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What Makes Women Happy?

What Makes Women Happy?

Does it make any sense to decide what makes people happy by relying on a study that features only men?

For over 75 years two studies tracked the physical and emotional well-being of two populations: 456 poor men growing up in Boston from 1939 to 2014, and 268 male graduates from Harvard's classes of 1939-1944 . An impressive commitment as a temporal matter, we can all agree.

The studies showed that there are “two foundational elements to life. ‘One is love. The other is finding a way of coping with life that does not push love away.’” Having someone to rely on helps you stay healthy, emotionally and physically.

That sounds plausible. We all probably think a loving relationship is a good thing, and we feel more confident when we know someone has our back.

But wait. All of the people studied were men. A third of them privileged, two thirds not, race and either characteristics unclear, but all men. So we wonder. First, why were no women involved? Well, likely in the 1939-1944 timeframe the researchers could not find 268 female graduates of Harvard. (Maybe they could have found women in the less privileged group.) But second, if there had been equal numbers of women involved, would the results have been the same?

Obviously, we don’t know. We have no expertise in any area relating to this study—except our own experience, as women. But that experience suggests that the results might have been very different. Women are used to being relied upon, and have less experience relying upon others. Yes, in the 1950s the deal was that women kept the home and men made the money, but that has all changed now. Women keep the home and make the money. A lot of people rely on them. They, in turn, rely on whoever takes care of their children while they work—usually other women. Does that make them happy? Happier than they were in the 1950s?

We think women might calibrate happiness differently—by reference to the freedom to choose who may rely upon them, for what, and for how long. That can only be achieved if women have the financial and educational resources that would permit such a choice, and if their male partners share the time consuming business of maintaining a home. Do we need a new study to demonstrate the truth of this proposition?

Maybe. So we suggest that another study be started, right now, to get at that question. If it takes 75 years we might not see the results—but our daughters will!

While we are waiting—what do you think?

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