Monday, October 26, 2009

Gullible's Travels

Yahoo, shout feminism's critics at the results of the study "The Paradox of Declining Female Happiness" by researchers "Betsey Stevenson and Justin Wolfers which purports to show that women have become steadily unhappier since 1972."

Phyllis Schafly, a long-time opponent of women's rights, and others of the same persuasion wish to see these results as a condemnation of feminism.

The trouble is that the study simply does not support that conclusion, according to Barbara Ehrenreich's article "Are women Getting Sadder? Or Are We All Just Getting a Lot More Gullible?" in Guernica (Oct.13/09).

For Ehrenreich "(1) ... there are some issues with happiness studies in general, (2)... there are some reasons to doubt this study in particular, or (3) ...even if you take this study at face value, it has nothing at all to say about the impact of feminism on anyone's."

Ehrenreich writes that there was "an occult statistical manipulation called "ordered probit estimates" that allowed the study's authors to find only a tiny difference between men's and women's reports on their levels of happiness. An equally tiny difference was coaxed out about each gender's assessement of the change in happiness levels since 1972.

The most (and only) objective measure of unhappiness that we have shows that women are happier (or less unhappy) than they previously were. Suicide rates for women have dropped from 1972 to 2006 (the dates of the study). Also, the Wharton study documents that African American women report being happier than in 1972, which means the results about "the blues" apply only to white women.

Finally, the researchers clearly note that those women involved most directly in second-wave feminism have similar results to those of younger women:
As the authors report,... "there is no evidence that women who experienced the protests and enthusiasm in the 1970s have seen their happiness gap widen by more than for those women ...just being born during that period."

There's no surprise that some will turn anything into an attack on women and women's rights. With this study, feminism's detractors have tried to turn Lilliputian results into Brobdingnagian ammunition.

Yahoo to you, too!

Ehrenreich has written 17 books, been a columnist for The New York Times and Time magazine, and contributed often to Harper's and The Nation. Her most recent book is Bright-Sided: How the Relentless Pursuit of Positive Thinking Has Undermined America.

I would like to invite Barbara Ehrenreich to my soiree.

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