I've already written a little about what I think is going on. (To the extent that there is anything going on; the changes are not very big, and I am not really all that convinced by these surveys. But in the spirit of the thing I will ask what might be behind these numbers.) Women have more choices now, which is ambivalent, because it ads to stress and leaves us wondering if we have done the right thing. Many women also have trouble finding an identity that fits them. They are also embarking on a new experiment in social roles, which means that they lack the supports that tradition gives to people who doing pretty much the same things their parents did.
I was especially interested in the data that show women get less happier as they age, while men get happier:
This creeping unhappiness can seep into all aspects of a woman's life. When the researchers asked more specific questions, such as, "How satisfied are you with your marriage?" and "How satisfied are you with the things you own?" and "How satisfied are you with your finances?" the pattern was always the same: women begin their life more satisfied than men, and wind up less satisfied. Sure, the crossover points vary a little--women's happiness with their marriage sinks below men's at age thirty-nine; their satisfaction with their finances dips at age forty-one; and by forty-four, they're more dissatisfied than men with stuff they own.I have a theory about this. In my experience, based on the non-random sample of women I have known, young women are prone to thinking that their future happiness will be assured if they achieve certain things. Many young women think that if they get married, have children, and find a career, they will be happy. The pursuit of these goals is exciting and makes them happy. But once they achieve them, they slowly realize that having those things is not nearly as nice as anticipating them was. So they get sad.
Happiness is not a race to a goal, or a matter of achieving certain things. Having children, in particular, does not seem to make people happier. According to what I have read, what leads to happiness is:
1) doing the things you love
2) being with friends
3) cultivating a positive attitude
Achieving goals doesn't seem to make much impact. Happiness is an ongoing, day-to-day thing. So my theory is that contemporary women are too focused on goals and not enough on having fun and making friends, so once they have achieved those goals they end up wondering why they did it or what went wrong.
Or maybe it's just that the reality of being married to a man is a lot less fulfilling than the fantasy.