DUCKWORTH: I’m Angela Duckworth.
DUBNER: I’m Stephen Dubner.
DUCKWORTH + DUBNER: And you’re listening to No Stupid Questions.
Today on the show: Why are women’s happiness levels so much lower than men’s?
DUCKWORTH: I, as a woman, was like, “What?!”
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DUBNER: Angie, there is a new working paper out by the economists David Blanchflower and Alex Bryson about what’s been called the “female happiness paradox.” Are you familiar with the female happiness paradox?
DUCKWORTH: I saw that paper, but I have to say, prior to that paper, I had never heard of the female happiness paradox. It makes for a good title, though.
DUBNER: It may be a little spicier than it is accurate, but here’s how they define the paradox. It’s the notion that women are happier than men in happiness equations, but also more unhappy than men in unhappiness equations. And, we should say, David Blanchflower — and, I believe, Alex Bryson, but especially David Blanchflower — has been working on happiness measures for many, many years. And what this new paper argues, in a nutshell, is that the paradox that we just defined doesn’t actually exist, and that it’s an artifact of poor measurement. Now, I’m guessing this finding — that the happiness paradox isn’t real — will not be of interest to most people, probably just other happiness researchers. But there’s another finding in the paper, which I think will be interesting to many people, which is that women are, on average, demonstrably unhappier than men. And we should say, that has not always been the case — or at least the gap has not always been anywhere near as wide as it is now. So, the question I want to ask you is this: do you find the evidence that these researchers present on female unhappiness compelling? And why do you think women are systematically less happy than men, and what could or should be done about it?
DUCKWORTH: Well, I agree that the compelling part of this paper is just, like, “Wow, holy schmoley, women are really unhappy!” And, as a woman, I’m especially interested in this gender gap that favors men. We have boatloads of evidence that women are more anxious, that they are more likely to be depressed. And whether the gap between male and female happiness is growing in recent times is, I think, secondary to, just, the consistency, at least, of the gap itself.
DUBNER: How strongly should we believe these findings? You know, this is survey data. There’s no happiness measurement on an Apple Watch or a Fitbit yet.
DUCKWORTH: I was going to say, survey data — which is usually, like, “Oh gosh, we had to rely on survey data. We don’t know whether they really make more money, but people say they made more money. We don’t know whether they really went to the gym, but they said they went to the gym.”
DUCKWORTH: When you talk about happiness, there is no better measure than asking people. You know, someone says they’re unhappy, how else are you going to figure out whether they feel that way?
DUBNER: But one wrinkle that I thought of as I was reading this paper is: Even though women are, in the survey data, coming off as much more anxious, and depressed, and so on, let’s not forget men kill themselves at a rate about three or three-and-a-half times more frequently than women. Now, we shouldn’t say that suicide is a necessary result or consequence of the kind of unhappiness we’re talking about. It’s probably quite a bit more complicated and that. We should also say: one reason that men typically are more successful at killing themselves is because men are much more likely to use guns.
DUCKWORTH: Yeah, violent means.
DUBNER: So Angie, given that this is all based on survey data, is it possible that maybe women answer this kind of survey differently than men? Maybe women are more honest than men on surveys. Maybe women are more willing to admit to being unhappy. So, how can we exclude that possibility?
DUCKWORTH: You can’t really exclude the possibility that when somebody asks you a question, the gender difference that’s being revealed is your brutal honesty or whatever else — social desirability. There’s lots of things that influence how people answer surveys. So, you’re right there. But I think when I say that there are boatloads of studies in psychology that have found the same thing — for example, epidemiological studies where you count symptoms of depression. Again, in a way, it’s self-report, because the person’s telling you they’re not sleeping well, they’re not eating right. But there’s so much evidence from converging angles that I think it’s pretty well established. But, you know, look: You’re a guy. I’m a girl. Somebody could say, “Oh, I heard about this Blanchflower paper. I guess every guy is happier than every gal.” And I do want to just underscore that there are differences on average.
DUBNER: In other words, it is possible that there’s some woman out there who’s happier than me — is what you’re saying?
DUCKWORTH: It’s possible, theoretically.
DUBNER: Just possible.
DUCKWORTH: I know. Hard to believe.
DUBNER: And it’s probably you. And in fact, I would argue that you and I are terrible models for this finding.
DUCKWORTH: Yeah. Look at me! I’m like a little bunny rabbit.
DUBNER: I am fairly cranky and impatient and frustrated with myself and others. You’ll have an outburst now and again, but mostly you’re relentlessly positive.
DUBNER: But to all the less than ideally happy women out there, and to all the men too, I would just say: Ask yourself, “What would Angie do?” And then do that. Or conversely, you could ask yourself: “What would Stephen do?”
DUCKWORTH: And don’t do that! Before we get to prescription, though, like, what the heck is going on? And I remember reading about this prior to this working paper — which, by the way, I love it when economists try to figure out what’s going on with something.
DUBNER: Stomp into your field and make a mess of it. Is that what you were about to say?
DUCKWORTH: With their heavy combat boots! Well, I think they do one thing very, very well: They’re always looking with very sophisticated statistical techniques at what’s really going on. So, when the economists agree with all the boatloads of psychology research, then I think we have real confidence that there is a gender gap. Then the question is: Why? So, I— I remember asking this years ago. My— Oh, gosh, get out the shot glass. My Ph.D. advisor, Marty Seligman — drink up.
DUCKWORTH: He had a graduate student. It’s not my fault that he happened to have, like, the world’s expert in gender differences in rumination as his graduate student. And her name was Susan Nolen-Hoeksema. Sadly, she died young. But she was a very, very senior professor at Yale, and she studied rumination. And what she documented is that the gender differences in depression— that this could be, in large part, explained by gender differences in rumination — this kind of obsessive rehashing of negative things that happen to us. She used this to explain not only higher rates of depression in women, but also higher rates of anxiety. I don’t think that Susan ever got to the deepest root cause. Because you could then ask, “Why do women ruminate more?” I don’t think that’s fully explained.
DUBNER: There could be a hundred factors, right? Blanchflower and Bryson did do a lot of data analysis themselves, but they also roll up a lot of the existing data. Here’s one thing that I found really interesting: “Using data across countries and over time,” they write, “we show that women are unhappier than men, irrespective of the measure used: anxiety, depression, fearfulness, sadness, loneliness, anger. And they have more days with bad mental health and more restless sleep.” So, I, as a layperson, read that as being unhappy about internal factors — about the self. But then, they also write, “Women are also less satisfied with many aspects of their lives, such as: democracy, the economy, the state of education, and health services,” which are external causes. It leads us to say, well, let’s look at how the world is set up. And is the world set up demonstrably better for men than women? And we can say there’s a lot of evidence that, in terms of labor outcomes, in terms of family care, and home responsibility, and so on, the answer is, demonstrably, yes. One interesting wrinkle is that, in terms of educational outcomes, the answer used to be demonstrably less—
DUCKWORTH: Right. Now, it’s the opposite.
DUBNER: It is. Basically, women do better in education. They go to college at a higher rate. They graduate, I believe, at a higher rate, also. But there are a lot of external factors that I think need to be brought into this conversation. So, I guess, Angie, what I’m saying is: I’m not sure if this question can fully be answered by psychology, but given that I’ve just listed a few, you know, economic-ish factors, how do you think we should look at bringing those two together — the psychological factors and the economic factors?
DUCKWORTH: I feel like there should be a drinking game for this, too. But like, I think it’s both/and, Stephen, right? There are both internal and external factors that might account for this gender difference. Let’s talk about the external ones. Apart from educational outcomes, men are making more money. There’s evidence that I was just looking at the other day, where, for example, when you’re a professor, like me, and you’re getting teaching evaluations, there’s some evidence that students can be tougher on female professors than on male professors. There’s some evidence that, when a woman is caring and compassionate, you just sort of meet the expectation. You’re par for the course. But because the expectations for men for being caring and compassionate is lower, then when the male boss says, like, “So, how was your weekend?”
DUBNER: “Oh, my god. He was so nice! He’s such a wonderful boss.”
DUCKWORTH: “What a nice guy! What a nice guy.” And, by the way, outside of the borders of the United States, then when you talk about, like, “Hey, who has it better, women or men?” And you look at other countries and cultures. Oh, my gosh. There are shocking examples of terribleness, essentially. I am not a world scholar, but I remember I traveled in Japan. I was 18. It was the summer between high school and college. And I had gotten this Subaru scholarship. Subaru, the car company, had opened an office in my hometown of Cherry Hill, New Jersey. And so, they sent one high school student off for the summer to live in Japan. And for reasons that I cannot fully recreate, they chose me. And I lived there for a full summer, and my host father would come home totally smashed at, like, one in the morning. And I would sometimes stay up to talk to him. And he would say things like, “Japanese man here,” and he would put his hand up, and then he would lower his hand by about two feet, and he would say, “Japanese woman here.” And I was like, “Well, that’s interesting.” By the way, that was the 80s. I’m sure things have changed.
DUBNER: And in the back of your mind, you said, “In 40 years, I’m going to start a podcast and rip you a new one, oh, Japanese exchange father.”
DUCKWORTH: I was thinking, like, “Wow, he’s such a product of his culture that he doesn’t even hear himself speaking. He doesn’t even know how awful it is, what he just said, because this is all he knows. He’s a fish who grew up in this water.” So, I’ll just say that you don’t need much more information than we have already to know that women don’t live objectively as good lives. And again, back to our country, the data that came out during the pandemic about this increase in childcare responsibilities and housekeeping — like, whose shoulders did it fall on? It definitely disproportionately fell on women’s.
DUBNER: Related to that, there is a paper from 2020 by Paula England, Andrew Levine, and Emma Mischel. It’s called “Progress Toward Gender Equality in the United States Has Slowed or Stalled.” They write, “We showed dramatic progress in movement toward gender equality between 1970 and 2018.” It’s not like things stopped in 2018. I gather that’s when the data ended when they were measuring it. “But also that in recent decades, change has slowed or stalled. Progress,” they write, “may require increases in men’s participation in household and care work, government provision of childcare, and adoption by employers of policies that reduce gender discrimination and help both men and women combine jobs with family care responsibilities.” So, that suggests a, quote, “solution,” to some degree. Also, for anyone wanting to live in a country that’s ranked as being best for women, here’s a survey from U.S. News.
DUCKWORTH: Can I guess?
DUBNER: Please, yeah.
DUCKWORTH: Is it Scandinavian countries, like Denmark?
DUBNER: Very good. So, the top three countries are: Norway, Sweden, and Denmark. This is, I should say, based on survey responses from around 8,000 women in different countries, and the ranking includes five equally weighted attributes: whether the country cares about human rights; whether there’s gender equality; income equality; progress; and safety. So, the top 10 — you got the first few — Sweden, Denmark, Norway, Canada, the Netherlands, Finland, Switzerland, New Zealand, Germany, and Australia. Does anything there surprise you at all?
DUCKWORTH: No. And I think I would like to live in any of those countries.
DUBNER: But if we’re talking about potential changes, whether they’re internal or external, I came across something here. I want to read it to you and see if it brings anything to mind. This is a survey from the Pew Research Center. It was an open-ended survey asking participants to name the traits or characteristics that they believe society values most in men and women. Here are the five most common traits that are thought to be valuable for men. No. 1: honesty and morality. Number two: professional and financial success. Number three: ambition and leadership. Four: strength and toughness. And five: hard work or a good work ethic. That’s what we think is valuable in a man. Here’s what we think is valuable in a woman. No. 1: physical attractiveness. Number two: empathy, or nurturing, or kindness. Number three: intelligence. Number four: honesty and morality — which was no. 1 on the male list. And number five: ambition or leadership — which was number three on the male list. Do you think those expectations might be connected to the levels of unhappiness we’re seeing in women?
DUCKWORTH: I’m not thrilled with those rankings, but I’m not surprised, either. For a long time, evolutionary theorists have said that women are judged biologically by men based on their physical attractiveness — like, the sort of genetic endowments that you’re going to pass on to the next generation. Whereas men, you know, the evolutionary argument goes, like, “Well, you want a protector. You want someone who’s going to beat the alpha.” Is this the source of the male/female happiness gap? I suppose one could certainly point to the enormous unhappiness that many women have about how they look. We’re not just talking about anorexia or body dysmorphia — which, of course, is much, much, much more prevalent among women than men. There’s some evidence that social media, which everyone is worried about right now, that its influence on women or girls could be greater than on men and boys. I think about the research on these gender differences emerging during puberty. I’m not aware that there are big gender differences in happiness at five, at six, at seven. It’s when we reach puberty and we become sexually reproductive, et cetera, that you get this chasm that opens up. It’s then when women start to ruminate — or, I guess, girls.
DUBNER: One reason that this list kind of struck me as really surprising, although it shouldn’t be—
DUCKWORTH: It surprised you?
DUBNER: Well, I guess, like you, I am not surprised in retrospect, but when I first saw it, I thought, “Really? That’s no. 1 for women?” I think it’s nuts. But it reminded me— We recently had dinner with a family friend, and both our kids were home from college. And we got a note the next day from the friend just saying, you know, “It was fun. Thanks for dinner, dah, dah, dah.” Then, the commentary on seeing the kids who are getting kind of grown up and said about our son, “It’s great to see him so serious and passionate about his work. And your daughter, she’s so beautiful. And, oh yeah, her summer internship sounds like it’s going to be pretty neat, too.” And this was a friend who happens to be a woman. I would consider her extremely enlightened, sensible, smart, experienced, and so on. She’s saying either the boy’s not so good looking, or the girl’s not so passionate and talented in what she’s pursuing. And I’m sure she didn’t mean that at all. But it does seem like the default mode. And, yeah. This notion that the most valuable trait that we attribute to a woman is physical attractiveness? I think there’s almost no upside to that, honestly.
DUCKWORTH: So, let’s do a little self-audit. Now, I’m thinking about the times when somebody has shown me pictures of their children. Because I am recognizing myself a little bit in that dinner party comment. How many times have I said of somebody’s sons, like, “Wow, they’re so handsome,” or “They’re so gorgeous.” But I find myself saying that a lot when I am shown pictures of people’s daughters, and that’s not good.
DUBNER: I guess this is why I prefer to look at pictures of dogs. You don’t have that issue. I have to say— I’m sure I’ve done it. But I think that somewhere, a million years ago, somebody — maybe my mother — drummed it into me that that’s not the first thing that should come to mind when you’re trying to compliment someone. It’s not about being sexist, or misogynist, or inequitable, or whatever. It’s about the fact that your physical attributes are not the result of anything you’ve done. Now, maybe you take good care of yourself. Maybe you do all kinds of skin and hair treatment, yada yada, yada. Okay, great. But really, it’s like, “Oh, you are a good-looking specimen of the human race.” That’s a strange lead. I’d much rather say, “Wow, that was a really interesting idea you came up with.” Or “That story you told was really funny and weird.” Or “Wow, you must have worked hard to become that good at X, Y, or Z,” as opposed to, “Wow, you’re physically attractive.”
DUCKWORTH: “What lustrous hair you have.” “Wow, you’re a great height.” It can’t be the most important thing about a person. Is this why women are more unhappy? Because we tend to emphasize their attractiveness over their character or over their accomplishments? Again, I don’t— I don’t know. It can’t be the only thing, but it might well contribute.
Still to come on No Stupid Questions: Stephen and Angela discuss potential solutions to the gender differences in happiness.
DUCKWORTH: “To be happier, women should try giving up on being good.”
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Before we return to Stephen and Angela’s conversation about women’s happiness, let’s hear some of your thoughts on the subject. We asked listeners to let us know how they think their gender has shaped their happiness. Here’s what you said.
Stephan LAMBERT: So, being a man, there’s a lot of things that I know I don’t have to worry or think about on a day-to-day basis the way that women do, like violence, harassment, or even feeling free to be assertive in a meeting at work. And all that stuff adds up to huge benefits to my mental well-being. Obviously, I benefit from that. But, at the same time, a lot of the male norms that I grew up with around vulnerability, emotions, things like that, really leave you feeling lonely. And I think we have these lowered expectations of men when it comes to emotional intelligence and our ability to regulate our emotions. And it becomes like a self-fulfilling prophecy, you know? We can get away with expressing our feelings in ways that are unhealthy or sometimes aggressive, and nobody checks us on it. And that just ends up hurting everybody.
Chloe SKYE: So, before I came out as transgender, when I was perceived by most people to be a “man,” quote-unquote, I felt generally accepted by most people, but I was also deeply uncomfortable and unhappy in my skin. But now that I am officially out, I feel much happier on a moment-to-moment basis. I feel more comfortable being and doing what I want. But there’s also a general unease when I’m around other people. Families will take their kids and cross the street to avoid me. The other night I was attacked while I was just going for a walk in my neighborhood. I’m finding it harder to find work and housing. And yet, even with all of those caveats, I prefer this to the alternative. So, you know, it’s a give-and-take when you’re transgender. But my gender plays conflicting roles in my happiness.
Maribeth DIGGLE: My name is Maribeth Diggle. I’m an American citizen living and working in Belgium, and I’m just a few weeks away from premiering a new opera for the Flemish Opera, which looks at gender inequality within the performance world. When I talk to people about gender injustice in my job, I try to break it down like this: Imagine that all the movies you’ve ever seen were created and written by women, and just a handful were created by men. And we had to hold special festivals to promote how capable men are. How would that make you feel? I believe my personal well-being depends on whether or not I’m welcome to tell a story. So, therefore, I have only recently experienced what true happiness could feel like.
That was, respectively: Stephan Lambert, Chloe Skye, and Maribeth Diggle. Thanks to them and to everyone who sent us their thoughts. Now, back to Stephen and Angela’s conversation about the recent research on the “female happiness paradox.”
DUBNER: Getting back to the notion of this paradox where the data didn’t seem to be reconcilable, couldn’t it also be that women, on average, can have higher happiness and higher unhappiness as well? In other words, higher highs and lower lows?
DUCKWORTH: Maybe 40 years ago or so in psychology, happiness and unhappiness were just photo negatives of each other. So, you could just be efficient and only measure unhappiness, and then you just, like, use a minus sign, and then you could tell how happy somebody was. Right? But it turns out that happiness and unhappiness — or, in psychological terms, positive affect and negative affect — are not just reverse of each other. If they were, they would be correlated at -1 in our data, but they’re correlated at about -0.3 — meaning that, yeah, if someone’s got a lot of positive affect, you could guess that they have not a lot of negative affect. But it’s not a perfect relationship. I mean, I did a study, actually, of women going through IVF. So, they were getting these hormone shots. And this is a study that I did with my sister, who’s a reproductive endocrinologist. And what we did was we gave women who were on this regimen — at a certain point in the treatment cycle where they were getting a lot of hormones — we gave them these scales of positive affect and negative affect. And I remember analyzing the data, and I was like, “Holy schmoley, these women who are being shot up with all these hormones are, like, off the charts on positive affect and negative affect. They just have a lot of affect!” So, there’s lots of examples of how you can have both. And you could also have absence of both. In some psychological disorders, it’s not just that you’re unhappy. It’s more like you just don’t have a lot of emotion going on.
DUBNER: Oh, interesting.
DUCKWORTH: So, these are different. And that’s why you have to separately measure them. And, as a human being, you can ask yourself two questions: How happy am I? And also: How unhappy am I? If you use words like, “How proud am I? How excited am I? How optimistic am I?” you can give yourself answers. But then, you’re like, “Well, how anxious am I? How worried am I? How down am I?” You’ll find, when you just answer those questions, that they’re not just the inverse of each other.
DUBNER: What do we know about the ratio of women to men in psychotherapy?
DUCKWORTH: I am going to take a guess. I think that women are more likely to be in therapy. First of all, the rates of psychopathology, especially when you’re talking about anxiety and depression — but other forms of psychopathology too — have a higher base rate for women. So, that would be one reason why, if you just dropped into a psychotherapist’s office at any given point, you would find more women than men. But also, women are, I think, more likely to get treated — not just for mental illness, for lots of medical things. I always argue that the willingness to go get help is a good thing.
DUBNER: Let me ask you one last thing, Angie, from this paper. Something I found really interesting: The authors write, “Analysts have been tracking mental health in the United States using a new survey conducted by the U.S. Census Bureau.” It’s called the U.S Census Household Pulse Survey, and it’s been running just since April 2021. Analyzing these data through to December 2021, these authors found that men had lower levels of anxiety, worried less, and were less likely than women to say they were unhappy and depressed in 2020 and 2021. So, women were affected even more by the pandemic than men were. But this new mental health survey was very interesting to me. And I’m curious if you know anything about this Household Pulse Survey?
DUCKWORTH: So, you don’t have the survey handy, do you?
DUBNER: I don’t have the survey. I can look it up though. So, they’re trying to measure core demographic household characteristics, as well as continuing to ask questions about COVID-19 vaccinations; education; employment; food sufficiency; household spending; household energy expenditures and consumption; housing security; physical and mental health; rental assistance from state and local governments; sexual orientation and gender identity; and transportation. So, a lot of those, plainly, their demographic markers that they’re using.
DUCKWORTH: They’re not subjective. They’re objective.
DUBNER: Well, there are some that are objective, but then— Here are a few of the questions they’re asking to get at mood, and mental health, and so on: “Over the last two weeks, how often have you been bothered by feeling down, depressed, or hopeless?” “At any time in the last four weeks, did you take prescription medication to help you with any emotions, or with your concentration, behavior, or mental health?” “At any time in the last four weeks, did you need counseling or therapy from a mental health professional, but did not get it for any reason?” And so on. But it sounds as though they’re trying to take a temperature check — a pulse, as they call it — of the country at this very, very, very fraught moment. I’m just curious, if you could write some mental-health questions into this to see what’s going on right now — especially, maybe male versus female — what would you think about asking?
DUCKWORTH: Well, this is something I have thought about already, Stephen. So, I try to measure thriving in young people, but honestly, thriving in young people looks a lot like thriving in the rest of us. And I have a measure that I call the “thriving index” that has three dimensions. Two of them are especially relevant to all of us. Those are social thriving and emotional thriving. Academic thriving — like, “How important is it to do well in your classes? How interesting are your classes?” — let’s leave that aside. So, I can read you some of the items. And I can also tell you what the gender differences are that I observe in data on thousands, and thousands, and thousands of American teenagers.
DUCKWORTH: So, on social wellbeing, I ask, “Do you feel like you fit in?” “Is there someone you can turn to for support or advice if you need it?” “Is there someone who always wants you to do your best?” These are questions of social thriving that I think you can easily answer if you are somebody of really any age, honestly. Emotional thriving, these questions are, “How happy have you been feeling these days?” “How relaxed have you been feeling these days?” “Overall, how do you feel about your life these days?” And because, as we pointed out, happiness is not the opposite of unhappiness, we also ask, “How sad have you been feeling these days?” And, if you take these together and you say, “Hey, are there any gender differences?” There is a significant difference. It’s about a tenth of a standard deviation, and it’s favoring guys. So, the boys are higher in social wellbeing. On the emotional items — you know: happiness, relaxed, overall — then, you actually have a quarter of a standard deviation difference favoring guys. So, over twice as large. And I think that’s pretty consistent with what other scientists find. So, if I were taking a pulse-check on how people are doing, I would definitely ask questions about how people feel about their relationships. And I would definitely ask some questions about their emotions and their judgment of life satisfaction. And if we consistently find gender differences in these measures of thriving, or the lack thereof — I mean, wow! I really do think this question is important. And, until you asked it, I wasn’t really thinking about it as hard as, maybe, I should be.
DUBNER: You know, happiness in the U.S. has fallen over time for both women and men, although it’s fallen more for women. And COVID brought what the authors call “a particularly sharp fall, unseen in 50 years.” There is a slight silver lining here. The authors write, “Women’s wellbeing is much more volatile than men’s, which has been exacerbated during the pandemic. Although it does seem to have,” they write, “greater resilience.” In other words, women bounced lower, but then recovered.
DUCKWORTH: But then they rebounded.
DUBNER: They rebounded more than men, but they didn’t rebound so high that their happiness level is higher than men’s.
DUCKWORTH: So, if you’re talking about, you know, what’s the solution? There was this article by a guy in The Guardian, and it was entitled “To be happier, women should try giving up on being good.” The male author was like, “Hey, there’s this gender difference in happiness.” And the last line in the essay is: “Maybe women are unhappier than men because they pin themselves to higher moral standards. I think I would rather be happy than good. Women should try it.” And I, as a woman, was like, “What?!” I guess he’s trying to be funny. I don’t know whether there’s a very clear prescriptive recommendation on the gender differences. But I have to say that I think that female students in physics class who are getting A’s have the same level of confidence as men in the same physics class who are getting C’s. So, it’s not only what you’re valuing, but how high the bar is for yourself. I don’t think it’s that women should try to lower their expectations. That doesn’t strike me as great. I do think what you were pointing to — which is, at least some of this has to be because of objective circumstances, and so if we can try to change those, that would probably be my first recommendation. And then, on the internal side, I do think that there is some research-based recommendation, which is that rumination, which women do a lot more than men, is not hardwired. We can learn to actually do things that replace rumination. We’ve talked a lot about cognitive therapy, but I’ll just say that another prescriptive recommendation is that — whether you’re a guy or a girl — if you feel like you’re not as happy as you want to be, then apart from changing objective circumstances, there’s changing the way you think about your circumstances.
DUBNER: So, I did listen carefully to all the words you just said. There were a lot of words, but the only words that really registered for me were that I should put aside all morality and I will be happy. So, that’s the lesson I will choose to take away from today’s conversation. I think that works for men or women, boys or girls, dogs or cats. So, Angela, thank you so much for telling all of us that all we need to do to be happy is abandon any kind of moral reckoning. Thank you. I’ll talk to you next time.
DUCKWORTH: Yeah. Well, I’m glad that was helpful for you, Stephen.
No Stupid Questions is produced by me, Rebecca Lee Douglas. And now, here is a fact-check of today’s conversation.
In the first half of the show, Stephen says that men die by suicide at a rate of three or three-and-a-half times more frequently than women. According to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, in the United States, that number is actually closer to four. In 2020, white males accounted for 70 percent of all suicides in the country. Firearms accounted for 53 percent of all suicides. Interestingly, although depression and anxiety rates rose during the pandemic, suicide rates dropped by 3 percent in 2020.
Later, Angela says that she visited Japan in the 1980s, and she thinks that attitudes towards women may have changed since then. In spite of leadership’s slow-moving promises to improve women’s representation in government and in the workforce, The World Economic Forum still describes the country’s gender gap as, quote, “the largest among advanced economies.”
Finally, Angela says that she thinks that women are more likely than men to go therapy, but she wasn’t certain. Her instincts were correct. According to the CDC, in 2020, 12.1 percent of American women received counseling or therapy from a mental health professional compared with 7.9 percent of men. Women were also more likely to have taken medication for their mental health — 21.2 percent of women compared with just 11.5 percent of men.
That’s it for the fact-check.
If you or a loved one is experiencing suicidal thoughts, help is available in the United States at the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. Call 800-273-8255. Contact information for help outside of the U.S. is available at findahelpline.com.
Coming up next week on No Stupid Questions: Stephen and Angela discuss why people bother having children in the 21st century.
DUCKWORTH: When you ask the question, “What are children for?” I’m not sure every parent would say, “Well, they’re there to make me happy. That’s why I’m having children, just to be happy.”
That’s next week on No Stupid Questions. For that episode, we want to hear from people who have kids, people who are considering kids, and people who definitely don’t want kids. Tell us about your thought process and the factors that affect these decisions. To share your story, send a voice memo to NSQ@Freakonomics.com with the subject line “Kids.” Make sure to record someplace quiet, and please keep your thoughts to under a minute. Maybe we’ll include them on the show!
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DUCKWORTH: We’re kind of discussing this as the problem of women being unhappy. You could also flip this on its head and say, like, “What the hell are men doing, so happy with themselves and their lives?”
- David Blanchflower, professor of economics at Dartmouth College.
- Alex Bryson, professor of quantitative social science at University College London.
- Paula England, professor of sociology at New York University.
- Andrew Levine, Ph.D. student in sociology at New York University.
- Emma Mischel, senior behavioral scientist at Walmart E-Commerce.
- Susan Nolen-Hoeksema, professor of psychology at Yale University.
- Martin Seligman, professor of psychology at the University of Pennsylvania.
- “The Female Happiness Paradox,” by David G. Blanchflower and Alex Bryson (NBER, 2022).
- “Measuring Household Experiences During the Coronavirus Pandemic,” (U.S. Census Bureau, 2022).
- “Gender Pay Gap in U.S. Held Steady in 2020,” by Amanda Barroso and Anna Brown (Pew Research Center, 2021).
- “What’s Behind the Growing Gap Between Men and Women in College Completion?” by Kim Parker (Pew Research Center, 2021).
- “Students Attending School Remotely Suffer Socially, Emotionally, and Academically,” by Angela L. Duckworth, Tim Kautz, Amy Defnet, Emma Satlof-Bedrick, Sean Talamas, Benjamin Lira, and Laurence Steinberg (Educational Researcher, 2021).
- “Progress Toward Gender Equality in the United States Has Slowed or Stalled,” by Paula England, Andrew Levine, and Emma Mishel (PNAS, 2020).
- “How to Narrow Japan’s Widening Gender Gap,” by Saadia Zahidi and Makiko Eda (World Economic Forum, 2020).
- “Female Students With A’s Have Similar Physics Self-Efficacy as Male Students With C’s in Introductory Courses: A Cause for Alarm?” by Emily M. Marshman, Z. Yasemin Kalender, Timothy Nokes-Malach, Christian Schunn, and Chandralekha Singh (Physical Review Physics Education Research, 2018).
- “Social Media Use and Adolescent Mental Health: Findings From the U.K. Millennium Cohort Study,” by Yvonne Kelly, Afshin Zilanawala, Cara Booker, and Amanda Sacker (eClinicalMedicine, 2018).
- “Americans See Different Expectations for Men and Women,” by Kim Parker, Juliana Menasce Horowitz, and Renee Stepler (Pew Research Center, 2017).
- “To Be Happier, Women Should Try Giving Up on Being Good,” by Tim Lott (The Guardian, 2017).
- “Sex and Gender Differences in Mental Disorders,” by Anita Riecher-Rössler (The Lancet Psychiatry, 2016).
- “Emotion Regulation and Psychopathology: The Role of Gender,” by Susan Nolen-Hoeksema (Annual Review of Clinical Psychology, 2011).
- “Universal Dimensions of Social Cognition: Warmth and Competence,” by Susan T. Fiske, Amy J.C. Cuddy, and Peter Glick (Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 2006).
- “The Positive and Negative Affect Schedule (PANAS): Construct Validity, Measurement Properties and Normative Data in a Large Non-Clinical Sample,” by John R. Crawford and Julie D. Henry (British Journal of Clinical Psychology, 2004).
- “Gender Differences and Self-Esteem,” by A. Kearney-Cooke (Journal of Gender-Specific Medicine, 1999).