice will lower reported levels of satisfaction.

And no, that doesn\’t mean that we should deliberately reduce choice so as to increase satisfaction: remember what you would really be saying to women if that is what you did say.

No dear, you can\’t have the chance to be an accountant or a solicitor: you know it would only make you unhappy……

6 thoughts on “Gawd Maddy, please, learn some economics!”

  1. It might not be a case of having more choice. Rather, a case of having higher expectations that get dashed.

    There has been considerable propaganda for some decades now that women can “have it all”, that the sky’s the limit, the world is their oyster, and that it is a “right” to be fulfilled in all things (and if you aren’t, it’s the patriarchy grinding you down). Womens’ expectations in many cases seem to be far beyond what can be practically achieved. So comparing their real lives to this Cosmopolitan Magazine utopia, they feel disappointed.

    Men, having not been bombarded with this propaganda (what propaganda there is regarding men is generally negative), have no such high expectations and are thus a bit happier, or at least less unhappy, with whatever they can manage to get out of life.


  2. I’m puzzled. Take 2 women:
    A says “I’m an accountant but I could have chosen to be a lawyer.”
    B (her counterpart 40 years ago) says: “I’m a secretary but if it wasn’t for sexism in schools and business, I could have been a lawyer.”
    Why should A be less happy than B? Is it because the choices we make reduce our well-being – say because we kick ourselves – whereas we adapt to the constraints imposed by others? If so, this is a dangerous argument for a liberal to make. If not, what is the mechanism?

    Tim adds: Come on Chris: opportunity costs. The price of something is what you give up to have it. More choices means that any one single choice means you are giving up more to get it: it is more expensive to you. Men have, until recently, had more choics than women. Thus as women’s choices have become equal to men’s, the self-reported satisfaction gap closes.

    Don’t forget, these measures of happiness are “relative to the current world”. It’s entirely possible that women were less happy years ago but that they report less happiness now: because the world around them has changed so perceptions of happiness will change.

  3. IanB: My commendations for your comments over the last few days. While I don’t always agree with you, your exposition is excellent.

  4. C’mon guys. Women are never happy unless they’ve got something to gripe about. More they’ve got . More they’ve got to gripe about. Never been married?

  5. An’ before the distaff side starts slinging it’s oar in, the better men have done the more they sit around smugly congratulating themselves on how clever they are. Hence golf.
    Unless your surname’s Murphy of course.

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