Women: Does Equality Equal Happiness?
Usually, I offer opinions on the show or here on the blog, but today I am full of questions. I’m probably just chicken to weigh in to women about women! But either way, I have to say, I was so intrigued by a couple of reports that came out last week supposedly detailing the state of today’s American women at work and at home, so I wanted to blog with you about them.
Time magazine had a long cover story on women’s economic progress, which was based on its in-depth survey of women around the country. Coincidentally, NBC News had all of its news programs devote air time last week to the release of another study of American women called “A Woman’s Nation Changes Everything,” that had been put together by the Center for American Progress and A Woman’s Nation founder, Maria Shriver.
Some of it was pretty tedious, technical, (boring) reading, but embedded in the studies were some very interesting “conclusions.” I put that in quotes because there is always a degree of subjectivity when it comes to interpreting such information, so it is one step beyond just reporting the data. As near as I can tell, here is what the research concluded:
* It’s expected that by the end of the year, for the first time in history, the majority of workers in the U.S. will be women — an extraordinary change in a single generation.
* Mothers are now the major breadwinners in 40 percent of American families — perhaps an even more extraordinary statistic in such a short time span.
* In 1972, seven percent of students playing high school sports were girls. That number is now six times as high.
* College campuses used to be almost 60-40 male. Now, the ratio has reversed.
* Close to half of law and medical degrees now go to women, up from fewer than 10 percent in 1970.
* We have a female Speaker of the House and a female Secretary of State.
* A female Supreme Court judge was recently appointed, the third woman in history to sit on the high court.
* Thirty-two women have served as governors. Thirty-eight have served as senators.
* Four out of eight Ivy League presidents are women.
* And for the first time, five women have won Nobel Prizes in the same year (for Medicine, Chemistry, Economics and Literature).
Personally, I am thrilled that so many women are in the workforce these days because they constitute an incredible talent pool. I would be lost without the women of the Dr. Phil staff. Probably more than 90 percent of our 300-plus team at the Dr. Phil show is female, and that includes our top positions of executive producer, all of our supervising producers, the majority of our producers, our legal counsel, our head of public relations, our Web director, and I could go on and on. They are the engine that makes the Dr. Phil show run, they are my “feminine side,” but they are also so much more. Their instincts and skill sets are invaluable. Many are mothers, some married, some not. They are smart, dedicated and relentlessly committed to creating quality shows. They can be tough as well as compassionate, and they are supremely confident. I know it, because I live it. (By the way, we have great men on the team as well, but today, I’m talking about the ladies.)
Despite undeniable economic progress, there are still major areas where women are under-represented and underpaid. Corporate boardrooms and whole swaths of professions like, say, hedge-fund management, remain predominantly male. On top of that, in most job categories, women continue to earn only 77 cents on the dollar compared to men. They are also charged higher premiums for health insurance, yet still have greater out-of-pocket expenses for things as basic as contraception and maternity care. And last year, during the economic downturn, women’s earnings fell two percent, twice as much as men’s.
I probably haven’t told you much you don’t already know, but here’s the something I found most interesting: Despite the advances of women in so many areas, according to several studies, including the General Social Survey, which has been tracking the moods and social attitudes of Americans since 1972, women reportedly have not gotten any happier over the last four decades — while men have. And factors such as marital status, income, ethnic background and whether children are involved don’t seem to matter. Women, in general, are reported to be no happier despite professional advances. Does that mean those economic achievements don’t define happiness for the group surveyed? I suppose there is no reason why we should equate better success in the workplace with happiness, but I do wonder why the results are what they are.
Most research is based on samples of a larger group of people, and then generalizations are made that sometimes can be just flat wrong. So, what do you think? Are you surprised by these results? Are they right, or do you think they are all wet?
How about your life? Are you no happier, or even becoming less happy? If so, what are the obstacles to becoming happier? Too many demands? Too much stress to actually feel happier? Too much juggling of everything you need to do between career and home, which zaps the energy and joy?
And what about you women who do not work outside the home? Are you becoming more or less happy as the years go by? Are the obstacles, if there are any, different than for women in the workplace? A colleague told me about a study that concluded that stay-at-home moms work the equivalent of two full-time jobs. So obviously, there’s no rest in or outside of the ol’ homestead!
Some social scientists (not me!) claim that women are just hormonally more complicated than men, and furthermore, are harder on themselves; hence, they experience less feelings of satisfaction. A few suggest that the reason men are getting happier might be because they now have the luxury of relying on more and more working spouses who help bring home the bacon.
That all seems over simplified to me, and I do NOT subscribe to the hormone theory. But what do you think? Today I’m asking not telling! And how do you define “happiness” anyway?
So let me hear from you. I’m thinking about doing a show to explore all of this.