Less able to achieve their life goals, women end up unhappier than men later in life - even though they start out happier, reveals new research from the University of Cambridge and University of Southern California.
Researchers Anke Plagnol and Richard Easterlin's study, appearing in the Journal of Happiness Studies, is the first to use nationally representative data spanning several decades to examine the role of unfulfilled desires in a person's sense of well-being.
As the researchers explain, expectations of success may vary among those raised in different generations (i.e., an economic depression). Data sets from a range of time periods may also have different demographic compositions. In their analysis, the researchers found that women are, on average, happier than men in early adulthood - but the glow wears off with time. Specifically, after the age of 48, men's overall happiness exceeds women's happiness. The researchers say that these gender patterns of overall happiness correlate to patterns in two significant aspects of life satisfaction: family and finances.
"In later life it is men [who] come closer to fulfilling their aspirations, are more satisfied with their family lives and financial situations, and are the happier of the two," explains Plagnol.
Women and men have fairly similar life goals when it comes to love, the study reveals. Nine out of 10 people of both genders reach adult life wanting a happy marriage. "Differences between men and women in aspirations for marriage and children are fairly small," says Plagnol. "Gender differences in satisfaction depend largely on attainment."
After 34, men are more likely to be married than women, and the gap only widens with age, mirroring men's growing satisfaction with family life. Men also become more satisfied with their financial situations over time, as reflected in their increased spending power. The researchers found that men tend to covet big-ticket items that might not be within reach until later in life, such as a car or vacation home.
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Source: University of Southern California