The Paradox of Declining Female Happiness


Betsey Stevenson

Justin Wolfers

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2009-11 | May 1, 2009

By many objective measures the lives of women in the United States have improved over the past 35 years, yet we show that measures of subjective well-being indicate that women’s happiness has declined both absolutely and relative to men. The paradox of women’s declining relative well-being is found across various datasets, measures of subjective well-being, and is pervasive across demographic groups and industrialized countries. Relative declines in female happiness have eroded a gender gap in happiness in which women in the 1970s typically reported higher subjective well-being than did men. These declines have continued and a new gender gap is emerging—one with higher subjective well-being for men.

Article Citation

Stevenson, Betsey, and Justin Wolfers. 2009. “The Paradox of Declining Female Happiness,” Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco Working Paper 2009-11. Available at