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Happiness Trends Lead to Some Strange Places

Interdisciplinary research can take you to some unexpected places. You may have heard about a paper that Betsey Stevenson and I wrote a while back, documenting that the average level of happiness among women has trended downward relative to that of men. It’s an interesting fact, and we aren’t quite sure whether it tells us about the reliability of happiness data, the women’s movement, or other changes in men’s and women’s lives.
It is also a fact that seems to capture the public’s imagination — perhaps more than anything else I’ve worked on. The recent publication of the paper led to another round of discussion. First it was Maureen Dowd, then Newsweek, NPR, and now it turns out that self-help guru Marcus Buckingham has used this research as the basis for a book telling women how to live their strongest lives. (Don’t ask me; I really don’t know!)
And so Betsey and I found ourselves discussing the paper on Monday, yet again, but this time on The Today Show:

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I certainly never expected a career in economics to lead me to share a green room with singer Harry Connick Jr. or actor Derek Luke, or even to meet a motivational speaker. And while that was it from me, Betsey had an even busier week, as CNN devoted an hour to discussing the paper. Here’s the short version:

And she also spent a full hour discussing the topic on the Canadian talkfest The Agenda:

And despite all the discussion, I’ve got to admit, we are still quite puzzled about just what lies behind “The Paradox of Declining Female Happiness.” But if you have an idea, we’ve posted all of our data, and you can test hypotheses to your heart’s content.