The Debate on Female Happiness Heats Up

I blogged a few days back about the interesting new paper by Betsey Stevenson and Justin Wolfers analyzing trends in happiness by gender, and finding statistically significant reductions in how happy women are relative to men.

Elsewhere on the Internet, the paper has drawn the ire of a number of bloggers.

Stevenson and Wolfers have fired back on Marginal Revolution, where Wolfers is guest blogging this week.

In the end, I think the critics score some minor points, but Stevenson and Wolfers are the ultimate winners. The results they find are compelling and statistically significant, but of a moderate magnitude in terms of “economic” significance. By “economic significance,” I mean “how important the effects are in terms of real world impacts.” Women in 1972 were at the 53.3 percentile of the male distribution; they are now at the 48.8 percentile. Is this a monumental shift? Maybe not. But compared to how much other factors move happiness metrics, it is pretty large. They are quite honest about the magnitudes in the paper. To the extent their results are being exaggerated, it is by people like me who write blog posts about their paper without being explicit about the size of the effect. The authors can’t reasonably be blamed for that.

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  1. MamaKangaroo says:

    Excuse my ignorance, but please explain what is meant by “percentile of the male distribution.” Thanks

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  2. MamaKangaroo says:

    Excuse my ignorance, but please explain what is meant by “percentile of the male distribution.” Thanks

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  3. JPWinnon says:

    I think their results demonstrate good news.

    All of the media out there is constantly trying to tell us that we are not happy (without their , due to ).

    With such an overwhelming barrage of negativity, they were only influenced as much as indicated in that report?

    That’s absolutely amazing! Most advertisement and media would indicate that we are the most unhappy people in the world. The fact that anti-depressants are now the number one prescription drug might have actualy skewed their data and kept the results from showing more unhappiness.

    It does offer the question, if men and women are so happy, why do we need to take so many drugs to make us that way?

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  4. JPWinnon says:

    I think their results demonstrate good news.

    All of the media out there is constantly trying to tell us that we are not happy (without their , due to ).

    With such an overwhelming barrage of negativity, they were only influenced as much as indicated in that report?

    That’s absolutely amazing! Most advertisement and media would indicate that we are the most unhappy people in the world. The fact that anti-depressants are now the number one prescription drug might have actualy skewed their data and kept the results from showing more unhappiness.

    It does offer the question, if men and women are so happy, why do we need to take so many drugs to make us that way?

    Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0
  5. Josh says:

    MamaKangaroo – line up 100 women in order of their happiness and then line up 100 men in order of their happiness and then shift the two lines of people so that each woman is across from the man who is as happy as her. In 1972, the woman in the middle (the 50th) would have been across from the 53rd man (who is slightly happier than the average (median) man). Today that 50th woman is across from the 49th man (who is slightly less happy than the average (median) man).

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  6. Josh says:

    MamaKangaroo – line up 100 women in order of their happiness and then line up 100 men in order of their happiness and then shift the two lines of people so that each woman is across from the man who is as happy as her. In 1972, the woman in the middle (the 50th) would have been across from the 53rd man (who is slightly happier than the average (median) man). Today that 50th woman is across from the 49th man (who is slightly less happy than the average (median) man).

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  7. dissappointed says:

    What is drawing the biggest ire (and most deservedly so) is not the reports themselves on happiness, but the coverage of those reports. The 700 or so comments on the original NYTimes story all leaped on the conclusion as meaning that women and more unhappy than men, and then extrapolated negative conditions from their own lives and relationships out to the woes all of humanity.

    The point is not just how small of an effect is found, but how overwrought and unscientific the commentary on it is. Basically a molehill of a result being made into a mountain of rhetorical anecdote-based proselytizing.

    Hence, why I was annoyed when it came up on this blog, as I had been impressed by the level of rigor in the analysis you presented in your book, and have increasingly been dissappointed in the sensationalism scattered into the blog.

    Although, to be fair the comments to your blog posts were generally of higher caliber than those in the wider newspaper. And I am glad to see that you reposted the most interesting link brought up in the comments onto the main page.

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  8. dissappointed says:

    What is drawing the biggest ire (and most deservedly so) is not the reports themselves on happiness, but the coverage of those reports. The 700 or so comments on the original NYTimes story all leaped on the conclusion as meaning that women and more unhappy than men, and then extrapolated negative conditions from their own lives and relationships out to the woes all of humanity.

    The point is not just how small of an effect is found, but how overwrought and unscientific the commentary on it is. Basically a molehill of a result being made into a mountain of rhetorical anecdote-based proselytizing.

    Hence, why I was annoyed when it came up on this blog, as I had been impressed by the level of rigor in the analysis you presented in your book, and have increasingly been dissappointed in the sensationalism scattered into the blog.

    Although, to be fair the comments to your blog posts were generally of higher caliber than those in the wider newspaper. And I am glad to see that you reposted the most interesting link brought up in the comments onto the main page.

    Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0