Gender Differences in Happiness

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Women report greater levels of unhappiness later in life compared to men according to a new study conducted at the University of Cambridge and University of Southern California, published in the Journal of Happiness Studies (2008).

The study

The study "The inability to achieve their own goals" used nationally representative data over several decades to examine the role of unfulfilled desires in a person's sense of well-being. Indicators for happiness differed in several generations, with for example, people living through an economic depression showing greater levels of unhappiness. Through controlling demographic characteristics such as race and education, it was discovered that women are, on average, happier than men in early adulthood. The age of 48 seems to be an important turning point in women's sense of happiness, this is when there is a reversal in the fortunes and life satisfaction of the genders.

Revealingly, the study showed that men were the most melancholic at the age of 20, a period when they are most likely to be single. The financial situation is also more often the cause of unhappiness for young men than for young women. Young men expressed dissatisfaction with what they obtain at present and their expectation for more in the future. The important turning point for men is the age of 34, when they are more likely to get married. After this, the gap between men and women in consideration of happiness starts to diminish "mirroring men's growing satisfaction with family life."

Greater life satisfaction for men is obtained through increasing purchasing power and the ability to acquire long-desired and coveted items, such as a car. These items might not be within their financial reach until later in life, explaining the increase in happiness.


 Two factors are especially highlighted when explaining this gender gap: family and finances. The leading author Plagnol explains hereby:

In later life it is "men [who] come closer to fulfilling their aspirations, are more satisfied with their family lives and financial situations, and are the happier of the two."

Although the life goals were similar for men and women - love, family life and employment satisfaction, there was a marked gap in the sense of its attainment. Marriage also plays a crucial role according within the study, especially as married couples tend to be in a stronger financial position than those who are single.

These findings are consistent with an earlier study by Easterlin showing that recent generations are less satisfied than previous generations, despite having more.

Age milestones

At the age of

34: Men's general satisfaction exceeds women's general satisfaction with life

41: Men's financial satisfaction exceeds women's financial satisfaction
48: Men's overall happiness exceeds women's overall happiness
64: Men's satisfaction with family life exceeds women's satisfaction


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