Activists should calm down. Science is not so sexist

Activists should calm down. Science is not so sexist

 “Academic Science isn’t Sexist” declared Wendy Williams’ and Stephen Ceci’s op-ed in The New York Times last October. Their piece summarised a 67 page review published in Psychological Science in the Public Interest called “Women in Academic Science: A Changing Landscape”[1]. Working alongside two economists, they compiled data from several hundred analyses of women’s participation in sciences – from the life sciences such as psychology – to the more math-intensive disciplines such as engineering and physics.

The biggest barrier for women, they found, was that they saw academic jobs as being in conflict with family formation. Despite this, they found that the picture painted was one of “gender fairness, rather than gender bias”. Women across the sciences were more likely to receive hiring offers than men, their grants and articles were accepted at the same rate, they were cited at the same rate, and they were tenured and promoted at the same rate[2].

Just two weeks after Williams’ and Ceci’s op-ed was published, the online fracas ‘shirtstorm’ happened. The lead scientist of the Rosetta Mission, Dr. Matt Taylor, was ridiculed online for wearing a celebratory shirt with pictures of scantily clad cartoon women. After tens of thousands of tweets were generated by the subject, Dr. Taylor broke down in tears on a television interview and apologised. After his tearful appearance many high profile figures came to his defence including Richard Dawkins and the Mayor of London, Boris Johnson. Even the prominent UK feminist Julie Bindel wrote a concerned op-ed in The Guardian warning that “feminism is in danger of becoming toxic”.

Yet the tweets which sparked the online vilification of Dr. Taylor did not originate from professional agitators. They originated from a segment of the online science community. And this community is now publicly smearing the work of Williams and Ceci. Science blogger Emily Willingham reacted to their paper with incredulity, “how could anyone with any actual experience in academic science say something like that with a straight face?” PZ Myers took to his blog to liken male academics to ISIS, and female academics to refugees fleeing Iraq. Several commentators described their work as “victim-blaming,” trying to impart moral value to their empirical data. And Rebecca Schuman, education editor of Slate, declared that “work like [Williams’ and Ceci’s] will do little more than help to ensure that institutional bias in the academy endures for years to come.” [emphasis mine].

***

What exactly is going on here? To the general public, Williams and Ceci’s data simply confirms the obvious. Across the professions, such as law and medicine, women are not required to produce a tenure dossier to keep their jobs. Young women upon graduation are able to find permanent employment, and if or when they decide to have families, they tend to take maternity leave and arrange part-time hours on return. It’s not rocket science. Negotiating a biological clock at the same time as a tenure clock is simply not an appealing option for many intelligent women.

Yet while many female grad students opt-out of the academic career track early on (especially within the life sciences) evidence suggests that once women are in the pipeline, they are likely to persist[3]. And in a paper from Williams and Ceci published just this month, in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), it was found that within controlled experiments tenured academics had a shocking 2:1 bias for preferring hypothetical female job applicants[4].

Williams and Ceci are far from the first scholars to be wary of narratives of oppression when it comes to women in science. Fifteen years ago Science published a paper in which Linda Gottfredson and Judith Kleinfeld questioned the ethics of trying to achieve parity in the sciences through social engineering[5]. And in 2002 The Blank Slate was published. Steven Pinker wrote:

Certainly there are institutional barriers to the advancement of women. People are mammals, and we should think through the ethical implications of the fact that it is women who bear, nurse, and disproportionately raise children. One ought not to assume that the default human being is a man and that children are an indulgence or an accident that strikes a deviant subset. Sex differences can therefore be used to justify, rather than endanger, women-friendly policies such as parental leave, subsidized childcare, flexible hours, and stoppages of the tenure clock or the elimination of tenure altogether.[6] (p358).

Some eleven years after the publication of Pinker’s seminal text, the scholars Mary Ann Mason, Nicholas Wolfinger and Marc Goulden asked if family formation mattered in the Ivory Tower. Their book was called Do Babies Matter? And they answered their question with a resounding “yes”[7]. Their research found that, in general, women who were successful in the academy delayed having children and had fewer children than they had hoped for[8]. And a significant proportion of women who had hoped to form families at some point forewent parenthood altogether[9]. Among graduate students that Mary Ann Mason surveyed, more than half of men and more than two thirds of women viewed academic careers as being in conflict with family life[10]. And when female graduates were asked why they didn’t continue on with academic careers after PhD completion, the most commonly reported reasons were having “other life interests” and “wanting to focus on children” [11].

Williams’ and Ceci’s analysis posits that early socialization – combined with the biological and emotional realities of motherhood – probably play a larger role in constraining women’s career trajectories than sexism. Yet their hypotheses are just that – hypotheses. It is plausible that social engineering will not produce anymore female physicists and computer scientists than what we already have. Why? Evidence regarding occupational preferences has found very large sex differences. While women in the aggregate tend to prefer social and creative work, men tend to prefer theoretical or mechanical work[12]. (This does not mean that women or men are any less capable in these areas, but simply that they are less interested in them). These sex differences become more robust the more people are surveyed. In a meta-analysis of over half a million people, the effect size of what is described as the “People–Things” dimension (where women prefer working with people and men with things) was found to be very large (d = 0.93)[13]. Even within professional fields the “People–Things” gender split can be found. In medicine, more women go into general practice and pediatrics and listen more empathically to patients[14] while men are more predominant in surgery. These sex differences don’t vanish when policies for gender equity are implemented, either. In fact, the evolutionary psychologist David Schmitt has marshaled cross cultural data across 21 sources which finds that sex differences on a range of variables are larger in nations with greater social and political gender equality[15]. For example there are more women graduating from computer science in Iran than in Norway or Sweden[16]. This is despite the greater gender egalitarian norms and policies of Nordic countries.

Fifteen years ago Gottfredson said that “if you insist on using gender parity as your measure of social justice, it means you will have to keep many men and women out of the work they like best and push them into work they don’t like”[17]. And Kleinfeld, declared:

We should not be sending [gifted] women the messages that they are less worthy human beings, less valuable to our civilization, lazy or low in status, if they choose to be teachers rather than mathematicians, journalists rather than physicists, lawyers rather than engineers[18].

Fifteen years later, perhaps it’s time we listened.

[1] Ceci, S. J., Ginther, D. K., Kahn, S., & Williams, W. M. (2014). Women in Academic Science A Changing Landscape. Psychological Science in the Public Interest, 15(3), 75-141.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Miller, D. I., & Wai, J. (2015). The Bachelor’s to PhD STEM Pipeline No Longer Leaks More Women Than Men: A 30-Year Analysis. Name: Frontiers in Psychology, 6, 37.

[4] Williams, W. M., & Ceci, S. J. (2015). National hiring experiments reveal 2: 1 faculty preference for women on STEM tenure track. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 201418878.

[5] Holden, C. (2000). Parity as a goal sparks bitter battle. Science, 289(5478), 380-380.

[6] Pinker, S. (2003). The blank slate: The modern denial of human nature. Penguin.

[7] Mason, M. A., Wolfinger, N., & Goulden, M. (2013). Do Babies Matter?

[8] Ibid.

[9] Mason, M. A., Wolfinger, N., & Goulden, M. (2013). Do Babies Matter?

[10] Mason, M. A., Goulden, M., & Frasch, K. (2009). Why graduate students reject the fast track. Academe, 95(1), 11-16.

[11] Ibid.

[12] Su, R., Rounds, J., & Armstrong, P. I. (2009). Men and things, women and people: a meta-analysis of sex differences in interests. Psychological bulletin, 135(6), 859.

[13] Ibid.

[14] Hojat, M., Gonnella, J. S., Nasca, T. J., Mangione, S., Vergare, M., & Magee, M. (2014). Physician empathy: definition, components, measurement, and relationship to gender and specialty.

[15] Schmitt, D. P. (2015). The Evolution of Culturally-Variable Sex Differences: Men and Women Are Not Always Different, but When They Are… It Appears Not to Result from Patriarchy or Sex Role Socialization. In The Evolution of Sexuality (pp. 221-256). Springer International Publishing.

[16] Galpin, V. (2002). Women in computing around the world. ACM SIGCSE Bulletin, 34(2), 94-100.

[17] Holden, C. (2000). Parity as a goal sparks bitter battle. Science, 289(5478), 380-380.

[18] Ibid.

Our generation did not invent political correctness, but we can fight it

Our generation did not invent political correctness, but we can fight it

Political correctness is not a new phenomenon. The fact is that many dangerous questions are currently walled off by the baby boomers who dominate our universities (and large sectors of the media). Today’s culture war likes to scapegoat young people for the rise of the illiberal Left, but the responsibility really lies with the generation who came before us.

Each one of us has the ability to generate a hypothesis. A hypothesis simply comes from asking a question about the world and then using our imaginations to answer it. Almost every advance in human history first came from a person willing to look at the world, or the status quo, from a different angle. But if questions and hypotheses are going to have any impact they must be articulated. Questions have to come out of our minds and into the world around us.

The problem with P.C. is that it constrains the questions that we feel we can ask both of ourselves, and our superiors. It allows orthodoxy to creep in (as it always does). There is, however, a continuing perception that arguments against P.C. are only made by those wishing to go around calling people racist or sexist names. The question is often asked: what exactly is wrong with P.C. if it makes us more civil? The short answer is nothing. If that were all P.C. were about, no-one would have a problem with it at all.

If P.C. meant that fewer ad hominem insults were used in public discourse, intellectuals across the board would support it. If it meant that individuals were not clapped in the stocks in sadistic public-shaming campaigns, P.C. would be progressive. But in practice, those who enforce P.C. standards seem to specialise almost exclusively in ad hominem attack. Twitter mobbing, which quite literally destroys people’s reputations and livelihoods, is the apotheosis of P.C. justice. There is nothing civil or redeeming about it.

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After the transformation of society brought by the 1960s, a cohort of sentimental liberals naturally flocked to academia. Many of them set up shop in the humanities and social sciences and spread both post-modernism and blank slate fundamentalism (the ideological resistance to biology, genetics and evolution) far and wide throughout the academy. These two mutually reinforcing ideologies have had a massive effect on scholarship and the wider culture.

It would be prudent for us to remember that of the young people who police language and thought on campus today, many have not yet left home; their privilege has effectively kept them in a state of intellectual neoteny. While the political movements that their parents were involved in were creative, aspirational and good-hearted, many of these movements have now ossified into the most brittle of orthodoxies. P.C. students on campus today are simply foot soldiers for their parents’ ideologies. And before we attack young people for being censorious and priggish, we should remember that this kafkaesque political baggage is what this generation has to bear.

***

In 2005, when the president of Harvard, Larry Summers, hypothesised that women’s under-represention in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) might have something to do with men’s greater variance in IQ scores, his hypothesis was declared untenable. Touching on two taboos at the same time – intelligence research and sex differences – meant that he was met with the writhing apoplexy of the self-righteous mob. The scientific evidence was ignored, very few, even in the academy, defended his right to hypothesise, and he lost his presidency.

P.C. crusaders in the academy also have a long tradition of obstructing empirical work into sex differences. One psychologist repeatedly labels research looking at brain sex differences as “neurosexism” and “neurotrash”. And discouraging research into brain sex differences has very real consequences. In 2013, the drug administration of the U.S., the FDA, issued a statement instructing dosing for popular sleeping pills to be halved for women. Their decision implied that women had been overdosing on sleeping pills for nearly twenty years. Neuroscientists such as Larry Cahill, have described the situation as pitiful. P.C. dogma has stymied research into female neurobiology for years.

It is not my generation that is responsible for this kind of groupthink. Yes, original feminism was creative and brilliant in extending principles of humanism and universalism to women. But my generation were not bequeathed a political movement with an Enlightenment impulse. What we inherited was the intellectual equivalent of a dead carcass. Those of us born in or after the 1980s, who studied humanities at university, were told by our professors that “there is no universal truth”. We either dropped out – or became indoctrinated into a cult of epistemological nihilism. My generation did not bring the rot of post-modernism and blank slate fundamentalism into the academy. How dare the wider culture blame us for this. We are the generation left with liberal arts educations that have been trashed from the inside out.

***

It might serve us to remember that the enforcers of dogmas today would have been the enforcers of dogmas yesterday. Those who went after Dr. Matt Taylor of the Rosetta Mission for his shirt, would have happily brought Galileo before the Inquisition – and they would have thought it was for his own good. Whether they are warriors for God, or warriors for Social Justice, the moral certainty of holier-than-thou crusaders tends to remain the same.

Today’s “Stepford Students” are indeed disconcerting. But we ought not forget where and with whom their belief system originated. The Old Guard will eventually leave their postings in the academy (and the media) and it is up to us to make sure they take their P.C. dogmas with them. Of course, the baby boomers have made wonderful contributions –in art, culture, technology and science – but we should feel free to leave their orthodoxies, taboos and political baggage behind.

We did not invent P.C. but we can fight it. The first step is to drop our parents’ blank slate ideologies, including post-modernism, into the dustbin of history. The second step is to start asking questions, even if they offend. The third step is to get them down on paper (or the computer screen) and circulate them with other heretics. We all have the ability to generate hypotheses, and hypotheses are the engine of progress.

Amanda Hess discovers women have control over their lives. Pop- feminists everywhere are confused

Amanda Hess discovers women have control over their lives. Pop- feminists everywhere are confused

A few months ago, pop-feminist Amanda Hess, wrote an Op-Ed in which she accused scientists of doing research that reflected their “masturbatory tendencies”. This month, she has spilled ink on science again, this time with another Op-Ed in Slate’s The XX Factor attempting to “debunk” the ovulatory-shift hypothesis.

Hess concludes her piece with the following words:

Women’s endocrine processes have officially taken a back seat to our  own mental and physical capacities to regulate our preferences and our cycles to better contribute to our societies.”

Yes. One would hope all human beings over a certain age, who are fortunate enough to not be brain-injured, or drug-addicted would be able to regulate certain biological processes. And contribute to society. But being unable to “regulate” “endocrine processes” is not what the ovulatory shift hypothesis is about.

The hypothesis holds that like all other primates, human females change their behaviour during oestrus. Specifically, it predicts that women, on average, will find high-testosterone and socially dominant men more attractive for short-term mating (one night stands) when fertile. The shifts, however, a theorised to be subtle. And of course, there are exceptions to the rule. The hypothesis also only predicts which men women will find attractive, not which men women will actually have sex with (something which a whole lot of other factors influence).

But the fact that women have the ability to regulate their biological processes, does not rule out the ovulatory shift hypothesis. That would be like saying that because some people are able to regulate their appetites, this “contradicts” the neurobiology of hunger. Women choose to act on their desires, just as men do.

Hess’s Op-Ed attempting to debunk the ovulatory shift hypothesis was based on a meta-analysis (a synthesis of data from multiple studies) that was published in March this year in Emotion Review. It was conducted by Wendy Wood and colleagues and found that the relationship between menstrual cycles and mating preference to be negligible. It was supposed to answer once and for all if women’s menstrual cycles really do affect their mating preferences. But it didn’t.

This is because another meta-analysis by Gilversleeve et al was also published this year which came to very different conclusions. Featured in psychology’s flagship journal Psychological Bulletin, this analysis found that ovulatory-shifts in mating preference were “robust,” and “without bias”. It has also been noted that the Wood et al meta-analysis did not distinguish between “short” and “long” term mating, in accordance with sexual strategies theory.

Presumably unaware of these complexities, Slate’s editors went on to publish their Op-Ed with the following title:

Study Finds That Women Aren’t Run by Their Periods. Scientists Everywhere Are Confused.

In part, the piece argued that because women have free-will, and are also culturally conditioned, ovulatory-shifts in mate preference are implausible. Again, just because women have the ability to override their impulses, doesn’t mean they don’t exist.

***

Imagine choosing a meal to eat. Just because a person finds the combination of sugar and fat tasty, (it activates that reward centers of the brain), doesn’t mean that person eats cheesecake and ice-cream for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Not eating cheesecake or ice-cream for every meal could be partly due to cultural conditioning, partly due to self-control, and partly due to other factors.

The point is we make choices that override our innate preferences everyday. Having more information about our biology and psychology, does not lead one to be “ruled” by anything. On the contrary, it leads us to be more reflective, and more in control.

This is not the first time that psychological research has come under attack from Amanda Hess, or pop-feminists more widely. In a piece published last year, feminist writer Ruby Hamad made the bizarre comparison:

“Whereas once religion was used to control women and define their role and status in society, more and more, we are finding that science is being used in exactly the same fashion.”

If the pop-feminist worldview seems anti-intellectual and self-serving, that’s because it is. There is no pop-feminist writing championing women’s free will in the face of radical post-modern theories which deny female agency. The extremists of the feminist movement who characterise all heterosexual sex as “rape,” or portray women’s choices as “illusions” get off scot free.

In fact, pop-feminists have been duplicitous in attempting to convince an entire generation of impressionable, young, (mostly white, middle-class) women that they don’t have agency. Like astrologers before them, they ply readers who are prone to fatalism with their ideological fairytales. Instead of Mars aligning with Venus, the ‘Patriarchy’ colludes with ‘Hegemonic Masculinity’ to obstruct women’s ‘true’ destinies.

Yet despite all the rhetoric and hostility , I suspect that Hess and her ilk have known that women enjoy free-will in their lives all along. They just admit it when it suits them. The irony is that gaining insight into biological and psychological processes only enhances women’s capacity to live how they want to. It is sad that feminists feel they must protect women from that.

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See also:

Gildersleeve, K., Haselton, M. G., & Fales, M. R. (2014). Do Women’s Mate Preferences Change Across the Ovulatory Cycle? A Meta-Analytic Review. Psychological Bulletin, doi: 10.1037/a0035438

Ferguson, C. J. (2014). Comment: Why Meta-Analyses Rarely Resolve Ideological Debates. Emotion Review, 1–2. Retrieved from: http://www.christopherjferguson.com/Emotion%20Review.pdf

Wood, W., Kressel, L., Joshi, P. D., & Louie, B. (2014). Meta-analysis of menstrual cycle effects on women’s mate preferences. Emotion Review, 1-2.

Bad Feminism

“Pop-feminism,” as a movement, valorises feelings above reason, cynicism above hope. It has regressed to a point where anything at all, no matter how irrational or how narcissistic, can be celebrated as ‘feminist’. Articles such as: I Look Down On Young Women With Husbands And Kids And I’m Not Sorryor How Accepting Leggings as Pants Made Me a Better Feminist are shared wide and far on social media as feminist political statements.

Anyone can identify as a “feminist”. Even men who openly admit to domestic violence, such as Hugo Schwyzer. There are no boundaries, no benchmarks and no standards to which feminism will hold itself accountable.

It was not meant to be like this. In 1792, Mary Wollstonecraft published The Vindication of the Rights of Women. Her basic hypothesis was that women are capable of reason; just as men are. Yet because women are denied a rigorous education, this capability is rarely expressed.

Wollstonecraft’s achievement was to extend Enlightenment principles to women. Women were rational. Women were not innately ignorant, or naive, but socialised to be that way because their educations were neglected. She wrote that the more educated women became, the better off society would be.

Yet, despite the gains women have made in public life, the model of female empowerment held up by the media, today, is pop-feminism. In magazines and online news-sites, feminism and fashion intermingle. Humanities graduates, who specialize in snark, but not much else, now claim to speak on all women’s behalf.

In 1797, Thomas Gisborne wrote An Enquiry into the Duties of the Female SexStating the case for women to be confined to the home, he argued: The science of legislation, of jurisprudence, of political economy; the conduct of government in all its executive functions; the abstruse researches of erudition … the knowledge indispensable in the wide field of commercial enterprise … these, and other studies, pursuits and occupations, assigned chiefly or entirely to men, demand the efforts of a mind endued with the powers of close and comprehensive reasoning, and of intense and continued application. [emphasis mine].

Fast forward to 2014, and in the pages of ‘proudly female biased’ online news-sites, beauty is showcased over technology and business. Instead of evidence-based feminism, we get anecdote and science denialism.

In December last year, pop-feminist Amanda Marcotte, wrote a piece titled Are Men Hard-Wired to Show Off Around Women? written in response to a Wall Street Journal article about the Cheerleader Effect (the tendency of men to modify their behaviour in the presence of women). Typical of a pop-feminist anti-science piece, Marcotte provides zero links to any of the studies discussed.

Like most pop-feminists, she builds a murky picture of a body of “studies” with dubious outcomes and a sinister premise. We never found out the titles of the studies, authors, or journals from which they are sourced. She writes, “no doubt the data is accurate, but it does not follow that it’s necessarily hard-wired.

After a quick perusal of the studies (some of which can be found here, here and here) I found that the term “hard-wired” is absent from all of them; as one would expect. Psychologists tend not to talk about the brain’s wiring; that’s what neuroscientists do. Psychologists look at function. Neuroscientists look at structure. Despite this ignorance, Marcotte has the gall to “debunk” an entire body of scientific work. Work, it seems, she may not have even read. Work, she has also hidden from the reader.

Almost every time a pop-feminist critiques science or a scientific study, their argument is built on a strawman. In general, pop-feminists misrepresent published scientific work without providing links to primary sources. Pop-feminist articles (found here and here) are generally put-together wholly from second-hand material – stories about studies – not the studies themselves. Not only is this bad feminist critique; it is bad journalism.

It is ironic that in 2014, the women who confirm Thomas Gisborne’s eighteenth century sentiments are feminists who enjoy the most media privilege. (Academics in gender tucked away in universities all over the world, have used close application to develop nuanced ideas). Pop-feminists have not.

And it is sad that we have reached a point where to criticise anything labelled as “feminist” is to invite a slur on one’s character. Slurs of  “sexism” are ubiquitous. Any disagreement – no matter how sensible – is “trolling,” “abuse” a “backlash” or a “silencing”. Women like me, who simply call for feminism to rediscover Enlightenment principles, are labelled “female misogynists” on Twitter. But the slurs really must stop. Writers who wear their ignorance as a badge of honour are not models of empowerment. News outlets should not have to disrespect women’s intelligence to make their platforms viable.

Women should be respected for the originality of their thought – regardless of their conformity to media-sanctioned ideologies. And the feminist label should not protect ill-conceived ideas with impunity.

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The paradox of female happiness

The paradox of female happiness

Women are about 75 per cent more likely than men to report having recently suffered from depression. Women are also about 60 per cent more likely to report an anxiety disorder. These sharp discrepancies observed by Oxford professor Daniel Freeman, were found in eight of 12 nations from which statistics were taken. They also support a study which found that women reported higher levels of happiness than men in the 1960s but that this gender gap has now reversed. Why the change?

What does this mean when women are healthier, better educated, enjoy more economic freedom and more opportunities than we did 35 years ago? Since the 1960s it has become socially acceptable to leave unhappy marriages. The stigma that once existed around free expression of female sexuality has softened. Legislation is in place to protect women from sexual harassment. By many objective measures, women in the West have never been more liberated.

For all of this improvement many women are unhappy. Freeman, a clinical psychologist, noticed a gap in the literature on sex differences in mental health conditions and investigated national mental health surveys taken from the UK, US, Europe, Australia and New Zealand. He found that women are up to 40 per cent more likely than men to develop mental health disorders, with the sharpest discrepancies in depression and anxiety.

Freeman was careful to examine whether women were more likely to report health problems than men, or more willing than men to seek help. In The Stressed Sex, co-written with his brother Jason, and published by Oxford University Press, the authors conclude that while these factors may have an impact they cannot solely explain the differences found between the genders.

They show that while men suffer higher rates of substance abuse, ADHD and autism, women are bearing the brunt of emotional disorders, which are much more common, and rates of these conditions are on the rise. It appears that women’s mental health is in fact a “major public health issue”.

The causes of mental illness are complex. There is no single factor which sets one off, and psychologists will look at a range of variables in an attempt to understand etiology. Biological factors, thought processes and social structures are all involved. Thinking styles such as rumination are heavily implicated in anxiety and depression and genetics also play their role. But Freeman points out that the main contributing factor to the decline in women’s mental health could actually be stress.

Women make constant decisions about how to parcel out their time most efficiently. We have careers and children to juggle as well as relationships and domestic labour. Making a priority of one area always leaves another to be neglected (even just for a short time). Men too face these challenges, but for women it seems these trade-offs are pressure-cooked. The unending negotiation of conflicting life domains takes an emotional toll.

Interestingly, the findings of Freeman were foreshadowed four years ago in a watershed paper by the economists Betsey Stevenson and Justin Wolfers, who found that women’s happiness has declined relative to men’s. Looking at data stretching over 35 years, across America and Europe, it was found that women reported higher levels of happiness in the 1960s and were happier relative to men. This gender gap has now reversed, with men the happier sex.

The decline in female subjective wellbeing was found to cut across both class and race and held true for women of all ages, with children and without.

The authors of this rather provocative study avoided providing glib answers to the questions their paper raised. But a decline in 35 years cannot be attributed to such things as genetics – the cause must be largely environmental. Some will say the decline is due to ongoing prejudices against women, structural barriers, and patriarchal oppression. Traditionalists might point out that today in many ways courtship and romance are ‘dead’. Perhaps men are enjoying license for irresponsibility and selfish behavior that was not so permissible in the past.

While these factors may contribute, it could simply be that women are liberated but stressed. More opportunities to succeed mean more opportunities to fail. Anxiety and depression often hit us when we feel as though we don’t measure up. And with so many domains to now excel in, we can’t be blamed for feeling less than adequate for not aspiring for excellence in all of them.

For all of the discussions about work/life balance, what is notably missed from the conversation are such things as self-care and leisure time. Important variables such as exercise, sleep, a healthy diet and social connectedness take a back seat to career and domestic labour in many women’s lives.

If happiness was found to be higher in women 35 years ago, those who speak on women’s behalf might want to rethink the feminist obsession with power, status and economic production. Advocates may want to reconsider the importance of other outcomes such as health and wellbeing. If women really are bearing the brunt of emotional disorders, we have some difficult truths to face up to in regards to why.