I listened to a Freakonomics podcast yesterday, and thought I'd share some of my reactions and thoughts. The podcast was on The Gender Gap, and was affectionately subtitled, "Women are Not Men." Funny.
Really, if you have a chance, you should listen to it and weigh in. The show cited several statistics and studies showing how men and women are a) very similar and b) very different and also how c) the differences and similarities seem to be deeply related to one's cultural experience.
The similarities seem to have a lot to do with the feminist movement. More women, simply put, are doing things that were once done primarily by men (not so long ago, actually). The gender gap is closing in terms of jobs women are allowed to do in the military, for example. Okay.
The differences were pretty interesting. Not only do women make less money (yeah, yeah, I know you've heard about that before), but the hypothesis has been offered that this is partly because women don't ask for pay raises. There is some information that suggests women avoid situations that are overly competitive (which may be why, according to this podcast, women are more prolific than men in pretty much every online arena, including not just social networking, but also gaming, yet make up a minuscule fraction of people posting on wikipedia, which is a more "competitive" form of internet posting in that everyone edits the posts by deleting others' work that is deemed inaccurate). Oh, and women have managed to still commit very crimes compared to men, despite making advances in most other areas.
Cross-cultural studies showed that women in a very matriarchal society were actually much more likely than men to engage in workplace competition (or some form of this). They were willing to take a risk in order to earn significantly more money, that they would have to do better at a given task than the other participants in the study. In the male-dominant society, almost all women chose not to take that risk, but to accept the lower wage. I thought all of that was very interesting (and you really should listen to the podcast for better details).
Finally, and this was the part I've been stewing over a little: the show cited some research showing that women, in general, are reporting their own happiness as being at an all-time low (about equal to men's, actually), compared to in the 70s when it was much higher than men's. A few different hypotheses were offered, one being that "women are now doing everything men are doing, so now they're just as happy as men are (which is less happy)." Another idea was that women have less life-satisfaction because their new responsibilities in the workplace haven't replaced their responsibilities at home. Rather, they have double demands on their time and energy.
I am so interested in these ideas about women, in particular about their reports of life-satisfaction or happiness. My perspective comes from my place as a newlywed, a therapist, a Mormon, and a girl who grew up in a traditional family. I have always wanted to marry and have a family of my own, and even now, I look somewhat enviously at stay-at-home moms, because they have what I have always wanted. At the same time, finding a career has been very fulfilling for me. So that's where I'm coming from.
Here's what I think: sometimes chasing happiness doesn't make us more happy; in fact, it might even make us less happy. It's not that I don't believe in equal rights for women, because I do. I believe women should have every opportunity to be educated, and that they should be paid for the quality of their work. I think women can work and mother and succeed in all kinds of ways and find lots of happiness in that. But there's a part of me that thinks the feminist movement, in a way, gives the illusion that there is always something "better" than what we have. And if there is always something better, can we ever really be happy where we are? I almost wonder if the past 40 years have been a wild goose chase for women on the whole, expecting to be happier but then being disappointed by the reality.
I could be so wrong about this, but those are a few thoughts I have this morning. I'd love to hear your insights.