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Darlene Lancer, JD, MFT Updated: Oct 21st 2010

Last year, a study reported that despite the improvement in women’s lives, their happiness relative to men has declined since the ’70s, when the reverse was true. This held true across racial and socio-economic lines in several industrialized countries. Women’s happiness also declines with age. In contrast, men’ happiness has increased and increases with age.

Some attribute this change to the demands of work and motherhood, but as discussed in my last post, working women and working mothers are happier. Research shows that work outside the home provides stimulation and another identity that protects against depression.

Another theory suggests that the women’s movement raised women’s expectations, and reality has failed to deliver. Today, many more women are college-educated and seek professions previously reserved for men, but then hit the glass ceiling. Moreover, old cultural beliefs that undermine women’s self-esteem haven’t changed very much. Women are more highly educated now and jobs may have opened up, but most women lack the instrumental qualities of self-efficacy, assertiveness, and autonomy that lead to self-esteem and professional success. It’s not surprising that independent and assertive women are less depressed. Some women incorrectly believe that being assertive and autonomous will jeopardize their relationships, a priority for women. Yet, women who suppress their anger are more subject to depression.

I believe that current culture contributes to our unhappiness. A recent University of Michigan study found that college students are about 40 percent less empathic than were coeds 20-30 years ago. Social networking, new technologies and speed, though affording many benefits, have also decreased the amount of time people spend with each other-dancing, socializing, and even watching television together. More time online means less time with others, in nature, or pursuing crafts and hobbies. Innovations and gadgets that feed men starve the feminine. Picture Aphrodite online!

Not surprisingly, women are twice as likely as men to experience depression. After heart disease, depression is the most debilitating illness for women, while it’s tenth for men. The signs of depression are feelings of sadness, worthlessness, and/or guilt, crying, loss of interest in usual activities, fatigue, difficulty concentrating, irritability, social withdrawal, and changes in sleep, weight, or appetite. Ten to 25% of women will experience major depression in their lifetime. Each depressive episode makes another more likely. Rather than building resilience, we become more vulnerable and sensitive. Depression may be acute, lasting several weeks, or it may be less severe but chronic, lasting years, called dysthymia. Risks for depression among women include the following:

1. Passive, dependent, and pessimistic personality traits.
2. Sexual or physical abuse.
3. Having several, young children.
4. Poverty.
5. Inability to have children that they want.
6. Homosexuality.

This gender difference with males first appears at puberty, arguably due to hormonal changes. But Harvard professor Ronald Kessler attributes the shift to girls’ lower self-esteem, described in my earlier blog on “Self-Criticism-Self-Esteem’s Saboteur.”

Read in Full:  http://www.mentalhelp.net/poc/view_doc.php?type=doc&id=40698&cn=5



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