Friday, February 23, 2007

Married housekeepers are happier than footloose-and-fancy-free college girls: Of the female professors I work with, none has ever been married except for one who married at about age 40. One recently said that she doesn't even like to be tied to one man. Now, everyone is different, and these women know themselves better than I do, but if they are teaching their female students in general to follow in their footsteps, then they are hurting these girls more than any gender traditionalist could.

Women respondents were asked by the General Social Survey how happy they are, and information was also taken on their marital and job status. I calculated the mean happiness score for each marital/job category (35 categories total). Listed below are the five happiest groups:

Top five mean happiness score

1. Married, retired 1.38*
2. Married, working part-time 1.35
3. Married, keeping house 1.34
4. Married, working full-time 1.34
5. Married, student 1.32

There were seven never-married categories, and not one broke the top 5, not even "never married, student." A married housekeeper in the supposed trap of dependency and domesticity is happier than the totally free college girl.

I suspect that this nobody Andro-American knows more about female psychology than your typical feminist does.

Oh, but I can see it already: someone will write me saying that married women lie about how happy they are. We all know suburban housewives are as phony as a 3 dollar bill, right?

*These numbers are actually 3 - the mean score so that high scores indicate greatest happiness.


agnostic said...

Some historian Stephanie Coontz is doing a media tour for her book that claims the opposite of what appears to be reality as far as marriage, careers, and happiness are concerned. See her column in the Boston Globe:

You've already showed that assortative mating for education hasn't increased over the past 70 or so years, and I'm sure you have other posts like the present one debunking other of her claims.

Given the tone of her work, it's clear she's specializing in the "tell high-status women what they want to hear" niche, so the statistical basis is probably flimsy if you looked into it.

Ron Guhname said...

agnostic: It sounds like Coontz is lumping college graduates with women who have advanced degrees. These two groups are practically at polar opposites in terms of relationships.

Here's one post of mine that is relevant:

Are highly educated liberal women just about the most annoying people in the world, or what? I looked at the GSS to see how many women with graduate degrees and who describe themselves as extremely liberal are alone because no man can stand them. For ages 30 to 50, 32% of these women are divorced or separated and another 29% have never been married. So only a minority of these women have been able to find some sucker willing to marry or stay with them. (Of course, some of them have managed to find a willing female partner, though I can't imagine how they get along with each other.)

Leonard said...

Correlation is not causation. It may be that happier women tend to get married.

Michael Blowhard said...

And unhappy difficult women go on to get grad degrees ...

dougjnn said...

This scores look so close as to suggest they are showing essentially no difference.

Is there some reason that's untrue?

Obviously extremely large sample sizes can make even small differences statistically significant, but nonetheless just how meaningful are they?

I suspect I'm missing something, so if so please illuminate.

My suspicion would be that better questions or a more finely granular scoring system might have told us more.

Ron Guhname said...

dougjnn: It think the message of the very claose scores is that a woman's work status is not the important thing; being married is.

Ron Guhname said...

leonard and michael: Right. I don't know how much self-selection is going on here.

Anonymous said...

"Correlation is not causation. It may be that happier women tend to get married."

Totally agree. Just my own observations, but my general sense from looking at my peers is that there is a certain subset of people who have a hard time finding and maintaining relationships with other people, including romantic relationships.

It seems to me that people in this category are much more likely to end up never-married or divorced. They are also more likely to end up unhappy, but getting married would probably result in an unpleasant divorce and more unhappiness.


Colin said...


Excellent blog!

The observed negative correlation between happiness and professional status of women might be due to a third factor which has been found to have a profound negative influence on happiness:

Neuroticism (i.e. trait-anxiety) is a major personality dimension and unsurprisingly anxiety is detrimental to happiness.

Furthermore, neuroticism has been found to correlate with professional success.

Hence, professional women are more likely to score higher on neuroticism which decreases their happiness score.

This leads to the prediction that the same relationship should exist for men, i.e. successful men should be more neurotic and hence less happy. Maybe you have data to test this hypothesis if you are interested.

BTW, thanks for your numerous insightful analyses. It is a joy to read your blog.

Colin said...

"if they are teaching their female students in general to follow in their footsteps, then they are hurting these girls more than any gender traditionalist could."

That's correct. Since when it is time to die, even dumb people with children will feel to have had a more meaningful life than highly intelligent but childless individuals with an outstanding professional career which in the majority of cases will soon be forgotten. Proof: a visit to the nursery home.

Maladaptive behavior is frequently encountered among high neuroticism individuals.

Jason Malloy said...

Correlation is not causation. It may be that happier women tend to get married.

Google Scholar. This is part of it, but not the whole story. Marriage does increase happiness.

. . . consistent sex probably contributes.

Colin said...


"Marriage does increase happiness"

Seems plausible. However, do you know any study which controlled for personality?

Anonymous said...

The way to do it is to survey boys and girls between the ages of 18 and 20 and ask how happy they are; then check back on them later to see who ended up getting married.

My prediction: All things being equal, the less happy people are less likely to end up getting married and of the unhappy people who do marry, they are more likely to end up divorced.

Anonymous said...

"...neuroticism has been found to correlate with professional success".

Which came first, the neuroticism or the success?! We can do this all day long. One of my favorite speech lines was from Michael Crichton:

"Nothing in nature is so simple." He then shows a diagram that represents the nerves in a lobster's stomach to demonstrate the futility of understanding well, complex systems, particularly, human interactions and societies. "It demands humility" to try, which we must.

Common sense, life experience, and mounds of empirical and anecdotal evidence back up what Ron found. Working women will always be found, on average, to be more stressed. The only time I can think where a traditional family will lose out to a non-tradional one on the happiness scale would be if you controlled for everything except children: families with them under 18 at home versus none.

Luke said...

Concerning married w/children at home vs. married with no children at home, my own survey (total of 1) is that with children it is a lot more fun -- assuming you can afford them!