Gilbert and Sullivan, Economists

It’s a weird and wonderful world we live in. About a year ago, Betsey Stevenson and I wrote a paper documenting a pretty startling finding — that women’s happiness has declined relative to men. (The paper is here, the shorter New York Times article is here, and Levitt’s views are here.)

We got plenty of feedback on this paper, but nothing quite as interesting as an email I received last night from Yale economist Ray Fair. Now I’ve always known that Ray is a super-creative guy: he has not only estimated large-scale macroeconometric models, but he invented a famous equation for predicting presidential elections, and has written on topics from The Great Gatsby to aging in sports; he has even written a theory on extramarital affairs.

But this time he has exceeded himself, recasting our findings as a Gilbert and Sullivan song:

“Men Are Happy — Women Are Not”

By Prof. Ray C. Fair

(Sung to: “See How the Fates Their Gifts Allot,” by Gilbert and Sullivan.)

See how the Fates their gifts allot,

For men are happy — women are not.

Yet she is worthy, I can see,

Of more prosperity than he!

Is she more worthy?

All can see

She’s worth a great deal more than he.

Yet he is happy!

Oh, so happy!

Laughing, Ha! Ha!

Chaffing, Ha! Ha!

Nectar quaffing, Ha! Ha! Ha!

Ever joyous, ever free,

Happy, undeserving he!

If I were Fortune (which I’m not)

Women should enjoy men’s happy lot,

And men should labor I decree,

That is, assuming I am she.

But should men labor?

That should be.

(Of course, assuming I am she.)

She should be happy!

Oh, so happy!

Laughing, Ha! Ha!

Chaffing, Ha! Ha!

Nectar quaffing, Ha! Ha! Ha!

But condemned to work we see,

Wretched meritorious she.

This is not the first appearance of The Mikado in economics; the same song (unadulterated) was cited in a 1978 article in the Journal of Political Economy by Franklin Fisher and Jerome Rothenberg.

A final aside: If you are interested in hearing more about this research, Betsey and I are doing an hour-long interview with Marty Moss-Coane, the wonderful host of N.P.R.’s Radio Times, on Tuesday.

We’ll be on live, starting at 11:00 a.m. (And I’m sure they’ll post the MP3 file here or here.)

Robert Grant

"No wonder women are so unhappy!"

Well, then we need more wonder women!

Troy Camplin

I wish he had submitted it to the Emerson Institute. Other than Freakonomics, we're probably the only other place where the arts and free market thinking converge.

James K

Yep, work = misery alright.


My wife is also a stay at home mom, and she says her worst day staying at home is better than her best day working.


Hands up those who didn't see this coming. My wife was the same way because she was a hardcore feminist. Now she is a stay-at-home mom and is happier than me!


How bad can the resolution of a pdf get? Take a look at the Gatsby piece on extra-m affairs.


It makes sense to me. I'm a 25-year-old female. I hate my job and have no real prospects. I am pretty sure I've been discriminated against in looking for a new job because of my age and possible baby-soon status. I make less money than men doing the same exact work and I do not expect that to change. On top of that, I am well aware that my biological clock is ticking and that every year I spend working is one less year to potentially have children. When I go home I clean the house and do the laundry while my fiance finishes up his day's work. What do I have to look forward to? "Having it all" for women seems to me more like having nothing at all.


Sigh...well, guess society needs to catch up to ease this imbalance. With more "equality" comes the growing awareness on women's part of inequalities that still exist, so naturally happiness becomes a tricky issue. Dissatisfaction is a terrible thing--when you see men around you faring "better," taking things for granted, still getting more pay, and generally not having to worry or think about the myriad issues plaguing a woman's daily life, whether in the workplace or at home.

The key isn't for women to retrace their steps and go back to the home and hearth. The key is for the outside world to "catch up" as Wolfers' paper suggests, and satisfy the expectations built into the twenty-first century woman who wants it all: home, hearth, work, family, friends, love, and power. (The same also goes for men, naturally: we need to strive to find a better work-life balance for both sexes, one that doesn't require so much sacrifice, so men and women aren't continually stressed, burned out, and exhausted from the demands of the office all the time.)



When I ask busy working women what would benefit them the most as working mothers they answer - a wife!