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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.