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A comic illustration of a woman putting her hands to her head in pain next to stacks of paperwork and dirty dishes.

Women are increasingly unhappy. This comic explains why.

The gender gap we’re not talking about.

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Part of The Happiness Issue of The Highlight, our home for ambitious stories that explain our world.


American women have made incredible progress since 1970.
Women today are better educated and petter paid than we were in 1970.
We have more support in our work at home as well as more opportunities outside the home.
We’ve made real gains toward equal rights and reproductive freedom.
And yet, in 1970 to 2005, women’s self-reported happiness scores have declined both in the absolute and relative to men’s scores. There isn’t any more recent data on this. But studies have shown trends in women’s psychology that help answer the question.
If women have made so many substantive gains in the last 50 years, why are we less happy?
One culprit might be women’s changing expectations. As our opportunities in life and work increased,
so did our opportunities to compare ourselves not just to other women but to the men around us.
Our expanding awareness of our persisting limitations might cause us to report feeling less happy.
The growing complexity of women’s lives may also be a factor. In 1970, a woman who was primarily a homemaker might judge her happiness based solely on her family life.
Whereas a woman 50 years later might be considering circumstances at home and at work.
All of this is good news, since it suggests that it’s our frame of reference for happiness that may have shifted.
But another explanation for the persistence of the male/female happiness gap is that men may have reaped more than their share of benefits from the women’s movement.
Marriage economists Betsey Stevenson and Justin Wolfers speculate that while men enjoy the spoils of the sexual revolution,
they are far less impacted by the decline of traditional families and rising economic inequality.
And although men’s contributions have increased, women still do, on average, more than twice the housework that men do, according to leading family researcher Scott Coltrane.
Because women’s increasing participation in the workforce has not been met with proportionally decreasing responsibilities at home,
Many women are now forced to work what sociologist Arlie Russell Hochschild and Anne Machung call the “second shift” that cuts into our leisure time.
This exposes some of the work we still need to do. Until we can enjoy real equality in every sphere, women’s happiness is bound to lag behind men’s.
Especially now that we’re finally close enough to see what we’re missing.
Sources for this comic.

Aubrey Hirsch is a writer and illustrator in Berkeley, California. Her work has appeared in the Nib, the New York Times, the Rumpus, and elsewhere.

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