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Friday, September 16, 2016

Feminism, Female Happiness and Marital Satisfaction

Has Feminism Made Women Happier? A Comprehensive Review | Psych and Society

"We will review five studies that have been published which directly measure the extent to which various aspects of women’s rights correlate with women’s life satisfaction at the level of countries or geographical regions. It should be noted that all three of the four studies that look at global correlations used the same dataset on male and female life satisfaction, the World Values Survey. So in that specific regard these studies should not be seen as truly replicating each other.

A study published by Meisenberg and Woodley (2014) looked at 96 different countries between 1981 and 2010 investigating the extent to which relative female life satisfaction (that is average female life satisfaction minus average male life satisfaction) correlated with the gender gap in education, the proportion of legislators, managers, and officials who are female, the female to male labour force ratio, and the percentage of females in the non-agricultural labour force. In all case the correlation was negative and statistically significant – between -0.42 to -0.28. That is, women tend to be the happiest relative to men in countries that have large gaps in male and female educational attainment, a low proportion of female leaders, and a smaller amount of women in the labour force.

A study published by Vieira Lima (2011) performed a similar analysis on relative female life-satisfaction, but used different measures of women’s rights. Looking at 80 different countries the study found that women’s social and economic rights as assessed by the CIRI Human Rights Database, women’s labour force participation, and egalitarian attitudes towards women were negatively correlated with relative female happiness.

A study published by Lalive and Stutzer (2009) explores the same association, but rather than on a national level this study used regional variation in Switzerland. The researchers used voting patterns from a 1981 Swiss national referendum on an equal rights amendment to the constitution of which a central proposition was that “women and men shall have the right to equal pay for work of equal value” as a measurement of gender egalitarian attitudes among communities. Not surprisingly, communities with more egalitarian attitudes tended to have smaller income gaps between men and women. Despite this, employed females in communities more accepting of egalitarian attitudes towards gender had significantly lower levels of life satisfaction (r=-0.1) and higher levels of perceived gender discrimination (r=-0.2).

A study published by Tesch-Römer, Motel-Klingebiel, Tomasik (2007) continues in the same line of research and finds similar results: female economic activity is associated with lower relative female life satisfaction. Although a novel finding was that among countries that have less egalitarian gender norms this association is reserved while in countries that have stronger egalitarian gender norms this relationship is strengthened.

And finally, a study published by Zweig (2014) looked at the association between relative female happiness and economic development as well as female representation in parliament. It found no statistically significant associations above the 95% confidence threshold although the correlations found were negative and statistically significant at a 90% confidence threshold. Regardless, it should not be considered a failed replication given that no other study found associations for these particular measures either indicating that female representation in politics is probably not a good proxy for whatever mechanism is behind the consistent negative association between relative female happiness and women’s rights...

There are many large surveys, such the National Longitudinal Surveys conducted by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, available for studying the effects of increased relative earnings of wives on marital stability and satisfaction. Unfortunately though, despite the large amount of attention researchers have put into this topic the findings are often highly contradictory. The chart below [found in the original article] organizes the results of eleven studies on the effects that relative spousal income has on marital happiness and the risk of marital disruption (such as divorce or separation). The majority of these studies (eight out of twelve) have found that the more a wife earns relative to her husband the less happy she is with the marriage or the higher the risk of marital disruption is. These studies differ in their results as much as in their methods – they have different sample sizes, different demographic controls, different measures, and some are cross-sectional while others are longitudinal. So clearly, drawing conclusions with certainty from these findings is difficult until a proper meta-analysis is conducted, but they do provide tentative support for the theory that increased earnings on the part of wives has had a deleterious effect on marital satisfaction and marital stability. Based on the results of these studies it appears that the mechanism by which increased relative earnings of wives relates to decreased marital instability is that of less household specialization and greater economic independence of both partners which reduces the economic and domestic benefits of marriage relative to separation...

Several studies have found that traditional gender role attitudes within marriage are associated with increased marital satisfaction:

- A 2006 study published in the journal Social Forces found that traditional views of marriage were associated with higher marital satisfaction for wives even after controlling for social, economic, and demographic variables (Wilcox & Nock, 2006). It also found that women who share a normative commitment to marriage with their partners were more satisfied with the emotion work done by their husbands.

- A study published in the journal American Sociological Review used longitudinal survey data from 1980 to 1988 and found that as wives’ attitudes became more egalitarian their perceived marital quality declined (Amato & Booth, 1995). Interestingly, for husbands, as their attitudes became more egalitarian their perceived marital quality increased. The study also found that marriage quality eight years prior did not predict changes in gender role attitudes indicating that gender attitudes are likely influencing marital quality and not the other way around.

- A study published in the Journal of Family Issues that used GSS data from 1974 to 1986 found that women who held more traditional views on gender such as agreement with statements like “women should take care of running the house and leave running the country up to men” reported higher marital and individual happiness (Lueptow, Guss, & Hyden, 1989).

- In a 1992 study published in the Journal of Marriage and Family researchers conducted interviews of married couples and found that while expectations of traditional gender roles did not relate to marital quality women’s perceptions of their husband’s gender role expectations did negatively correlated with marital quality among women (Vannoy & Philliber, 1992). These findings seem to contradict the others, although this may be due to the nature of the questions asked. Rather than ask questions about husbands’ and wives’ normative view of gender roles they were asked whether or not they or their spouse should be the one personally to do various tasks such as childcare or money management...

Given that on the national level and in regards to marriage feminism seems to an unambiguous negative influence it comes as somewhat of a surprise that at the individual level the empirical evidence on the effects of feminist ideology on women’s overall satisfaction is not only scarce, but also seems to suggest that the relationship is not negative – that is, women who hold feminists beliefs are not less satisfied with their lives. I’d like to emphasize the extent to which this topic has remained understudied: after multiple attempts to locate evidence via database searchers and attempts to contact researchers who published on this topic I’ve only been able to find three rather low-quality studies...

Given these findings the question inevitably becomes, “Has feminism failed?”. And the answer to this question largely depends on what you believe feminism was meant to accomplish. After all, in terms of objective measures of women’s economic, political, and social standing feminism has clearly achieved much. And so if the success of feminism hinges on the empowerment and liberation of women I don’t think it could be convincingly argued that feminism has failed...

maybe the big questions isn’t whether or not feminism has failed, but rather it’s whether or not the goals of feminism are even desirable. Does feminism actually improve the lives of women? To that question the data gives us a clear answer: not only is there no good evidence that feminist societies, feminist relationships, or feminist beliefs make women more satisfied with their lives, but if anything, the evidence suggests that some of these things are actually detrimental to women’s psychological well-being. And so if feminism should be judged on the extent to which it improves the quality of women’s lives then I think we can confidently say that, yes, it has failed."

At first I thought it was just that one study showing that women were becoming less happy as they gained more rights (The Paradox of Declining Female Happiness by Stevenson and Wolfers (2009), which all the feminists got upset about) but there're 4 others with similar results
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