In which I refute Mr. Dillow (pbuh)

This, the authors claim, helps explain what Betsey Stevenson and Justin Wolfers have called the paradox of declining female happiness.

I refute it thusly:

Opportunity Costs.

It is not that when there are a larger number of choices that we choose to do those things which make us unhappier.

It is that having a greater number of choices makes us unhappier.

For the cost of doing any one thing is giving up doing all of the other things which we could be doing. If we have a larger number of choices then we must be giving up doing a larger number of things to do any one thing.

The paradox of declining female happiness is not a paradox at all. It is quite simply that women now have the same number of choices that men have had for longer. Thus female happiness is declining to male levels.

You can indeed then go on to argue that we would all be made happier by having fewer choices: at which point I would suggest you stand over there next to that feminist while explaining to her how being barefoot, pregnant and in the kitchen really is going to make her happier.

Yes, of course, this outcome would make me happier, but that\’s why you\’ve got to stand next to her while explaining it.

4 thoughts on “In which I refute Mr. Dillow (pbuh)”

  1. you’re on to something I think – I don’t like keeping up with the Jones pictures of human motivation, with their emphasis on envy and wanting to be richer than your peers, but I do think we evaluate our lives by asking something like “how am I doing, relative to how I can expect to be doing?” – (controlling for lifestyle choices etc.) and if we’re doing as well as can be expected, we feel OK. But I’d add to that some bias where we over estimate the expectation – we compare ourselves too much to the top end of the distribution and not enough to the bottom. I think that might add up to higher unhappiness if your “possibility set” is expanded, and your expectations about what’s possible in life increase.

    but you can’t boil this stuff down a single dimension – an 18th century crofter might feel content if their croft is faring well, relative to how crofts tend to fare, but they’ll still not enjoy having toothache and fleas.

    Tim adds: Of *course* I’m onto something. I stole the idea from a very good source.

    “Worstallism: based upon intellectual piracy from only the best sources”

  2. I sympathize with this. I’d bring into the story Jon Elster’s theory of adaptive preferences.
    If people have suffered generations of oppression, they will often adapt their expectations downwards: “I’m happy because my husband/master doesn’t beat me much”.
    If you then give such people freedom, their expectations might rise faster than their objective circumstances: “I’m unhappy because I can’t have it all.”
    This story is consistent with yours.
    Both imply that we should not judge the desireability of social conditions by levels of expressed happiness. Which is a problem, because this is what democracy invites us to do.

  3. Another thing: I’m not sure your story actually addresses the paper’s finding.
    Your theory is entirely consistent with the hypothesis that church-goers’ happiness should fall after the liberalization of Sunday trading because their opportunity costs have risen too (“Why am I singing hymns when I could be shopping instead?”) But this doesn’t seem to have happened.

  4. “Which is a problem, because this is what democracy invites us to do.”

    not sure about this – might not voters also “not judge the desirability of social conditions by levels of expressed happiness”

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